Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Thai Movies on the Rise

Tom Yaam Goong Movie Scene

Tom Yam Goong (2005) is the 2nd action movie from one of Thailand’s biggest stars after the Ong Bak movie (2003). Starring Tony Jaa, who could be called Thailand’s Jackie Chan, it garnered great attention not only in Thailand. Ong Bak was one of the few Thai movies which made it internationally. As people got bored with every single fighting movie playing in China, a Thai movie with Bangkok as its back setting was received very well by Thais and Western people alike.

When you are in Thailand, it is always worth a trip to “Mangpoong” or “Scorpion”. This is a big DVD chain selling DVDs all over Thailand. If you see a big red sign of a scorpion on the outside its what I’m talking about. They will sell Hollywood as well as Thai movies. Now Thai movies, even when they are new, can sell for as low as 5 US$. So it is definitely a good present for when you go back again. Some movies, like Ong Bak, are very entertaining. Just be careful to buy the version which has English subtitles.

So the story of Tom Yaam Goong (which by the way is the name of a famous Thai dish, a spicy shrimp soup). Tony Jaa here plays another story close to his heart. Coming from a mahout family, his childhood was closely involved with elephants. In Tom Yam Goong, Tony Jaa plays a young mahout, Kham who is also trained in the Jaturongkabat martial art, Koshasarn. Jaturongkabat soldiers were trained to protect Thai war elephants in battle, parallel to the armoured infantry squads that assist tanks units. When the elephants in his family’s care are stolen and taken to Australia (Sydney), Kham goes to their rescue.

The first chase sequence in the streets of Bangkok suffers an event flow break. When the container truck carrying both elephants finally manages to break free from traffic, the next shot shows Kham giving up the chase though it wasn’t possible for him to know this. This flaw heralds a series of other event flow and logic flaws in the movie. Now how does Kham locate the elephants, he seeks out an old woman who performs an oracle ritual. This oracle ritual is interesting; the oracle woman is seen dowsing using a pendulum while doing a dance to locate the elephants.

Once in Sydney, it become all about fighting. These action sequences still retain certain superb characteristics of Tony Jaa's pugilistic skills and choreography. Form (kata) or stances are visible. This is a mark of skill contrary to what many have been told. While Jaa is a fan of Bruce Lee (who advocated a free style form of fighting with his Jeet Kune Do), fortunately he has not abandoned his training and “fight like children”. The term “fight like children” is used by Shaolin Wahnam founder Wong Kiew Kit to describe the free sparring seen in martial art tournaments where little form can be seen.

I think Tony Jaa with his “no sling, no stunt” motto is set to replace Jackie Chan as the Asian action movie star for the next decade or two. But Tom Yam Goong looks and hopefully is more of a learning experiment. Story is still important to an action movie else it becomes like a porn movie, people just wait around for the “banging” sequences. Jackie Chan’s story driven New Police Story (2004) with less action and more story did better at the box office than The Myth (2005). Jaa also seems to be finding his style for his action sequences. His present attempt to incorporate Jackie Chan type of acrobatics does not blend into his main style, a modern day Mas Oyama. To take up the vacuum of Jackie Chan does not mean one has to be like Jackie Chan. Jackie Chan after all, did not appear as the best of the numerous Bruce Lee clones, he came across as Jackie Chan. And Tony Jaa needs to do just that, to come across as Tony Jaa. We saw that in Ong Bak and this got adulterated in Tom Yam Goong.

source: The 10 of Clubs MovieWatch

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