By Dr. Craig D. Reid
Spring is here…for real… and I don’t mean the season but Tony Jaa, who has legs of spring, as he returns to the screen in Tom Yum Goong 2 aka The Protector 2. This is a literal proverbial, “He’s baaaaaack…and this time it’s personal,” film logline moment. There is nowhere in California where you can see this pseudo-pretentious picture on the big screen, which shall provide outrageous misfortune or providence to Jaa’s career pilgrimage, than at the 2014, Pac-Arts 4th Annual Spring Showcase. To be held at the Digiplex Mission Valley Theater in San Diego, CA from Thursday, April 17 – 24, Jaa has an elephant bone to pick with moviegoers worldwide since all that has being going on since Tom Yum Goong aka The Protector (2005).
Although it’s IRS crunch time today, we guarantee your mind wont be taxed like your income for you to enjoy what’s about to kick off with the Opening Night Presentation of To Be Takei. It’s a documentary about George Takei, a star’s trek for life, liberty and love, of which Takei has the perfect Sulution.
In regard to Jaa, two questions have weighed heavy on people’s minds…how did he get those springs and why is Protector 2 personal?
I first met Jaa in 2005 and one of the first things I asked him was where did he get his leaping ability from. He shared with me something you might associate with Spring time, “Flower and Leaf. These are my two pet elephants. Every day since they were babies and I was a child, I’d take them down to the river and leap up onto their backs and dive into the water. As they grew so did my leg strength.”
It was these relationships that were the impetus behind The Protector, a film that featured Jaa performing vicious and violent traditional Muay Boran (progenitor to Muay Thai) elbow and knee strikes. When Kham (Jaa) loses two elephants in a crowded festival, these pachyderms are shipped to Australia and easily slips through customs and end up in a Sydney restaurant. Come on, really? Kham travels to Australia in search of his pals and to seek vengeance against those that dared to cause sacrilege against his trunk toters.
The centerpiece of the movie was a four-minute fight sequence shot in one take, without cuts or edits. Jaa said the main inspiration of the fight came from Bruce Lee’s Game of Death (1973/1978), where Bruce goes up flights of stairs and fights on each floor.
Soon after Protector, which solidified his international stardom, Jaa egotistically insisted on directing Ong Bak 2 (sequel to Ong Bak; 2003). Biting off more than he could chew, when the film ran over budget, Jaa folded under pressure, walked off set and disappeared for two months without a trace and telling anybody where he was. Ousted director of Ong Bak 2, Prachya Pinkaew finished the film.
Two months after his disappearance, Jaa appeared on Thai TV sobbing his eyes out and begging for the country’s forgiveness for walking off the set. When his next film Ong Bak 3 flopped at the box office, he tossed in the towel a second time, quit acting, shaved his head and joined a Buddhist monastery to become an ordained monk.
Due to Jaa’s “instant” success in Thailand and quickly signing an exclusive 10-year contract with Sahamongkol productions (Ong Bak’s production company), Jaa’s continuing inability to speak English, and the Ong Bak 2 and 3 debacles, Hollywood is leery about Jaa and still haven’t approached him. But Protector 2, reunites Jaa with director Pinkaew and Sahamongkol productions, the company that made Jaa go nuts in the first place.
If you’ve had tom yum goong at a Thai restaurant, then you know it’s a kind of soup. So will Protector 2 aka Tom Yum Goong 2, where Kham yet again loses his elephant to ne’er-do-wells, be a watered down version or a souped up version of the first bowl. Will the film break Jaa’s international jinx and favorably land him in Hollywood? Come to the see the movie at the Sring Showcase and be the first in California to see it on the big screen and decide if it’s two thumbs up or two pachyderm pinkies down.
What other kung fu treat will be haunting the Showcase? The return to Mystery Kung Fu Theater. Yes, it’s also baaaaack and this time it’s twice as personal, like a betamax tape returning to snap a DVD in half. This mysterious blast from the past and magical piece of kung fu film history will be knocking on your insane in the membrane pad.
For those that came in late, many lesser well-known martial arts films of the 1970s and 1980s quickly achieved cult status via Kung Fu Theater. As the Bruce Lee craze died in America out of nowhere came cable TV. It was rapidly growing in America, as was the English-dubbed, kung fu film video industry. As a result, cable companies needed programs to attract audiences that network TV would never dream of acquiring.
Independent networks, such as the USA Network, which on January 3, 1979, gambled that the kung fu craze was not really dead but on hold. They were right. These films quickly found a new fan base, immediately attained cult status and eventually became an important part of American pop culture.
So what is the film playing Monday night, April 21, 2014 at 8:45 pm? I’ve sworn a blood oath to divulge nothing…however, what I am allowed to write is the following:
2) Characters will be speaking with their fists, but when forced to use dialogue, it will be in English-subtitled Mandarin.
3) There will be blood. (The ketchup-red, splattering out of an impaled chest kind, of course.)
4) No refunds, just as you cannot escape the ring once you realize your opponent is a 400-pound Russian lady named Natalia.
5) It’s not available on DVD in the U.S. so chances are you’ve never seen it.
If you’re into Japanese style, karate, samurai and yakuza films, you might just find an awesome surprise with Why Don’t You Play in Hell.
Oh my, did I mention that George Takei will be personally appearing on opening night…that’s just two day away folks!
For information on the nightly films running at the Showcase and how to get to the Digiplex Mission Valley Theater, please visit http://festival.sdaff.org/spring2014/.