ASIAN FILM - Review
12:00 - 8th November 2014, by Calum Waddell

Warrior King 2

It is difficult to believe that over a decade has passed since Tony Jaa first wowed the world with Ong Bak (2003). His follow-up film, Warrior King (2005), was released as The Protector in the United States and impressed Quentin Tarantino so much that he leant his name to the title. Indeed, the official stateside moniker boasts ‘Quentin Tarantino Presents The Protector’. Things were obviously looking rather good for Jaa – who boasted other heavyweight fans in the shape of Jackie Chan and Sylvester Stallone – but two critically derided sequels to Ong Bak (in 2008 and 2010), evidence of plastic surgery and scandals involving his on and off-set behaviour, sent the star into isolation. In 2010, it was reported that he had become a Buddhist monk and, for all intents and purposes, the would-be superstar kissed goodbye to a life of fame and fortune.

Ultimately, though, it seems that you cannot keep a kung-fu icon from swinging a few roundhouse kicks, and here we are with Warrior King 2 – Jaa’s first official comeback effort (he will soon be seen in the Hollywood opus Fast and Furious 7). Reuniting the performer with director Prachya Pinkaew, who oversaw the original film as well as Ong Bak, Warrior King 2 co-stars some other heavyweight names. American rapper RZA, Thai pop singer Rhatha Phongam (recently seen in Ryan Gosling’s Only God Forgives) and Chocolate’s martial arts maiden Yanin Vismitananda also put in supporting turns. However, it is the latter who steals the movie – playing a spunky street fighter who is dedicated to avenging her uncle’s death at the hands of a Bangkok crime conglomerate.

The plot here is more or less a re-run of the first Warrior King. Jaa will not sell his best friend (an elephant) to some gangsters. Unimpressed, they kidnap the beast. The actor is subsequently forced to follow the trail back to Bangkok where he finds the culprit: a crime boss who is about to be ‘hit’ by a rival gang. Jaa is found on the scene and is ultimately framed for murder. He finds some solace in his old pal Sergeant Mark (Mum Jokmok) who, naturally, suspects that something fishy is up.

In the midst of this mess are peace talks surrounding the fictional country of Kantana – which has been split by civil war (presumably the makers did not want to reference the actual situations in Myanmar or North Korea). When the interim leader of Kantana attends a summit in Thailand, the organisation headed by RZA is revealed to be planning an assassination (the rapper is portraying a sadly stereotypical African-American ‘badass’ gun-tottin’ gang leader). With Jaa quickly figuring out the various mysteries, RZA sends his ‘number two’ (man-mountain Marrese Crump) to hammer him into oblivion.

Yes, there is a lot happening in Warrior King 2. And it is not to the film’s advantage. Does the subplot about Kantana add anything? Not really. In fact, it only makes the movie’s conclusion longer than it needs to be, as various threads are haphazardly tied up.

When Ong Bak was released, Jaa would boast that he had achieved the movie’s many awesome set pieces without the use of any digital trickery – and, of course, we all celebrated the sight of him leaping, bounding and beating his way through a very simple story about honour and revenge. With Warrior King 2, however, there is CGI aplenty. The picture was originally shot in 3D for the Thai market – where it was a sizeable success (and on the strength of the return of Jaa, the pre-release build-up was huge) – but even this does not excuse the amount of ropey and cartoonish computer enhanced idiocy on display. In one scene Jaa’s face stretches to become about three times its normal size – indicating, possibly, a rushed post-production schedule or a lack of budget to successfully integrate the CGI with the practical performers and backgrounds.

There is certainly little of the no-holds-barred brutality of Ong Bak in Warrior King 2. However, to be fair, the first Warrior King was not without its flaws either – indeed, in retrospect, it was likely the first indication that all was not ideal in the world of Tony Jaa. The tone in the sequel is more comical, and also more lightweight, than the first flick – but it suffers from some of the same problems: a dopey story, a leading man whose thespian abilities fail to rival his fighting and stunt expertise, and exposition-heavy battle sequences. With this said, though, there are still plenty of things to like here. There is a raucous battle across some Bangkok rooftops – a sequence which is almost as exciting as anything in Ong Bak. Jaa also handles himself well against Yanin Vismitananda, whose Chocolate is one of the greatest action flicks of modern times. And a finale, featuring man, woman and elephant, is so boisterous in its enthusiasm that it is difficult not have at least some admiration for the decision to stage such stupidity.

Ultimately, then, Warrior King 2 is far better than either of the lousy Ong Bak sequels but it still remains to be seen if Jaa can recapture the mojo that he once possessed. Hollywood will likely make or break him – but, on the strength of this flawed but enjoyably insane sequel, there might be some cinematic life left in the Muay Thai expert after all…

Far from the kickass sequel that was hoped for, Warrior King 2 still packs enough punch to warrant a recommendation.
SCORE: 3/5
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