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  Tom Yum Goong  
  |     review    |     notes     |     availability     |    
 
"Check out the size of tihs fist!"     "I never look at a suspect when I'm pointing a gun at him!"

(left) Tony Jaa strikes a pose, and (right) Mum Jokmok holds Jaa at gunpoint.
 
AKA: Spirit of the Kings (UK title)  
AKA: The Protector (North American title)  
Thai: ต้มยำกุ้ง  
Year: 2005  
Director: Prachya Pinkaew  
Producer: Prachya Pinkaew  
Cast: Tony Jaa (Phanom Yeerun), Mum Jokmok (Petchtai Wongkamlao), Xing Jing, Johnny Nguyen, Nathan Jones, Bongkoj Khongmalai, David Asavanond, Dean Alexandrou, Lateef Crowder, Damian De Montemas, Don Ferguson, Jon Foo, Ron Smoorenburg, David Ussawanon, Suchao Pongwilai  
The Skinny: The return of Tony Jaa delivers on bone-crunching, acrobatic action, but it does little to improve upon Ong-Bak's paper-thin story or character. Actually, Tom Yum Goong is even worse in the story department than Ong-Bak, and gets laughable if not all-out embarrassing. But the action is good, so you'll get what you pay for.  
   
Review
by Kozo:

2003's Ong-Bak signaled the arrival of Tony Jaa as Asia's greatest action hope, and Tom Yum Goong backs that up with every flying kick and head-busting elbow from Jaa. Martial arts fans jonesing for acrobatic action, painful-looking impact, and only a smattering of actual plot should find Tom Yung Goong to be one tasty motion picture. Those looking for a story or passable acting should run far, far away. But if you're reading this then chances are story and acting are not part of your desired filmmaking equation. Here's what it boils down to: if you're interested at all in Tom Yum Goong, then you probably want action and plenty of it. Tony Jaa delivers action and plenty of it. Basically, you get what you pay for.

Jaa stars as Kham, a Thai country boy who hightails it to Australia in search of his missing elephant. And yes, that's pretty much it. Basically, some evil bastards from Australia have kidnapped a couple of elephants, so Kham hops on the first plane that he can to roam the streets of Sydney and dispense punishment to an endless amount of thugs. Problems arise because his foes happen to be a confusing and largely uninteresting lot whose primary crime (other than elephant-kidnapping) is overacting. Leading the bunch is Vietnamese thug Johnny (Johnny Nguyen), but behind Johnny is the shadowy and sexually-ambiguous Madame Rose (Xing Jing). Serving as comedy relief to Kham's humorless ass-kicking is Ong-Bak's Mum Jokmok as Officer Mark, a local Australian police officer whose English is damn near impossible to understand. Mark gets drawn into the mix when he discovers that one of his superiors is also in league with Johnny and Madame Rose. Apparently, there's some big stuff going on involving a consolidation of criminal power, as well as endangered species trafficking, and the mythic deification of elephants. Through keen detective work and intelligence, Kham finds a way bring justice.

Actually, Kham doesn't do much detective work. Instead he wanders around, bumps into bad guys, and conveniently shows up whenever someone needs to have their ass kicked. Tom Yum Goong possesses a plot not unlike the internationally-flavored Jackie Chan films of the mid-nineties; basically, Kham gets into trouble in an international locale, and proceeds to run around this foreign territory with no regard to the law and/or basic rules of logic. Kham can go anywhere in Australia without getting lost or possessing a car, and can walk the streets of Sydney with a baby elephant and not attract attention. Australia apparently has a local television station where the news anchor is a pretty Thai woman who speaks broken English. And apparently, a guy like Mum Jokmok is actually allowed to be a policeman in Australia even though he has no discernible law-enforcement skills and is less intelligible than Bob Dylan. The above should tell you what's going on: this is one illogical movie.

