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Original Title:
Tom Yum Goong

Thailand 2005

Martial Arts, Action

Prachya Pinkaew

Tony Jaa
Petchtai Wongkamlao
Xing Jing
Johnny Nguyen
Nathan Jones
Bongkoj Khongmalai
David Asavanond
Damian De Montemas
Jon Foo
Lateef Crowder

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Tom Yum Goong

Story: Kham (Tony Jaa) grows up with his father and two elephants, that have become a part of the family. One day, the two animals are abducted and Kham's father gets shot.
Kham soon finds out that the two elephants were brought to Sydney. When he arrives there he runs into trouble with the police because of some unfortunate coincidences. Among them is Inspector Mark (Petchtai Wongkamlao) who is cheated by a bunch of corrupt policemen and who now is wanted himself.
While on the run, Kham and Mark don't just have to face the police, but also a dangerous gangster organisation. Together they get on the tracks of a drug cartel, that is also involved in illegal animal trading activities. The chairman of this cartel Rose (Xing Jing) goes through any lengths to get the full control over the underworld of Sydney. But she didn't reckon with difficulties in the form of Kham who wants to get back his elephants...

Review: "Tom Yum Goong" is the long-awaited inofficial sequel to "Ong Bak". Director Prachya Pinkaew and Tony Jaa once again work together to present their newest martial arts masterpiece. To answer the question right away, whether the movie was worth waiting for: Yes!
Although there are some sore points and the fact that the movie hasn't the surprise effect the prequel had, "Tom Yum Goong" is a complete success. "Faster, more action, and even more impressive" must have been the guidelines when making the film and it did pay off.

The movie has one advantage. After "Ong Bak" we don't expect some offbeat story at all, but only breathtaking action. Pinkaew could have put pointless action sequence after action sequence and there would have been only few who would have cared. Luckily, the director didn't take the easy way out. In fact, the story seems to be quite complex with a lot of subplots. But in the end it's nothing like that. The story is pretty thin with some confusing twists and lots of subplots that suddenly aren't resolved anymore. Maybe because one did realize that the viewer is only interested in the action, anyway.
So at the bottom line you can say that the buddha head from "Ong Bak" is replaced by two elephants. And there you have your reason for Tony Jaa to go out on a vengeance trip, which causes a lot of broken bones. To be honest, isn't this exactly what we wanted to see?!

So first, let's talk about the action scenes, because fights you will find a lot!
What you get to see here, will delight every Martial-Arts-Fan. Tony Jaa manages to surpass himself and shows some kicks, jumps and acrobatics, that you thought of being impossible to perform. Apart from all the fights, there are also lots of stunts. In best Jacky Chan manner, but without the comicality and of course faster, better, wider (sorry Jacky...), Jaa does all his stunts himself, jumps from rooftop to rooftop, walks up/along walls and this with a confidence, as if it were the easiest thing to do. When your jaw doesn't drop while seeing this you must be already dead.

Fortunately, the fights are choreographed more nicely and with a lot more eye for details than in "Ong Bak". With their choreography Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikrai pull out all the stops and make the fights a feast for the eye. Additionally, this time the fights are captured in a lot more stylish way. Sure, fire and water as the elements being in the center of a location of combat is nothing new, but it nevertheless gets the job done and looks pretty cool. The impressive temple at the end is also a nice location and adds to the stylish atmosphere.
Apart from the excellent locations the villians do also have a little bit more of a character. Of course, everyone of them does also have an individual fighting style, which adds even more to the fun nature of the movie. We have Kung Fu performed by Johnny Nguyen, Capoeira, Wushu with a saber or Wrestling by a frightening muscle giant. There is something for everyone's taste to be found. Especially, the fight against the Capoeira Martial-Artist is a little highlight. The more so as the style has some undeniable similarities to Tony Jaa's Muai Thai/Wushu Mix, which makes the battle between the two acrobats breathtakingly entertaining.

Jaa also has the opportunity to go against a whole bunch of no-names, natch, which ends in having him taking down his enemies in a literal bonebreaking-orgy. At some other point in the movie he even has to defend himself against some rollerblade skating thugs.
There is really enough action going on and it is scattered throughout the movie in a good balance. As already said, the fights aren't whitewashed and those who can't stand hearing the sound of breaking bones are just watching the wrong movie. Anyhow, you really have to ask yourself again how the stuntmen and fighters did manage to survive this movie...

Along with the non-existent story, there are also some unintentionally funny scenes to be criticized. The question comes up, why there weren't any actors to be found who can speak a more fluent English than the ones that were casted for this movie. Sometimes, Wongkamlao's English is so bad that you have serious problems to understand him at all. But even the unimportant roles, like the newscaster, will cause blood running out of your ears because of their horrible pronunciation. So why didn't they stick to Thai in the movie? Maybe this would have harmed the international flair of the film...

Also worth mentioning is Tony Jaa's acting achievement, which doesn't earn him a price, but shows that he did make some considerable progress. Especially in some of the more emotional scenes he manages not to be unintentionally funny, quite in contrast to his colleagues!
Pinkaew succeeded in letting his movie look better than its "prequel", because of some nice visuals, good settings and a stylish directing. Absolutely striking is the scene in which Kham storms a hideout of some gangsters. In one single 4-minute shot, whithout a single cut, Jaa fights his way to the top of a tower in a breathtaking action-sequence, all along accompanied by an unsteady camera. If you think about how much preperation, timing, concentration and pefection must have been necessary to master this one scene, it gets even more impressive.

"Tom Yum Goong" is not necessarily better than "Ong Bak", but anyway an absolutely well-done sequel, delivering even more over-the-top action and stunts! Fans can rest assured, because they won't get disappointed!
Despite some cinematic flaws, concerning the plot and the performances of the actors, I can't help but to call "Tom Yum Goong" a very good movie. I'm quite aware, that this is mainly due to my deep admiration for Martial Arts, but everyone who has scene Tony Jaa in action will have no other choice than to understand me and many other admirers out there at least a bit. Martial-Arts-Fans shouldn't miss this one!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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