To some Tony Jaa is the next big action star, to others just a glorified stuntman. To me, he represents the new face of action.
Already movies like Luc Besson’s “District 13”, and Donnie Yen’s “SPL” have shown that people are noticing Tony Jaa’s unique brand of brutal action sequences. Indeed, the new James Bond movie “Casino Royale” is set to have a touch of pakour or free-running in it, and it’s going back to basics in terms of its stunts.
Make no doubts, action is changing. And in “Warrior King” Tony Jaa makes a much more internationally-flavored action movie set against the theme of illegal animal smuggling.
Hot on the heels of Ong Back, Tony Jaa does more of his “no wires, no CGI and no stunt doubles” action movie. Jaa plays a poor villager by the name of “Kham”. Kham, brought up by his parents to respect Elephants and learns of his family heritage as a famous warrior family that once protected the Thai’s personal Elephant.
However, Kham’s world is rocked when illegal animal smugglers kidnap a baby elephant and its father, stealing them away to the seedy underbelly of Australia’s underworld.
But, Kham isn’t giving up that easily and sets out to bring them back, breaking bones and beating up anyone who stand his away, including former WWE wrestler Nathan Jones and the famous sequence where Kham does a “leap of faith” on the top of a high rise building and double-knee strikes someone from a helicopter.
In all but name only, Warrior King feels like a sequel to “Ong Bak”. Except, well, it isn’t. Not really.
You’ll get the jaw-dropping, bone-braking, high-risk free-for-all that you would normally expect from a Jaa movie; the stunts, the action; they are all breath-taking – however, many people will ask the question “Haven’t I seen this all before”; and if you have seen Ong Bak you will feel you’ve seen most of this before. That is because “Warrior King” is very similar to “Ong Bak” in style, scope and lack of plot.
Yes, Thai people have a deep-rooted, passionate affinity to Elephants, but a cynical Western audience will not accept such a plot expedience as easily and Jaa must address this in future. Jaa could have chosen Drugs Smuggling (seeing as Thailand is near the infamous Golden Triangle) or People Smuggling, or Child Prostitution, but Elephant Smuggling? Yes, it happens; but in this movie it just feels like the idea was sorta bolted on to explain why Jaa was in Australia in the first place.
Indeed, this is the second time that Jaa has failed its audience with a decent plot and in future it may harm Jaa’s movies.
Maybe Western Audiences expect closer affinity to family, people or even to assets, or maybe its just because Jaa’s movies just lack a cutting edge that one can easily get from a Jackie Chan or Jet Li movie; but whatever the reason Jaa must improve the plot to ensure that the audience accepts what is going on, and doesn’t just follow you just because you’ve just done the most bone-braking, jaw dropping action sequence ever captured on film.
Many have said that Prachya Pinkaew, director of “Warrior King”, has used this movie to showcase Jaa’s abilities and that Pinkaew’s has reached his “glass ceiling”, in that a much more competent and experienced action director would be able to get more out of Jaa; I hope that this is the case and that Pinkaew is still involved, even at Producer level because I believe that Thailand has a valuable part to play in the Far East action movie genre, indeed so does Australia too.
The movie is exceptional, and exciting; sequences including the no-cut sequence in the 3 floor Hotel, the Brazilian fighter vs. Jaa in the burning temple, and the final fight between Nathan Jones and Jaa are all incredibly well done and the fighting is sumptuously shot, and down-right painful.
“Warrior King” is a brutal action adventure movie that will leave you wincing, gasping for air and excited; excited that someday all action movies will be this good, if not better.
I’m hoping that the Hollywood “B” action movie industry learns lessons from not only Jaa, but similar films and pushes all action movies into the next level, because after Ong Bak and Warrior King I think audiences will not accept anything less.