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.

15 responses to “Review of Tom Yum Goong

  1. I have not seen the movie, hence not much to comment but I have seen the first movie by him. It was quite good actually. I am now in BKK… thinking of seeing Tom Yam Kung myself….

  2. Yes, me too. I think the Hong Kong movies, especially the ones by Jackie Chan has a lot of genuineness & creativity in them in a raw way… in the fights, in the jokes, in the slapstick humor. Even though the Holywood movies get you excited to begin with, Hong Kong movies fill your stomach much better

  3. Maybe you should put a MOVIE SPOILER heading on this entry, Richard. I shouldn’t have read further till I saw it but too late. Mai pen rai ka.

    I read on the official site that it was set in Australia and that alone got me a bit disappointed because what I liked about Ong-Bak is that the setting took place in Thailand. True that, aside form the excellent fighting Jaa Panom gives, the plot was quite weak but I wouldn’t like to see him be another Jackie Chan in Hollywood. I like the fact that he performs this action/fighting without another ‘Hollywood’ label.

    I agree with what FistOfFury said also. I also think that Hong Kong action films have something better. But if they plan a new movie, maybe they should try combining “editing, camera angles & positioning” but with Thai style.

    But hey, I don’t mind writing a good action plot for Jaa Panom, don’t think twice just cos I’m a girl. I like writing especially because I plan plots very carefully, LOL. (^_^)

  4. Actually, what I certainly would love to see is co-operation between team Tony & Panna and Hong Kong. In Hollywood, they still have a lot to learn from Hong Kong on the field of filming action, most notably with editing, camera angles & camera positioning. And, they should get rid of the racism and discrimination.

  5. For sure the producers ought to have read some of the guidelines here at thai-blogs first before deciding to shoot the movie abroad.

    Absolutely, the foreign audience is going to be put off with the movie having been set in Australia. Perhaps the producers felt that us foreigners just arent interested in Thailand just its boxing.

    Read a few poor reviews of the movie now so im put off going to see it in the cinema now.

  6. I agree with you because that is why Ong Bak and now Tom Yum Goong is so refreshing as it is so different. However, Tony Jaa and his stunt co-ordinator Panna Ritthikrai were let down by a badly developed script and, I am sorry to say, poor movie making. I just think if you send those two guys to America then they could do some remarkable things. But then again, maybe many of their stunts would be illegal over there for safety reasons. Maybe we should invite a Hollywood team here to see what they could do in Thailand?

  7. Nice review, I really like reading your blogs. But, please, don´t EVER go telling hardcore action fans any of that Hollywood-and-Americans-do-the-action-so-much-better-nonsense, since we all know that the true masters of action cinema are from Hong Kong. Just take a look at what Hollywood has done with Jackie Chan, Jet Li, John Woo or Samo Hung… You can´t even compare their Hollywood-stuff to their work in Asia!

  8. I did my review in the forum like early this week. 🙂 We probably shared the same thoughts about the whole movie… i’m impressed by the restaurant scene where he fought all the way from ground floor to the top in 1 camera shot. And I also agree he does look a little light-headed at 1 point or another… but Tony’s great! 🙂
    And the newscaster…. I had a good laugh… and now I pronouce “police” as “poo- riss” too to piss off my Thai gf… hehe
    And the comedian guy… i’ll be pissed if i’m an Australian cos my common sense tells me there’s no way the Australia government is going to employ some guy to become a “poo-riss” officer who cannot even speak decent english… and a sergeant too??? And you don’t let an arm-robber go just like that… maybe its common in Thailand, but in Australia??????!!!! geess….. :p

    Overall, the action is nice…. but its a “leave ur brain outside before stepping into the theather” film….


  9. Richard, from what you’ve just described, it reminded me of Jackie Chan movies. I watch it because of Jackie Chan and not the script !!!

    I would prefer that the scripts in the older, non-holywood, Jackie Chan movies were better but that don’t happen to be the case. So, the only reason I saw those movies were because of Jackie.

    Not until when holywood produced his movies (such as Rush Hours, Shang-Hai Noon, etc) that the scripts and the plots got better. May be this is what Tony Jaa needs. And may be if he is lucky enough, holywood might ask for him. That would be nice for Thailand. 🙂

    For now, I guess I’ll just have to settle with watching his action and not worrying about the plots.

  10. I left Thailand a week before the movie hit theaters. I was so mad, still am. But I have to say this: the plot was not strong. It sounded a lot like Ong Bak but this time… elephants, which didn’t seem like such a big deal to me. (When compared to a statue of Buddha) But I have to say that the action scenes that I saw on the commercials, and from what I saw on the TV shows when the cast members were interviewed, were more impressive. Either way I know I will love this movie!

  11. I think Thais are capable of making a good quality movie. We have shown our skills in movies such as Suriyothai, Home Rong, and many other interesting movies. It shows we CAN make good movies.

    Don’t look down on us and say ”You need a Hollywood plot”. Why does it have to be a “Hollywood” plot? Thais can think up of the same stupid plot, it’s just that we didn’t do so.

    The movie cast and crew probably meant for the movie to have a ridiculous plot in the first place. They’re not stupid. They won’t go wasting away millions of dollars in shooting, casting, and “filming in Australia” for nothing.

    Look, any ten year old KNOW this is a stupid plot. I think the director wanted it to be this way. For us to say “Oh, Tony Ja is such an amazing man!” Blah blah blah

    He is an amazing man but we don’t need a STUPID plot to make him look much more amazing. It only shames our country more to do so.

  12. hi i have seen a clip of tom-yum-goong and it looks really good i just wany to no when will it come out in england please email me back because i really want to watch the movie thanks from becky

  13. Comment to Mr. Richard Barrow- Dear Mr. Barrow, I just recently purchased a copy of Tom Yum Goong in Boston and I enjoyed your movie review. The person that Tony Jaa bumped into at the airport WAS Jackie Chan. My interpretation of this was that Jackie was passing the baton to Tony as the next martial arts superstar. Viewers may also be interested to know that the giant strength athlete,Nathan Jones, who fought Tony was also in the movie Jackie Chan’s First Strike. Best Wishes to all Asian action fans. Peter Vuono

  14. I only went to see Tom yum goong for the action, after all Tony Jaa was lead, and what do we go to see Tony for? Right, action and amazing stunts. Maybe were looking at this film from too much of a western perspective? Before I spent time in Thailand, I had no idea (forgive me for the ignorance) they had an active and well founded film scene, so you can imagine how surprised I was when I saw TYG. I thought the fight choreography was awesome and the trapping / joint work was very similar to Bruce Lee’s style Jeet kune do.
    As for the elephant plot thing, maybe we as westerners are not aware of how much the chang is revered in Thailand? I have heard that Tony Jaa has 2 elephants at his home in Surin – he probably liked this idea because it was dear to his heart.
    I thought is was a great romp of an action film! I would agree about the HK thing – maybe Jaa could join forces with Stephen Chow and sort something out there? Now that WOULD be a cinematic action-cum-comedy romp!!

  15. vc eh de + tony vc luta muito te adimiro muito gosto muito de ver os seus filmes ok vc é de +++++++++