I felt I had to watch Tom Yum Goong, because Nat and Jon have seen it, so I was ending up last on the list of bloggers I know who like martial arts movies who have seen this Tony Jaa movie. I watched the Chinese edition of this movie, so since I don’t know Thai or Chinese I probably missed some of the plot. But the storyline isn’t very essential to understanding a movie like Tom Yum Goong. In Ong Bak, Tony Jaa had to leave his rural village to beat people up after they stole a Buddha head. In Tom Yum Goong, Tony Jaa has to leave his rural village to beat up people after they steal his elephants. If there is one important lesson to be learned from Tom Yum Goong, it is this – don’t come between a Thai man and his elephants!
Baby and Papa elephant are taken to Australia, so Tony Jaa must follow in order to find and protect them. I’m guessing that the Australian setting was chosen to make the movie appeal more to an international audience, and there are plenty of snippets of English language dialog. Unfortunately I couldn’t understand much of the English. I’m sure part of it is due to my lack of ability to understand Thai accented English, but I honstly had no idea what Petchtai Wongkamlao was saying in his role as a cop who doesn’t play by the rules.
But dialog doesn’t matter in a movie like this! I have to say I was slightly disappointed in the action scenes in this movie when I compared them to the action in Ong Bak. Ong Bak conveyed a bit of manic gleefulness in showing scenes like Tony Jaa dive through a circle of barbed wire – just because he can! There were wonderful explosions! Although there were plenty of great action scenes in Tom Yum Goong, I wasn’t seeing the sheer joy in the ridiculous action scenes that I loved so much in Ong Bak.
Still Tom Yum Goong had many of the elements that you’d expect from a great action movie. One of the things that I like about the few Thai action movies that I’ve seen is they aren’t too prettied up by CGI or an excessive amount of wirework. Tony Jaa’s kicks to the head are still a thing of beauty. He runs up walls. He leaps into frame. He jumps up and kicks a streetlamp. There’s a great scene with a capoeira fighter. There’s a fight scene in a house of worship! There’s fire, water, and a climatic bare-chested fight involving improvised symbolically resonant weapons. Although it isn’t as sublime as Ong Bak, Tom Yum Goong is the next best thing.