Ong-Bak's story was uninteresting and generic, and Tom Yum Goong goes to the extreme to follow suit. The bad guys from Ong-Bak were sneerworthy types whose villainy was typically overacted, if not truly felt. Tom Yum Goong trumps those bad guys with an assortment of international types - Vietnamese, Australian, Chinese - all of whom act evil in pronounced, and even culturally offensive ways. They also belong to a rather bizarre network of baddies, which includes plenty of guys in black suits, a trio of muscleheads who look like refugees from an Olympic weightlifting team, and a parade of martial arts specialists who could have been motion capture artists in the latest Tekken game. The fact that these bad guys show up one after another to take on Kham - just like bosses in a video game - is further proof of how silly this all is. Director Prachya Pinkaew ignores most common rules of storytelling and goes for laughable or boring filler between fights. Aspiring action filmmakers take note: this is not necessarily how to make an action picture.

Still, when the action does happen, Pinkaew and Jaa earn their paychecks. Jaa's work here is less dynamic and surprising than his insane "he almost got killed" stuntwork from Ong-Bak, but he's a convincingly powerful martial artist with a flair that rivals Jackie Chan at his most spry. There isn't enough Muay Thai in Tom Yung Goong, but those who want bone-crunching should be more than satisfied. The sound guys worked overtime to fulfill the required quota of bone-breaking sound effects; if there's a cinema record for arms being broken, Tom Yum Goong may be a contender for the crown.

Pinkaew also serves up two fantastic steadicam sequences that follow Jaa in extended moments of ass-kicking. In one sequence, he maneuvers in and around parked subway cars as a motorbike-riding gang tries to do him in with fluorescent bulbs. But the centerpiece of the film is an extended steadicam shot that follows Kham as he enters the bad guys' tower of villainy. As Kham ascends the stairs, he assaults, avoids, outwits, and generally outclasses a boatload of people - and the camera is right there with him. The action during that sequence is less over-the-top or dynamic than the usual bone-breaking scenes, but the sheer bravura nature of the steadicam shot is enthralling enough. Aspiring action filmmakers take note: THIS is how to make an action picture.

The copious action saves Tom Yum Goong from the crappy action movie scrap heap. Everything about Tom Yum Goong screams "Van Damme," in that it's poorly written and questionably acted. Still, you would never see Van Damme risking life and limb the way Tony Jaa does. Jaa's acting is still remarkably limited, and he lacks the charisma of a true screen star, but right now Tony Jaa is your best bet for an exhilarating celluloid beat-em-up. Hopefully Jaa's next outing will not be another variation on Ong-Bak (substitute Australia for Bangkok, and elephants for a Buddha head, and Tom Yum Goong is virtually the same film as Ong-Bak), but will instead ask the actor to actually act for a change. Or hell, Jaa can just make another Ong-Bak clone. It won't be art, but I'll see it anyway. Twice. (Kozo 2005)

 
   
Notes:

• Tom Yum Goong is a name of a popular Thai soup. It's also the name of a Thai restaurant in Australia where the bad guys from the film hang out.
• True to form, the initial home video release of Tom Yum Goong (fall 2005) was an unsubtitled VCD. However, an English subtitled release finally arrived in March of 2006. Oddly enough, it was the Korean DVD.
• Sadly, said Korean DVD was soon barred from international sale because it violated the rights of some shadowy business types who hold meetings in smoky boardrooms. Basically, unless you live in Korea, you're not supposed to be able to get the English-subtitled DVD of Tom Yum Goong. C'est la vie. Unsubbed versions are still available.
• Sadly, said Korean DVD was soon barred from international sale because it violated the rights of some shadowy business types who hold meetings in smoky boardrooms. Basically, unless you live in Korea, you're not supposed to be able to get the English-subtitled DVD of Tom Yum Goong. C'est la vie. Unsubbed versions are still available.

 
Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
Dragon Dynasty
2-DVD Set
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
English Dubbed and Thai Language Track
Removable English Subtitles
Contains both US edit and original Thai cut
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
 

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