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Friday, September 8, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"The Protector": Plot holes as big as elephant tracks, but, oh, the fight scenes!

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars


"The Protector," with Tony Jaa, Jin Xing, Phetthai Wongkhamlao, Bongkod Kongmalai, Johnny Tri Nguyen. Directed by Prachya Pinkaew, from a screenplay by

Napalee, Piyaros Thongdee, Joe Wannapin and Kongdej Jaturanrasmee. 82 minutes. In English and dubbed English, and Thai with English subtitles.

Rated R for pervasive strong violence and some sexual content. Several theaters.

When Jackie Chan shares a brief moment with Tony Jaa early in "The Protector," we could be witnessing the passing of the torch from one martial-arts master to another, or simply a nod of respect from a hot young star to one of his most illustrious predecessors.

Either way, this whiplash-paced, bone-crunching action flick makes it clear that Thailand's Tony Jaa has arrived. As a breathtaking follow-up to 2003's "Ong-Bak: Thai Warrior," it's a whole lotta fun.

"The Protector" is a typical import, reduced to 82 minutes from its original 110, with a laughable script; rough-edged though still impressive Thai production values; a mish-mash of subtitled Thai, English and dubbed-English dialogue; a new hip-hop soundtrack by the RZA; and a grainy look as if it's been blown up from a 16-millimeter negative. It's exactly the kind of movie Quentin Tarantino would endorse with a "presented by" credit for its U.S. release.

With that kind of grind-house pedigree, Jaa's second starring vehicle could be easily dismissed if it weren't so mindlessly entertaining. It also boasts an obligatory action showpiece so technically impressive that even experts will take notice.

In this case, it's an astonishing four-minute unbroken Steadicam shot that bobs and weaves as Jaa lays waste to dozens of helpless would-be assailants in a multileveled restaurant. As this masterfully choreographed shot unfolds, you realize you're watching one of the single most impressive fight scenes in the history of Asian action films.

The rest of the movie is mostly disposable, after a colorful prologue establishes the close relationship between Kham (Jaa), a young Thai man who was raised among elephants, and his beloved pachyderms Por-Yai and the little youngling Korn. When both elephants are kidnapped, the action shifts to Sydney, Australia, where Jaa takes on a corrupt, exotic-animal trade run by Madame Rose, fiercely played by Chinese ballet star and real-life transsexual Jin Xing.

None of this would tax the intelligence of an average 6-year-old. Jaa performs in broad strokes, and there's obvious evidence of missing scenes from the longer Thai version, but "Ong-Bak" director Prachya Pinkaew has given Jaa the kind of Muay-Thai martial-arts showcase he deserves.

They'll have a hard time topping themselves after this, but only a fool would bet against them.

Jeff Shannon: j.sh@verizon.net

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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