Daily Archives: August 18, 2005

Review of Tom Yum Goong

I tried a couple times at the weekend to go and see Tom Yum Goong. But, every show was full up for several hours ahead. I know there was a lot of interest to this follow-up to Ong Bak which was released two years ago, but I didn’t think the movie theatres would be this packed. This is despite the fact that there were shows starting every fifteen minutes or so! I suppose there wasn’t much else to watch. All other new releases have been delayed until next week. However, a couple of days ago I was finally able to go and see the movie.

The basic story of Ong Bak was that the head of a Buddha image was stolen from a village in Thailand. Our hero, Ton Jaa, is sent off in hot pursuit. He catches up with the culprits and has a big showdown with them. After a lot of fighting he retrieves what was stolen and returns a happy man. The basic story of Tom Yum Goong is… basically the same. Just exchange the Buddha image for an elephant. It makes you wonder why they took two years developing the script and shooting the movie. News just out is that the next movie will involve a sacred sword (which is probably stolen and our hero races off to save it…).

OK, so the story-line was a bit disappointing. But then, most people went for Tony Jaa and the action scenes. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. This guy can certainly kick, thrust and leap tall buildings. The only time I saw him trying to catch his breath was during that long 4 minute take where they go from the ground floor to the fourth floor in one go. I must admit it was impressive to keep a fight going that long and to have a camera follow in a continuous shot. I wonder how many times they had to do that. However, there was more than one time in this shot that he looked like he was feeling a little light-headed and he had trouble grabbing onto some of the bad guys and swinging them around. Luckily for him they were just actors and they had to fall whether he pushed them hard or not.

But, I shouldn’t be critical of Tony Jaa as he has some amazing abilities. In fact, I feel like comparing him to Bruce Lee. If, one day, he decides to follow the well-trodden path to Hollywood he will certainly go down in history as one of the screen legends in the martial arts department. The only thing that is keeping him back are the awful scripts and the amateurish filmmakers.

Ong Bak was popular around the world. It had Thai rustic charm and a lot of action and fight scenes that we don’t often see. You could tell those stunt guys were really hurt. There was no safety nets or digital images. It was the real thing and it was refreshing. On the other hand, Tom Yum Goong made the mistake of setting the majority of the movie in Australia. Obviously they were thinking that this was needed in order to be acceptable to an international audience. For me, the best part of the movie was the first section, which took place in Thailand. Everything after that was a joke. These days there is a lot of interest in Thailand as a country and the filmmakers should have had more faith that people would have watched the movie just because it is set in Thailand. To their credit they threw some Thai culture into the pot by showing some scenes depicting Songkran. But then later they fall to the stereotype that Thai women are only good as prostitutes and sex slaves!

In the second half some of the Thai actors attempt to speak English. Most notable, of course, was Thai comedian Mom Jokmok. His English was atrocious and it was obvious he had no idea what he was saying. I wonder if he had an English coach or not. I for one was glad there were Thai subtitles as I had no idea what he was trying to say most of the time. Of course I found him funny as I know who he is. But, I wonder whether foreign audiences seeing him like this for the first time will laugh or not.

What about the rest of the cast in Australia? Well, it makes me wonder where they found some of the actors in Australia. Just because you are a native speaker it doesn’t mean you can act. And why did they choose an “Australian” tv reporter that spoke such bad English? I have a feeling there was no-one overseeing the English parts of the movie who could actually speak English. The whole thing was just a mess; bad script, bad delivery of lines, and bad acting.

Overall the action scenes was what carried the movie. However there were two scenes in particular that just didn’t work for me. The boat chase scene had so much potential when I saw a few shots of it in the trailer. But, the final result was a messy tangle of bad direction and poor editing. The whole thing was confusing. Then there was the fight scene in the warehouse with extreme sport enthusiasts taking on Tony Jaa with fluorescent lighting tubes! What? Was this supposed to be Star Wars lightsabers? Oh yes, there was another scene that just went on and on and on. A bit like the Kill Bill scene where she kills all those people in the restaurant. They just keep coming and coming. It was the same in Tom Yum Goong with a never-ending loop from the sound department of over the top bone-crunching sounds.

