Warrior King (UK - DVD R2)
Chris Gould checks out the latest film from Tony Jaa, courtesy of Premier Asia
Warrior King (otherwise known as Tom yum goong) tells the tale of Kham (Tony Jaa), a young man who lives in a remote Thai village with his aging father and an elephant named Por Yai. Kham has been raised to observe the traditions of the Jaturnugkabart, the ancient Thai royal guard who fought alongside elephants in battle, and has a very deep bond with both Por Yai and his calf, Korn. However, Kham’s world is turned upside-down when an international crime syndicate captures his elephants and spirits them away to Australia.
Kham is forced to journey to Sydney in search of his beloved elephants, and becomes embroiled in a seedy underworld populated by Chinese gangs and corrupt police officials. Kham’s only assistance comes in the form of Mark (Petchtai Wongkamlao), a local Thai police sergeant framed for the murder of a high-ranking official, and Pla (Bongkoj Khongmalai), a Thai girl forced into prostitution who witnessed the murder. Together they face off against the ruthless Madame Rose (Jin Xing) and her vicious henchmen, Vietnamese martial arts expert Johnny (Tri Nguyen), and the colossal T.K. (Nathan Jones).
Forget coherent plot, snappy dialogue and character development, because you just won’t find them here. Instead, Warrior King holds your attention by serving up set-piece after set-piece in which Tony Jaa kicks the living crap out of people. The fights are seriously brutal, and some of the moves look so painful that they caused me to spontaneously burst into nervous laughter (“Surely he didn’t just kick that stuntman in the head for real? Oh, he did!”). From the moment Jaa first appears, flying into frame to plant his knee square in the chest of an unsuspecting henchman, you know you’re going to be in for an action-packed ride if nothing else.
From then on things just get more ridiculous, with Jaa taking on an entire gang of rollerblade-wearing, fluorescent-light-wielding Sydney street punks. Of course that’s nothing compared to the stunning one-take scene in which he works his way through the gang’s secret lair, level by level, kicking seven shades out of all and sundry. It’s like something out of the old Kung Fu Master video game, but with significantly more haemorrhaging. Even this wanton violence pales into comparison to the penultimate encounter with Madame Rose’s henchmen, in which Jaa literally breaks two-dozen arms and legs. You’ll notice I said penultimate encounter, because there’s still more to come as he faces off against multiple, unfeasibly large enemies in a battle royal that puts most other films to shame. It’s all terribly implausible, but damn is it fun to watch!
Warrior King arrives with an anamorphic widescreen transfer framed at approximately 1.85:1, and on the whole things look pretty good. On the plus side, most of the picture is fairly sharp and colour rendition is pleasing, capturing the lush greens of Thailand and the bright neon of the Sydney underworld with relative ease. Unfortunately there are several instances where noise and grain become terribly distracting, mostly affecting solid blocks of colour (such as the sky). Black levels are also somewhat disappointing, and although not strictly a fault of the transfer I quickly grew tired of the overused gimmick of blurring the frame to separate characters from their environments. All-in-all it’s a solid, if uninspiring, presentation, but that was perhaps to be expected given the source material.
Premier Asia provides a choice of Thai audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. I opted for the latter for review purposes, and while it’s not the all-out, action-packed track I expected, it did a nice job drawing me into the action. All six speakers get a reasonable workout, and there are some neat discrete effects in attendance (such as the scene in which a quad-bike drives around our hero). What little dialogue there is comes across reasonably well, and the only times I struggled to comprehend something were more to do with the thick accents than anything else. The foley artists must have been working overtime to provide all of the bone-crunching effects (particularly during the penultimate fight), and each punch and kick is reinforced by a suitable thud from the sub.
The film constantly switches back and forth between Thai with English subtitles and spoken English, and as mentioned above the heavy accents sometimes necessitated a bit of rewind action. For a film set largely in Australia it’s amazing how few Australians there actually are, as most of the cast are either Asian or at least speak with an accent.
Since the departure of Bey Logan, Premier Asia’s—and indeed Hong Kong Legends’—releases have been lacking in the commentary department. Unfortunately that’s still the case with this title, and all you can expect from disc one of this two-disc set is a selection of trailers for other Premier Asia titles. Included are spots for Ong-bak, Bichunmoo: Warrior of Virtue, The Warrior, Once Upon a Time in High School, Initial D: Drift Racer and Ju-On: The Grudge 2. Curiously, a trailer for Momentum Pictures’ District 13 is also included.
