Tom Yum Goong 2 (Review)
Tom Yum Goong 2
aka ต้มยำกุ้ง 2 aka The Protector 2
Written by Eakisit Thairaat
Directed by Prachya Pinkaew
An elephant gets stolen again, causing Tony Jaa to kick lots of people again. This time, the stunts are bigger and 3D driven, but also more CGI enhanced and less realistic, which is a shame. There is no long tracking shot like in Tom Yum Goong, and the more memorable fights are remembered because of their gimmicks, not because of their awesomeness. But that sounds like I’m bagging on Tom Yum Goong 2 a bit hard, it was still some good fun, even if it can’t live up to it’s predecessor. And let’s face it, there aren’t many martial arts films that can.
Tom Yum Goong 2 went into production in August 2011. It was delayed by horrible Thailand floods, Tony Jaa doing weird things, production infighting, Jeeja’s unplanned pregnancy, and a bunch of other problems too boring to reiterate. It’s more of a minor miracle the film was completed at all, and isn’t terrible. But the money and the problems changed a few things for the worse, and didn’t give anything in return.
The fights are now 3D, so there is less continual choreography and long shots and more 3D-ish effects, which sort of makes them worse. The made-for-3Dness makes the CGI additions a lot more noticeable, especially when you aren’t watching in 3D. But even if I was, there wasn’t that much going on that made me wish I was watching in 3D. 3D doesn’t make the kicks any harder, nor does it make the tracking shots suddenly several minutes long. All we get is a few random CGI items floating across the screen. The most creative shots they didn’t even use outside of one part, which was a POV facecam as Kham was running from a bunch of goons.
Jeeja uses needles laced with drugs, which not only ties her into a long line of female martial arts characters using needles as weapons, but is built into the plot. Her needles strike Kham, which makes his initial fight against Number 02 more difficult, and explains how he can stand up to Number 02 later when he’s not doped up. The needles also give Jeeja an edge when fighting against characters much bigger and stronger than her, thus the fights can go on longer than five seconds without feeling weird. I would have liked some connection to the first film with her using elephant-style fighting to hit the joints of the bigger opponents, but it wasn’t delivered.
The fights may be chopped up, but they can look brutal. Jeeja and her sister are often thrown violently across the room, and they don’t have soft landings, but are smashing into things. Even some of Kham’s landings are bad ones, as Number 02 is much larger than him, and other villains are using motorized vehicles to aid their momentum
so I’d judge the fights as put together to look tough well, but not with the special realistic charm that made Tom-Yum-Goong the film you told your friends and enemies about.
Normally I might complain about how the plot seems redundant, and how this elephant sure gets kidnapped a lot, but I’d much rather watch a film where the person kidnapped is an animal than the wife/girlfriend of the main character. We need more films where women aren’t just things kidnapped by villains, but are parts of the story. In fact, there is even a fighting heroine with Jeeja’s character, who both fights against Tony Jaa at first and then alongside him once she realizes who really killed her uncle (and sister)
Kham’s elephant Korn is stolen again, and he punches and kicks his way to the guy who just threateningly tried to buy it, only to find the man dead. Soon everything thinks Kham killed him, especially the dead man’s two nieces, Ping Pong and Sue-sue. Kham even is confronted by his old friend Sergeant Mark, who knows Kham isn’t a murderer and lets him go.
This is all paralleled by RZA running a Fight Club gang where all the combatants are numbered and ranked according to their numbers by tattoos (which would sort of prevent moving up and down in the rankings, but who thinks ahead of things like that?), and of course he’s behind the elephant kidnapping, because, why not? RZA’s biggest fighter Number 2 leads the gigantic amount of goons that are sent to stop Kham. The amount of biker gang members Kham fights at one point becomes ridiculous, there must be half of Thailand chasing Kham down. It’s like the world’s most evil flash mob. But they all fall before his furious fists and feet.
Shoutout to Number 20, a female fighter whose fighting gear at one point is a red version of the bandages costume Leelu wears in The Fifth Element. Marrese Crump’s largely silent Number 02 is interesting in fighting, and fighting the best. He’s not above taking advantage of opportunity, nor of killing a now helpless foe he defeated, but he doesn’t resort to trickery. It’s a weird sort of there honor system, and he’s very loyal to Mr. LC. Mr. LC’s side goal isn’t to kill Kham, but to have him recruited into his little gang. He even captures him and forces him to assassinate a politician under threat of elephant murder. Kham is branded as Number 01 (Mr. LC openly says he was keeping that slot open for Kham)
Ping Pong (and for parts of the film, her sister Yum Yum) chase after Kham, becoming a constant threat showing up and attacking him while he’s being attacked by evil gangs. Eventually they become such a nuisance that Number 2 kills Yum Yum, and that event is enough to open Ping Pong’s eyes as to who the real killers are. It also gives the cool excuse to have Tony Jaa and Jeeja fight each other and fight alongside each other, you might see similar plots in almost every comic book super hero crossover ever.
The weirdest aspect is the same thing that was present in Tom-Yum-Goong, which was an attempt to tie everything into a larger political spectrum. Here, they even invent a ficticious country (named Katana) that’s just finished a brutal civil war, and the leaders of Katana and the new East Katana are having their first formal ceremony together in Thailand doing a traditional Thai ceremony. Also Katana seems to be entirely white despite presumably existing in East Asia and having a Japanese word for a country name. And to make it even more complicated, it’s a faction within the East Katana faction that wants to sew the seeds of discord in an attempt to conquer all of Katana. Thailand and the elephant Korn are just pawns in the game. I appreciate the attempt at world building, but a lot of that just seems to be a big distraction that gets in the way of the fighting. Had they incorporated some of the characters into the politics of Katana it would have flowed better than just having Mr. LC being a hired man at the end.
The story mushiness is the biggest problem, but the real disappointing factor was the fights not living up to the predecessor. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s a terrible film or not worth your time, it’s still filled with a lot of cool fighting action and is worth checking out. With Tony Jaa becoming more of a world star and Jeeja now with child, this might be the last good Thai martial arts flick from either of them for a while.
Rated 7/10 (logo, rebel, elephant, branded, spy, rare display, light saber sounds!)
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