Tom Yum Goong

Reviewed by Anabela Voi You

Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Cast:  Tony Jaa, Bongkot Kongmalai, Petchthai Wongkamlao (Mom Jokmok)
Year: 2005
Runtime: ?? minutes

Tony Jaa was simply brilliant Ė I canít recall anyone better in dislocating peopleís joints so methodically on screen. At one point I was convinced that the muscled dudes in the movie were so bright they could have been theoretical mathematicians and martial artists; it seemed that they all fell for Tonyís joint-dislocation moves for the 700th time. These potential theoretical mathematicians and astrophysicists didnít detect Tonyís bona fide move of grab-your-arm-go-behind-you-and-twist-the-hell-out-of-you move, even though he must have used it on the entire cast at least 12 times. For the guys out there, the chick (Bongkot Kongmalai) of the story almost went nude during a mud bath. Although it was a teaser this alluring Thai actress wonít disappoint. It was funny that her tease was used to cause a dudeís heart attack, because I have seen quite a few times when the female sexual power was used to kill men via heart attacksÖ again, on screen of course. It would be problematic if I actually witnessed the dislocation of body parts and using sex to kill people on a daily basis.

I liked the story and I donít set high standards for plot when it comes to action flicks, because if intelligence and common sense is actually required, then the existence of these films would be obliterated. The opening was innocent, sweet, and oh-so sentimental that Hollywood and soaps will have trouble catching up. I didnít have a problem with it, as I love elephants almost as much as Tonyís character did, and interestingly enough, imdb.com also mentions that Tony Jaa really did grow up with elephants. I liked using Thailandís national symbol as the theme for the movie. Elephants are magnificent creatures and there should be more movies on them. And if Tony is there to defend and fight for their existence, even better. There were lots of explosions, reckless chase scenes, big muscles, good fighters, general havoc, and mandatory destruction of all standing objects, so it will definitely entertain. Jackie Chanís New Police Story, a very good recent action flick, doesnít even match up presenting enough rampage as Tom Yum Goong does. The plot though is better over-looked. Basically, Tony is a nature-loving man of an ethnic minority in Thailand, and he lives peacefully and lovingly with his family and elephants. On one really bad day, some evil poachers steal his elephant friends and they all disappear. In no time Tony figures out all his enemies and elephants are in Australia, and he goes all the way there (the issues of visas and air ticket prices donít exist) to save his elephants and embark on a huge destructive spree of great proportions. His victimsí medical and funeral bills as well as civic structural damages to Sydney might take at least 30 lifetimes to pay off Ė that is, if you work as a yuppie in the G8. Of course, you forgive Tony because heís the hero and heís only hurting the bad guys. Massive destruction is justified if youíre trying to save two cuddly gentle creatures; itís really no argument unless youíre in an academic in philosophy class.
For Tony, no structure is too high for him to kick and pulverize, no bones impossible to crack, no limits to the possibility of how many acrobatic tricks he can perform just about anywhere with just about anything. Sometimes it just seems he is indeed airborne. His signature move of flipping backwards to kick a high lamppost bulb is awesome, and the classic scenario where the hero is the last man standing in a room full of big, defeated dudes groaning on the floor happened a few times. While one can say that Jackieís style mostly consisted of the Peking Opera School of acrobatics and self-styled stunts or while Jet Li is the exemplary performer of traditional Chinese martial arts, Tony Jaa seems to combine many martial arts traditions to the point of where itís hard to trace what is what. Obviously, his eclectic style consists of many muay thai moves, but at one point I was wondering how in the world he could master gymnastics as well as do kicks that were clearly more Korean than Thai. Heís definitely a hard worker, experimenter, and indeed itís hard to find someone who can absorb and master so many martial arts traditions. Recently, it just seems that crime films wonít lay off doing criminal network stories without going to several international locations, and this is one of them.
Moving on, the villains in the movies were appropriately despicable, although the problem on how to finish them off satisfactorily is a creative problem for scriptwriters. The villain didnít quite die and not well enough. The sets were quite impressive as one can tell that much deliberation and creative input was invested in the grotesque visuals, costumes, and character sketches. At one point the set resembled the contrived, disturbing interior of a video game. The restaurant/headquarters of endangered species, drug and human-trafficking were so eerie and disturbing that I actually think this movie, as intelligently limited as it is, did justly address the shamefulness of these issues by its sheer visual presentation. Itís nice to see the villain be a female bitch for once, and she was oh-so vicious, an accomplished mistress of poison as well. Evil males have been over-used and usually the women are just victims. The number of good fighters was impressive. Even in Jet Li and Jackie Chan films there werenít so many eccentric fighters as in Tom Gum Yom. In any case, Tony reunites with his elephant and justice prevails. Itís good, go see it, Tony Jaaís stylish and unreal physical skills might just replace Jackie and Jet, who are getting older, as the next action hero for coming generation. And he well deserves it.

A note of little interest: Tom Yum Goong is a Thai dish of prawn soup with Lemongrass.

Rating: 8