Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Writer: Eakisit Thairaat
Cast: Tony Jaa, RZA, Mum Jokmok, Yanin Vismitananda, Petchtai Wongkamlao, Marrese Crump, Rhatha Phongam, Vince Makiling, Ujal Thapa, Jawed El Berni, John Dang
Running Time: 103 minutes
By Paul Bramhall
Tony Jaa has had somewhat of a fall from grace since he was widely heralded as action cinemas shining saviour with the arrival of Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong, released in 2003 and 2005 respectively. After an eventful production for his self-directed feature Ong Bak 2, things culminated with him reportedly running off into the jungle and disappearing for a couple of weeks. When he came back, things had gone massively over budget, resulting in his long time mentor Panna Ritikrai being brought on board to assist in finishing the movie (he gets a co-director credit in the final product), and a previously unplanned third installment in the form of Ong Bak 3, which was commissioned simply to make up for the amount of money which had been lost on the second one.
While for this reviewer at least, Ong Bak 2 delivered the goods despite its troubled production, Ong Bak 3 was met with almost universal disdain, and after its release in 2010, for several months word was quite on Jaa and co. It seems there were no future projects on the horizon and nothing to look forward to. Then, in 2011, it was announced that Jaa would be returning to the role of his sophomore feature as a leading man, for Tom Yum Goong 2. Not only that, but it would re-unite him with director Prachya Pinkaew, action choreographer Panna Ritikrai, and he’d be sharing top billing with his female equivalent, the star of Chocolate and Raging Phoenix, Jija Yanin. Thai action cinema was going to be back with a bang, and excitement was duly generated.
Banners were proudly displayed at various film markets showing Jaa and Yanin in high kicking poses above the bold lettering TYG2, and all seemed well with the world. However, the rest of 2011 then passed with barely a word. Then, 2012 proceeded in exactly the same manner. Rumbles began to start, what was taking so long!? Two years to make an action movie!? Finally, around the end of 2012 details began to slowly filter through – Jija Yanin had got pregnant stalling the production indefinitely, Jaa himself had got married, the decision had been made to film it in 3D, RZA was brought on board and worked into the script as the main villain. It all seemed very, well, disorganized.
Finally, close to almost 3 years since it was announced, at the end of October 2013 Tom Yum Goong 2 hit Thai cinema screens. Was the reaction a positive one? Or was it a negative one? Strangely, it was a non-reaction. The movie was finally out there, and no one was saying anything about it, even after it had been out for a couple of weeks, trying to find reviews or opinions on it seemed to be an unreasonably difficult task. So, skip forward to March 2014, and here in Australia the movie has just received a straight-to-DVD release with zero fan fare or marketing. It just quietly hit the shelves and was there. Some come back.
Now having watched it, it’s easy to see why. It’s a struggle to even call this a sequel, as it’s more of a re-boot, and a painfully inferior one at that. Events play out almost identical to the original – shady characters try to negotiate the sale of an elephant, Jaa refuses to sell, they steal it anyway in a truck, Jaa finds the person he left to look after it on the floor beaten. Even the motorbike scene comes in at almost the exact same moment. Story wise, there’s not even a single ounce of originality here, and the original was hardly ground breaking plot wise.
The cost of its labored 2+ year production is there onscreen for every second of its run time, and it’s a heavy cost indeed. We have fight scenes which are sloppily edited full of quick cuts, strange shots which don’t make any sense, a motorbike chase which drags on to the point you’ll find yourself slipping into a coma, some of the worse CGI you’ll ever witness in an action movie, and in the middle of it all is poor Tony Jaa. Say what you like about his acting ability, but he conveys what he needs to, even if that usually is blind rage.
In Tom Yum Goong 2 he’s reduced to an expressionless lump of muscle, I’d dare say a plank of wood could give a better acting performance than he does here. He just seems so, I don’t know what the word is – absent minded? If there was ever a more literal example of a performer phoning it in, then that’s what Jaa seems to be doing here. Remember the anger he oozes when ripping through the restaurant in Tom Yum Goong on the search for his elephant? Well here it’s stolen again, but it’s hard to believe he gives a crap.
Put simply he’s visibly slower and uninspired for the duration. It’s the same moves over and over again, and he actually spends a disproportionate amount of the run time having his ass handed to him. In the finale itself he doesn’t even get to do anything, except hold onto his precious elephants tusks which have been made into bombs that will detonate if he lets go, so it’s left to Jija Yanin to come out of nowhere and suddenly put the beat down on Marrese Crump, while Jaa stands there defenceless getting beaten up by RZA. Speaking of Yanin, her screen time has evidently been significantly chopped, so much so that she barely even registers as a supporting player. The dream double-billing of her and Jaa is a non-starter.
To add to the movies woes, even simple aspects of the story don’t make any sense. At the start we see Jaa with his elephant in the village teaching the local kids some moves, but it soon turns out he and his elephant are no longer welcomed like they once were, his elephant now being considered a nuisance and Muay Thai branded a waste of time. But that’s it, this seemingly important aspect of the plot never appears again. Likewise, when Jaa finds the guy who he knows was responsible for stealing the elephant, he’s dead in his office. At the same moment, two of the guys younger family members (one of which is Jija Yanin) also enter the office, and believing Jaa to be the murderer attempt to take him down. Not only do we never find out how he was killed, but over the course of the movie it seems to be forgotten that Yanin is actually connected to the guy who stole his elephant in the first place, and she and Jaa end up teaming up together! Top this all off with one of the most inconclusive final scenes you’re likely to witness, and it’s hard to be left feeling anything other than frustrated.
I could rant on about Tom Yum Goong 2 for a whole lot longer, but I won’t. All I want and have come to expect from Thai action cinema is a paper thin plot compensated with bone crunching action which comes thick and fast. I wanted it to be a big stupid action movie just like its predecessor, but in the end it was only one of those things – stupid.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 3/10