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Warrior King
cast: Tony Jaa, Phetchai Wongkamlao, Bongkoj Khongmalai, Tri Nguyen, and Jin Xing

director: Prachya Pinkaew

109 minutes (18) 2005
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Premier Asia DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Tony Jaa is one of the great success stories of the last couple of years. His astonishing physicality and athletic prowess made Ong-Bak a jaw dropping visual experience and it seems only a matter of time before he follows the likes of Jet Li and Jackie Chan into the world of the Hollywood mainstream. Until then however, we have his Thai-based movies to enjoy and Warrior King (aka: Tom yum goong) is a fine example of them. Re-teaming him with a co-star and the director of Ong-Bak, it sees Jaa play Kham, a young Thai man who is the last descendant of the guardians of the royal elephants. An opening voiceover explains the importance elephants have in Thai culture and the film's first 20 minutes are a genuinely sweet examination of the relationship between Kham, his father and their elephants. Then, the inevitable happens. The elephants are stolen, Kham follows them to Australia, and all hell literally breaks loose.

It's genuinely difficult to describe what follows without descending into hyperbole. The distinctly surreal twist on the standard martial arts plot (vengeance, search for missing friends) forms the basis for something that has to be seen to be believed. Aided and occasionally abetted by expatriate cop Mark (Bongkoj Khongmalai), Kham cuts a swathe through the Australian underworld in a series of jaw dropping martial arts sequences. Starting with a rolling battle between him and a group of street punks, the action sequences get progressively more impressive and excessive until the final hour of the film is effectively two 25-minute fights punctuated by ten minutes of extra footage. One sequence in particular follows Kham up a flight of stairs, through countless goons and into a room filled with more thugs, in a near continuous take that's as exhausting as it is impressive. Similarly, the final battle between Kham, four monstrous Australian wrestlers, 80 plus goons and the central villain is astonishingly performed and filmed. Every hit feels real, the emotion on screen is palpable and all involved are clearly giving it a hundred percent. As if that wasn't enough, its all presented in a genuinely fascinating historical context. Everything that happens is powered by Kham's desire to retrieve his elephants and to live up to the heritage of the warrior kings and anyone looking for the standard martial arts movie plot is in for some surprises.

It's this, along with the emotional element that really impresses. Kham's love for his elephants is real and oddly familial and the film takes several turns that are both deeply poignant and genuinely horrifying. This is not a cookie-cutter movie and anyone expecting little more than the odd fight is going to come away impressed but unfulfilled. There's real heart and soul here and that's the most impressive element of the film. Jaa has a great future ahead of him, both as an actor and a martial arts star and I, for one, can't wait.

The bonus disc is crammed with interviews, a multi-angle view of one of the film's best fight scenes, a documentary following Jaa on the press trail, and a documentary on pre-production.
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