Moving on to disc two we come to the first of the submenus, entitled ‘Promotional Gallery’. As you might expect, this contains the film’s original teaser trailer, along with a selection of Thai and UK theatrical trailers. Of greater interest is the ‘On the Press Trail’ featurette, which clocks in at around twelve minutes. Basically this featurette just follows Tony as he travels to various countries (France, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the USA) showing off his athletic and martial prowess, and interacting with fans. The whole thing is set to some cheesy Asian rock music, and although there’s no real interview footage to speak of, some of Jaa’s tumbling has to be seen to be believed. On a personal note, I also enjoyed the many female Asian fans attending the demos…
Next up is the ‘Interview Gallery’, which contains five entries, the first of which is Tony Jaa himself. After around a minute’s worth of fight rehearsal footage, the interview begins proper with Tony discussing the career influence of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li, as well as his early martial arts experiences. He goes on to talk about his patriotism, how the film parallels his own life (his family keep elephants) and how he adapted his fighting style to incorporate elephant movements while shooting the film.
Petchtai Wongkamlao’s interview lasts for around fifteen minutes, and the comedian discusses his start in the business before moving on to the differences between acting and stand-up comedy. He also touches on his difficulties with English, which he was required to speak frequently during the film. He also speaks of his admiration for Tony Jaa, and his fondness for director Prachya Pinkaew. Unfortunately Wongkamlao has a tendency to repeat himself, which starts to get a little tiresome after a while.
Bongkoj Khongmalai’s interview is much shorter, clocking in at around the five-minute mark. Bongkoj is a very beautiful young lady, and I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that she was cast based solely on the fact that she had, and I quote, ‘a sexy body’. She talks a little about her role in Warrior King and Thailand’s changing attitudes towards women in film, but I had to laugh when she gave Tony Jaa a backhanded compliment by stating that, although he’s not handsome, he’s perfect in other ways.
By the time I reached the final pair of interviews—with director Prachya Pinkaew and stunt co-ordinator Panna Rittikrai—I was beginning to tire of reading the subtitles, so this section is going to be a little brief (hey, it’s not like I’m getting paid for this gig). For his part, Pinkaew discusses the difficulty of following up a successful film such as Ong-bak, as well as detailing Thailand’s relationship with elephants and his reasons for basing the story on Tony Jaa’s real life. Rittikrai concentrates on the technical aspects of the fighting, discussing the evolution of the particular style of Thai boxing seen in the film and the role of the Jaturnugkabart in ancient times, which I found very interesting.
The final section is entitled ‘A Warrior’s Journey’, and is itself divided into three subsections. The first of these is ‘Revolution Uprising’, which features pre-production rehearsal footage of some of the film’s more memorable encounters. ‘A Different Line’ is a seventeen-minute multi-angle sequence that showcases many of the more impressive fight sequences in split-screen form, while the final featurette, ‘Making The Warrior’, includes English-language interview footage with Tri Nguyen, Nathan Jones, Jin Xing, John Foo and members of the Australian film crew
From a technical standpoint, Premier Asia’s release of Warrior King is fairly pleasing. Both video and audio are perfectly satisfactory, if not hugely impressive, and there’s a reasonable selection of bonus material that does a good job of showcasing Tony Jaa’s considerable talents. However, I did get a little bored with the seemingly endless subtitled interviews, and I longed for an English-language commentary track from someone familiar with the film (or the Thai film industry in general). Hopefully the label will be able to find a worthy successor to Bey Logan sometime in the near future.
Although riddled with plot holes you could ride a very large elephant through, I personally garnered more enjoyment from Warrior King than its predecessor. Everything is bigger and better this time around, especially the shear scale of some of the gags, the best of which has to be the long continuous take as Tony fights his way through the bad guys’ hideout. The sheer brutality of some of the sequences also goes a long way to compensating for the paper-thin plot and weak acting, and I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun watching people getting beaten up (not even in the town centre on a Saturday night). If your idea of a good night’s entertainment is sitting down to watch a film without the trappings of logic and common sense, this one’s for you.
Review by Chris Gould
Release Date: 30th October 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Thai, DTS 5.1 Thai
Extras: Promotional Gallery, Interview Gallery, A Warrior's Journey, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Cast: Tony Jaa, Petchtai Wongkamlao, Bongkoj Khongmalai, Jin Xing, Tri Nguyen, Nathan Jones
Length: 109 minutes
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