TOM YUM GOONG 2 (NC16)
Duration: 105 minutes
The story: In this sequel to the 2005 original, Thai royal elephant protector Kham (Tony Jaa) has returned to his village to care for his animals. When one of them goes missing, stolen by a wealthy mobster, Kham goes to the big city, and along the way, reunites with cop Sergeant Mark (Petchtai Wongkamlao) to fight everyone from a schoolgirl armed with deadly acupuncture needles (Thai action actress Jeeja Yanin) to thugs in drift cars and motorcycle gangs, to American gangsters (rapper RZA), only to find that a terrorist plot is at the centre of the elephant-napping.
The synopsis alone will tell you that this movie is absolutely bonkers. But for all its over-the-top plotting, it is a flat, unengaging work, with little of the adrenaline-rush thrills of the 2005 original.
Ong Bak (2003) and Tom Yum Goong (2005) were the Thai hits that brought Tony Jaa to world attention. He and director Prachya Pinkaew were a magic combination, able to seamlessly blend wire-work, computer graphics and martial arts to deliver the most viscerally thrilling chop-socky work of that decade.
Hong Kong martial arts films had gone elegant and delicate, but in those films, the two Thais appeared to be brash inheritors of the mantle, taking gongfu cinema to a more brutal and exciting place.
Well, the spirit of those early years appears to have mostly disappeared, if this movie is anything to go by. There is an embarrassingly large amount of poorly rendered computer graphics work here, of the standard that might embarrass a student working in a bedroom making videos for YouTube.
A lengthy, time-filler rooftop action segment featuring Kham (Jaa) being menaced by a motorcycle gang looks particularly amateurish. In certain aerial stunts, the bikes look more fake than vehicles in new PlayStation console games. And when that collision moment with the "train" arrives... the less said, the better.
There are more than a few moments of genuinely good action cinema, which helps make up for the graphics-heavy scenes. The fight sequences between Jaa and American pugilist Marrese Crump, playing a thug in the employ of bad guy Mr LC (RZA), have some of the spark of the previous film.
Jaa, on the whole, seems to be fighting less here than in previous works. He spends more time performing stunts, such as leaping from bridges, and in one scene, memorable for its audacious premise, attacking villains in cars that just happen to be drifting.
Supporting characters take up the slack and fill the kick-and-punch void left by Jaa. These include the bizarre acupuncture schoolgirls and, in one more cheesy plot move in a movie filled with them, there is a side development in the form of a deadly martial arts arena, masterminded by Mr LC.
RZA, known to be a massive fan of the martial arts genre, is a fine actor and carries himself well in the fight scenes. However, good acting is relative, and it feels that in this chaotic but occasionally entertaining movie, being adequate is more than good enough.
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