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There has been recent global interest towards the Thai film industry, especially after the unprecedented success of Ong-Bak, with is explicitly brutal violence and nail-biting stunts. The title has also increased awareness of an immensely talented team, most noticeably Tony Jaa who is famed for combining elegant acrobatics with bone crunching Muay Thai kickboxing. His upcoming blockbuster, Tom Yum Goong, looks nothing short of awesome and he has a third project in the pipeline that concentrates on sword skill. Similarly, Petchtai Wongkamlao (Jaa’s comic relief guy from Ong-Bak) has penetrated the international movie scene by writing, directing and starring in his breakthrough title The Bodyguard.

Bodyguard, The
Film
Petchtai Wongkamlao stars as Wongkom, a bodyguard who despite his best efforts, fails to prevent the assassination of his respected boss. Ashamed and humiliated, he is reluctantly called back on the job to protect the boss’s son from a sinister group of gangsters. Seeking refuge in a rundown area, the son helps the community by donating money to make future developments. He also begins to fall for local girl Pok, played by Pumwaree Yodkamol (Ong-Bak’s leading lady). Time is gradually running out for Wongkom and his new client, as the evil gangsters begin to close in on their new target.

Contrary to Ong-Bak and Born to Fight, The Bodyguard does not nearly share the same level of colossal violence as the aforementioned titles. Instead, it substitutes martial arts and explosions for slapstick – and plenty of it. Wongkamlao has provided multiple tributes to John Woo and HK cinema, spoofing a wide range of titles from the Killer to Once Upon a Time in China. It would appear that the entire film is more focused on little sketches than progressing with the storyline or character development.

A lot of the humour is physical and immature; the kind that would leave a thirteen year old guffawing for a few minutes. The rest of the jokes are ridiculously repetitive – how many times can someone make slow motion seem funny? Eventually the humour loses its charm and begins to annoy after a while, greatly affecting the pacing and execution of the film. The Bodyguard is also riddled with various chapters that not only have nothing to do with the story but also make no sense whatsoever. Wongkamlao is a famous comedian in his homeland; therefore I would not be surprised if he provided references exclusively for Thai audiences, which would explain the somewhat erratic nature of the film.

Bodyguard, The
Whilst on one side of the film lies the debateable comedy, the director has also opted for a useless subplot involving the boss’s son and his involvement with the villagers. On the whole, the characters are so one dimensional and shallow that it is difficult to care for any of them. Pumwaree Yodkamol was wasted as the love interest and even the leading star, Wongkamlao, was not as enjoyable as he was in Ong-Bak. The direction is remarkably amateurish, with little originality or visual flair. Perhaps the most memorable scene in the movie is the opening chapter; everything else looks suspiciously different. Born to Fight director Panna Rittikrai had some involvement with this title, which would perhaps explain why certain sections look more energetic than the comedy elements.

The action choreography is very tongue-in-cheek, exaggerating wire-fu with comic stances and gunplay. The fights are not spectacular but manage to win points for effort. As mentioned earlier, Wongkamlao’s ‘speciality’ is comedy and he is not really a fighter. Thus, a lot of noticeable body doubling and manipulative editing is employed to make him look more competent than he really is. Many promotional materials for The Bodyguard display a picture of Tony Jaa, which fools fans into thinking that this is his next film. I watched this with my observant flatmate who kept saying, “I think this is when Tony Jaa comes in” or “Tony Jaa will save this movie.” It then occurred to me that the poor guy has no idea that Jaa only has a brief cameo, lasting barely a few minutes. His expression when I told him was tragic and almost made me cry with sympathy. The cameo itself was an uplifting moment but again, it wasn’t captured particularly well – simple steady shots with no imagination.

Despite The Bodyguard’s various flaws, it is far from a total disaster. There are some laugh-out-loud moments and the dialogue is occasionally witty, if a little vulgar (the characters sure have potty mouths in this film). However I would advise the director to either stick to acting or take a proper course in filmmaking. It seems that Wongkamlao will reunite with Tony Jaa in the upcoming Tom Yum Goong, which thankfully has the original Ong-Bak director at the helm so it should be something special.

Bodyguard, The
Video
The film is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format, maintaining an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Considering that The Bodyguard is a fairly recent release with an admirable production value, the transfer is likewise relatively polished. The colour reproduction is strong and the saturation level is well maintained, resulting in warm shades and healthy skin tones. Similarly, the blacks are deep and the night chapters are perfectly perceptible. There does not seem to be any evidence of smearing or edge enhancement.

In fact, the video settings are all reasonably balanced with the exception of a slightly soft picture and the occasional motion blurring. Regular body movements are kept fluid enough. There is also heavy grain that is more noticeable in the background; the foreground details are kept mostly unobstructed and clear.

Bodyguard, The
Audio
The Bodyguard contains two explosive Thai soundtracks in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. The Dolby effort is loud, clear and highly sophisticated – fully exploiting the surround sound system’s capabilities. Plenty of broken glass and ricocheting bullets can be heard throughout the channels and the dialogue is kept solid and distinct. Whilst the Dolby track is consistently loud, the DTS mix offers greater control of the dynamic balance, particularly with the score. The action chapters sound superb for either option so any differences are almost negligible.

The disc contains forced English subtitles, which are thankfully very easy to read and nicely paced. It is amazing how dirty these characters speak; hope they wash their mouths with soap afterwards.

Extras
The main supplementary material is a thirteen minute making of documentary, which comprises of various behind the scenes footage and interviews with the director and cast members (including Tony Jaa). It is evident that everybody put their hearts into this movie, looking like one big family instead of a film crew. This would make sense, as most have already worked together on Ong-Bak. The annoying thing about this documentary is that there is a massive border that takes up a third of the screen – some of the performers have a chunk of their face missing in consequence.

Lastly there are three trailers (for Ong-Bak, The Bodyguard and Born to Fight) that finish off the extras on this DVD. Those with DVD ROM access can look forward to biographies and some interesting articles on the Thai film industry and Petchtai Wongkamlao.

Bodyguard, The
Overall
There are many new and upcoming Thai movies leaving an impact on the world - The Bodyguard is not one of them. Comedian turned writer-director Petchtai Wongkamlao repeats mundane jokes and provides seemingly random references that are lost in the cultural barrier. However the film does contain some loud-out-loud moments but you may require a strong interest in Thai entertainment to fully appreciate Wongkamlao’s debut project. The DVD is slim but adequate in overall presentation, with perfectly legible English subtitles for the main feature and supplementary materials.


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