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.

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