Jaa is Kham, a countryboy martial arts master devoted to his two elephants. When they are stolen by a mafia-backed gang trading in exotic animals, he follows the trail to Sydney. Teaming up with local Thai cop Mark (comedy star Petchthai Wongkamlao, returning from Ong-Bak), Jaa visits all sorts of mayhem on the bad guys. But it’s not just animals that are being traded. Who’s behind it? And what’s the restaurant Tom-Yum-Goong got to do with it? And can Jaa defeat the hundreds of baddies sent against him? What do you think?
Warrior King is sentimental, brutal, and beautifully shot. The eco/elephant plotline is sincerely done and a reminder of how beautiful these beasts truly are. And it isn’t just a tack-on. Director Pinkaew blends the theme into the battles, the climatic showdown seeing Jaa take on a quartet of elephantine opponents. Before then, though, we’ve had a lobby-fight (hats off to Chan’s Project A), a several-levels chase through a building (Lee’s Game of Death) and several scraps and stunts straight out of Chan’s Armour of God, Police Story 2 and Heart of Dragon. All are staged with consummate skill and a rare-these-days recklessness. And Jaa’s deliberately chosen a more fluid fighting style than Ong-Bak’s muay thai, with long steady shots of gruellingly impressive intensity. Recalling Kill Bill 1’s orgy of samurai violence, Jaa despatches suited goons in a variety of bone-crackingly inventive ways.
Warrior King is Tony Jaa’s international calling-card. It succeeds abundantly as a fightfest. But it underestimates the western tendency to guffaw unforgivingly at hammy scenes. Ultimately, it’s a victim of Jaa’s own abilities, the fights spiralling into almost numbing, video-game preposterousness. Yet there are echoes of Ong-Bak – a beautifully-filmed battle in a water-filled Buddhist temple being a testament to the commitment and artistry needed to get this on screen.
Warrior King is flawed. But the choreography is first-rate, jaw-dropping stuff. In the cinema you can’t rewind. For fight-fans, though, this is a must-see way to unwind.