I am amazed that movie has already been sold abroad. Have the distributors seen the movie already? Or did they buy it only on the strength of the first one? If they haven’t seen it then theyhave just made a bad mistake. I suppose they could re-dub some of the scenes and cleam up some of the bad edits. But, they would have to do quite a bit of re-shooting to help scenes like the boat chase. Then there are the blatant ad placements. The M150 energy drink was obviously one of the major sponsors. We could see that as we had a few lingering close-ups of a billboard during the boat chase. Then there was another scene where famous Thai singer Sek Loso is standing right in front of a shot opening a bottle of M150. Our hero was behind him saying something on the phone. I have no idea what he was saying as I was so distracted by seeing Loso! If you didn’t know who he was you probably would wonder why this person took up so much of the frame. Much like I felt when Tony Jaa bumps into someone at the airport. He gives him a double take and then moves on. It was obviously an in-joke as you don’t see that person again. I wasn’t the only person puzzled as I could hear several people nearby asking who was that. I am guessing it was Jackie Chan.

Overall I give this movie a 3 out of 5 which I think is generous. I am only doing that because of Tony Jaa. Without him it would have been a bomb. With him and some American filmmakers it could easily have been a classic.

A Jagged Pearl In Northern Thailand

I’m sure that everybody has some type of ‘life list’ of one sort or another. It is usually a list of certain things that a person wishes to accomplish before a certain point in their life. A young entrepeneur wants to make his first million by age 30; or a sports fanatic wishes to see a game in every ballpark in the league. Less lofty goals, but important to that person nonetheless, could be such things as meeting all of their most beloved movie stars, or reading every book written by their favorite author.

Many people share the same goal of visiting certain parts of the world. Some people are even more specific, and they wish to view a certain site within a particular city or country. These happen to be the contents of one of my ‘life lists’.

My list is not long, nor is it my only list. The first sites on my list that I got to cross off were The Pyramids of Egypt and The Sphinx. I visited those wonders of the world in 1989 and actually, while crawling inside one of the pyramids, I came down with an infection in my elbow that nearly did me in. It stemmed from a scrape I suffered in one of the narrow passageways. It’s an interesting story, but one more aptly told on Egyptian-Blogs.com (is there such a site?)

Cross one off!
One down….

Anyways, I digress. My short list of must-see attractions, in no particular order are 1) Machu Pichu in Peru; 2) Angkor Wat in Cambodia; and 3) The Taj Mahal in Agra, India. That last site, The Taj Mahal, is almost haunting to me. I hear that one who views this wonder of the world by the full moon is never quite the same. I truly reckon that a visit to any part of India will leave a person changed forever. The same can surely be said of our beloved Thailand..and that brings me to the subject of my blog.

Dear readers, if you have a list similar to mine, I’d like you to add a site to it. I had not known of it prior to my visit, but if I had, such a majestic, beautiful place would be a “must see”. I can’t say that I stumbled upon this place by accident, but I did not know that I was going to see it. I think having it sprung upon me like a serendipitous jack-in-the-box was a better way to introduce me to this place.

The place that I am writing about is Wat Rongkhun in Chiang Rai. This temple is no ordinary venue (why does Murray Head come to mind?). It was not finished when I visited it in April of 2004. It was still being plastered together by the artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat. When I went there, I sat on the steps and actually watched him molding a portion of the wat out of white mortar.

At The Wat
I’m dwarfed by beauty.

Pon and I rode into Chiang Rai that hot April day on a trip that I thought was based on my need for a decent coffee fix. The packet of Nescafe in a cup of hot water, the fare offered at the only market in Bahn Bong Chang, was not cutting it (I’m sure some of you have heard of us Seattleites and our coffee habits). Halfway to town Pon took over the helm of the motorbike and steered us into the parking lot of Wat Rongkhun. When I first saw it, and not to sound trite, I was awe-struck. This pure white temple, glittering with the millions of tiny mirrors imbedded in the albino mortar, rising out of the parched ground was nothing that I was prepared for. The first thought in my mind was..”Taj Mahal!!”.

First Sight
My first view from the parking lot.

The Taj Mahal is an entirely different structure in the most basic architectural sense, but the feelings it invoked in me on first sight were what I believed I would feel upon seeing the Taj Mahal. This wat is only a couple of years old (since first started), but I know that it will be on many peoples’ ‘must see’ lists for many centuries to come.