The heir to Jet Li and Jackie Chan would seem to be Tony Jaa after witnessing his work in films like Ong Bak and now The Protector. It's cheesy and amusing, even overproduced, with appeal to those enamored by the much more enjoyable Kung Fu Hustle. If it overstays its welcome, Prachya Pinkaew's film is hardly short on action.
The director provides a look of the sumptuous, placid Thailand countryside early on with scenes of working and recreation. People (and elephants) are living rather peacefully.
Jaa plays Kham who is very fond of his elephant Por Yai. From their picturesque hamlet with his father (Sotorn Rungruaeng), their trip is derailed by gangsters. Por Yai and the calf, Korn, are kidnapped.
The trail brings Kham down under to Sydney to all sorts of illicit operations, involving, among other things, drugs and slavery. The daughter of a businessman, a brutally aggressive Jin Xing, heads this vast underworld. The schematically incidental screenplay has Kham and a fallen police officer (Petthtai Wongkhamlao) trying to stay one step ahead of all sorts of unsavory thugs. A rotten private investigator (Damian De Montemas) is primed to find his scapegoat.
Many will revel in the outlandish fight sequences of The Protector, showcasing the bravura athleticism and finesse of Jaa. Pinkaew works diligently without stuntpeople or wires with his crew, especially in the sound effects department. Witness the result of some bone-crunching encounters.
Some of the creativity of what was entitled "Warrior King" in some territories has Kham's foes not being of the typical variety. They are gradually enormous, seemingly undefeatable, of course, as the battles are staged zestfully with humor. Gangs on motorcycles, bikes, and skates take on Kham, even a large group quite similar to the one Uma Thurman went up against in Kill Bill.
Throughout what usually is hardly less than preposterous, The Protector supplies its unusually colorful entertainment. The actors, especially Jaa, evince the harmony of providing a sense of humor during the thrill of the moment, many of which can make one wince. The dichotomy of the jungle village and the city allows the filmmakers to make the most of some offbeat set pieces, especially a Buddhist temple, severely damaged by fire and water.
Storytelling and characterization may splinter this frenetic escapism to a degree, but Jaa's unabashed indulgence and poise to take all of the vengeance and outrageousness to the limit has a chuckling pleasure to it.