Warrior King (2005)

An elephant might not be every child’s idea of the ideal pet (and certainly not every parent’s) but for young Kham, his elephants are practically part of the family. He’s the last in a line of elite martial artists known as the Jaturungkabart, whose job was to defend the legs of royal elephants from attack; living with his father and their two elephants in a small, quiet village, his life is much less glamorous. That is, until some Australia-based mobsters steal the elephants – in order to get them back, Kham must travel to Sydney and break out his skills in Muay Thai to unravel the mystery and kick some ass.

Warrior King re-asserts a fact that the crew’s previous film, Ong-Bak, had already proven beyond all doubt: Tony Jaa is an unstoppable one-man hurting machine. Both Warrior King and its predecessor proudly boast that no stunt doubles, wires or CGI were used to create their effects, and the action is all the more jaw-dropping for it. As Kham, Jaa repeatedly pulls off the seemingly impossible; running, kicking and smashing his way through innumerable opponents.

One scene in particular, referred to as the “4-minute take”, sees Kham fighting his way through four levels of fighters and was filmed in one dizzyingly spectacular take. The sheer amount of organisation it must have taken to get each and every opponent in the right place at the right time and perfectly choreographed is mind-boggling, not to mention the frenetic, breathless Steadicam work as the camera ducks and weaves, zooming in and out as it follows Kham on his ascent. This shot, like much of the film, is breathtakingly beautiful; a feat in filmmaking that deserves to become legendary. For fans of martial arts movies, the 4-minute take alone should make Warrior King unmissable.

Sadly, for non-die hard fans of the genre, Warrior King doesn’t have much to offer. While Ong-Bak’s plot may have been thin, it was cohesive enough to maintain the film’s momentum between action sequences; unfortunately, though Warrior King retains much of the same humour, the plot is complete and utter bobbins. There’re comedy policemen, speedboat chases, and on-call studded roller-blade gangs; a restaurant with cages full of endangered species and a larder-load of Thai prostitutes tucked in the back; and a seemingly pointless lone, lost Thai girl who hovers around the periphery, only jumping into the action when cavorting in a mud-bath is required.

The main villain of the piece is a Thai transsexual doing her darnedest to take over the family business. What, exactly, she’s intending to do once she’s achieved that will forever remain a mystery, though, as the rather ham fisted script sees her big debriefing session interrupted by an angry Kham comically demanding to know “Where the hell is my elephant?”

It really is a pity that the writing doesn’t do justice to the action. Warrior King is a brilliant spectacle, and the crew’s attempts to convey a sense of Thai history and culture to a wider audience are laudable, but probably ultimately pointless: Warrior King will find itself an audience, but is unlikely to win over anyone looking for more than camp chopsocky.

IMDB link

Originally reviewed for 6 Degrees Film.

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