Tony Jaa: Headkicker
Earlier tonight, Scott was telling me about an interview where someone asked about the enduring popularity of Kung Fu (the television show, not the martial art), to which Lone Wolf McQuade's arch-nemesis David Carradine replied that it may be thirty years later, but people always want to see some ass-kicking.
And that, my friends, is why Tony Jaa will always have a career.
There was plenty of ass-kicking in last year's Ong Bak, Jaa's breakout hit, for which the commercials simply featured the RZA from the Wu Tang Clan hanging out and talking about how awesome it is. It was genius, and I loved the movie, despite the plot that aggressively avoided making sense and the shrill rantings of the female lead, but it raised a lot of questions. Specifically, I'm thinking of "Could there be more ass-kicking?" "Could there be some ass-kicking involving guys on rollerblades?" and "Could there be more ass-kicking that also involved elephants?"
The answer, surprisingly, is yes, as proven by Tony Jaa's new flick, Tom-Yum-Goong. I watched it last night, and I'm not ashamed to admit I got a bootleg, because really: If you're a fan of poorly-subtitled ass-kickings, that's the only way to do things. It's ridiculous, and makes even less sense than Ong Bak, but trust me: It's awesome.
Here's the plot, such as it is: Tony Jaa is Kham, a Thai villager set on a path of vengeance after his brothers are kidnapped and possibly eaten by Australian gangsters. His brothers in this context are, of course, a couple of elephants. Seriously, this movie has more elephants than any martial arts flick has a right to, to the tune of the entire first half hour and a CGI dream sequence (!) later on, but they figure pretty heavily into the alleged "story."
See, Kham and his dad are down at the "Annually Pouring Festival," according to the subtitles, when pops gets shot and their pachyderm brethren are taken by bad guys. Fortunately, Pops doesn't die after Kham comes across his body, because "Go find our elephants" is a pretty poor choice for last words no matter how you slice it. So, our hero hops a plane to Sidney with the goal of beating enough people up so that everything works out okay.
Surprisingly, finding a pair of elephants in a major metropolitan city turns out to be a lot more difficult than I would've previously suspected. Which is where Dirty Balls comes in.
According to the IMDB, he's one of Thailand's most popular comedians, but after playing Ting's sidekick in Ong Bak, he'll always be Dirty Balls to me. This time out, he's Inspector Mark, a good cop who finds himself on the wrong side of elephant-kidnapping gangsters. He runs across Kham during a hostage situation and ends up leading him to the elephantnapper, who--in accordance with the Martial Arts Movie By-Laws-- is named Jonny.
Kham eventually tracks Jonny down to warehouse, delivers what may be one of the hardest head-kickings I've ever seen.
So severe, in fact, that it screws up a drug deal he's got going on. At this time, and I promise you I'm not making this up, Jonny pulls the chain of his steam whistle to summon his minions: a pack of extreme sports athletes weilding flourescent light bulbs. And from then on out, it gets pretty crazy.
What's notable about the scene that follows is that it's one of two long one-shot fight sequences in the movie, as Tony Jaa leaps around a warehouse fighting rollerblading hitmen for a good few minutes without a single cut. Tom-Yum-Goong is much more focused on fighting than Ong Bak, which had more of an emphasis on the crazy stunt sequences, like the chase scene that involves Jaa leaping over cars and diving through tiny hoops of barbed wire, but the long shots like this are impressive on both levels. The next one's even better, as Kham fights his way up five flights of spiral stairs that line the walls of an otherwise open casino with the camera following him all the way. It's incredible.
It's constant fighting from that point on, as Tony Jaa goes through every single cliche Kung Fu movie villain there is: There's the Guy With the Crazy Style, the Guy With The Sword, and everyone's favorite, the Huge Bodybuilder Guy who ends up defeating him in a flooded buddhist temple. That is, for the record, the only time Kham comes close to being defeated. There's even one part where he gets stabbed, and it literally just makes him mad, leading to a sequence where about thirty black-suited bad guys just accumulate on the floor aroun Kham with various broken limbs. It may be the best thing ever filmed.
It all leading up to a showdown with a whip-weilding, corseted villainess and her trio of Huge Bodybuilder Guys, which, in turn, leads to the movie's Defining Moment:
Once he's reunited with his younger elephant bro, Kham walks around with it constantly, which you'd think would present more of a hassle for someone wanted by the cops than it actually does. He even brings it with him to the Big Punchout, during which one of his musclebound enemies puts the elephant in a headlock...
...and chucks it through a nearby window.
I have never before seen a movie where a man throws an elephant, and I likely never will again, because that is fucking insane. Not to mention that the window doesn't really go anywhere, and appears to have been constructed in the top-floor evil lair of an office building for the sole purpose of having a protagonist's elephant tossed through.
That kind of logic simply cannot be defeated. Trust me: it's a movie you need to see.