Young Kham (Jaa) lives in rural bliss with his dad and two elephants, honing the martial-arts techniques passed down to him as the descendant of royal Thai warriors of old. But when the elephants are kidnapped and taken to Sydney, Kham’s world is shattered. Filled with anger, he heads to Australia to kick some ass and take back his beloved pachyderms.
Last year, the astonishingly brutal Thai action movie Ong-Bak failed to make the box-office splash it deserved. Even so, its star Tony Jaa is already set to join that martial-arts crossover pantheon occupied by Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. This year, Jaa’s back alongside director Prachya Pinkaew and tubby comedy sidekick Petchtai Wongkamlao, though this is no sequel (that’s to follow). It’s more of a remake, substituting a pair of elephants for the original’s stolen Buddha head and moving the action from Bangkok to Sydney.
The location-shift is sadly the film’s big letdown. Half of Wongkamlao’s lines are in English, and he struggles painfully with every risibly ADR’d syllable. Furthermore, all the English dialogue is just embarrassing to an English-speaking audience.
Thankfully, the bits that matter most — the dust-ups — are superb. One ‘wow’ sequence is a five-minute glide up a building’s spiralling balcony, following Jaa as he elbows and knees his way through a wave of goons. Another sees him face-off with Aussie strongman Nathan Jones, a reinforced concrete shithouse who tosses Jaa around like a ragdoll. As you’d expect, plot and character recede into irrelevance during action of this calibre.
The move to Australia is a mistake and the plotting’s a mess, but Jaa proves fully deserving of the title’s honour.