From Beaten to Death to Bored to Death
The Protector bullied its way into my life one day with a flying knee that landed itself into my top three martial arts movies of all time. It is a movie that can stand strongly as a martial arts masterpiece without the use of stunt doubles, CGI, or wires. This premise, coupled with Tony Jaa’s impressive acrobatics and Quentin Tarantino as a producer, culminated in one of the best modern martial arts movies ever made. Like everyone who saw the original, I could not wait to watch the sequel. Enter The Protector 2: a movie that ditches all of the special sauce of the original, creates a story that aggressively commits itself to nonsense, and does an abysmal job of showcasing Muay Thai.
When it comes to martial arts movies, plot is not an essential driving force. Sure it gets you from scene A to scene B, but it is just a vessel to move the audience from one fighting set-piece to the other. The Protector executed this wonderfully: It was about a villager trying to rescue his elephant from kidnappers who believed its bones held magical powers. This simple plotline is all the audience needed to understand Tony Jaa’s rampage through henchmen as he tried to recover his pet. The Protector 2 chose the opposite route by creating a story that was meant to be deep, complete with twists and surprises, but ultimately fell flat and got in the way of the action. The dialogue is frequently laughable, which is sometimes okay in martial arts movies, but not to this extent; the characters’ motives are unexplained, and plot holes are peppered in at an alarming rate. How did Tony Jaa survive that 200 ft fall? Who cares? Is that woman a love interest or a sex slave? Stop asking questions. Is this underground crime boss trying to find the world’s best martial artists, or is he trying to overthrow governments? Wish I could tell you.
The film also tried to introduce comic book stylized characters. They were meant to ooze cool and give the audience a thrill when they entered the scene, but instead they came across mostly as gimmicks. Twin girls fighting for vengeance would enter the plot at random, and their matching outfits could not make up for the poor fight choreography they exhibited. On the other hand, RZA’s portrayal of a crime lord definitely stood out amongst the other failed attempts of stylized characters. The fine suits, golden toothpick, and grizzled attitude felt natural, but one instance of success does not make up for The Protector 2’s other failures.
So how is the martial arts? Even the most laughable martial arts plots can be forgiven if they give the audience what they came for: well choreographed fight scenes and large, intricate set-pieces. The Protector 2 has neither. What made the first movie so great was the authenticity that permeated the whole film as a result of the lack of special effects and wires. The Protector 2 has completely changed its bets, and then doubled down. There are special effects, lots of them, and the lack of budget is painfully obvious. Slow motion knife throws look like they were made on a Nintendo 64, and rooms engulfed by flame are in no way realistic. It gets so bad that at one point two fighters have electrically charged themselves by standing on a railroad, and with every blocked fist lightsaber noises explode from their bodies. Yep, the exact sound effects used from Star Wars. Here. In this movie. Why?
That isn’t to say there weren’t a few good martial arts showcases, but the pacing of the movie was so off it was impossible to enjoy them. Dramatic scenes would drag for thirty minutes or so, lulling the viewer into a state of boredom so that by the time the action was happening, he/she was so disconnected from the film that all interest was lost shortly after the punches started. Doubly frustrating was that some of the action sequences went on for ten straight minutes. Rather than giving the audience high adrenaline fighting, allowing them to catch their breath with plot, and then hitting them with action again, The Protector 2 associates length with quality. Furthermore, the choreography was too sloppy to keep the audience’s attention. At one point, The Protector 2 had a motorcycle gang chase Tony Jaa all over the city, but the driving skills of each gang member had me wondering how they ever got off of their training wheels.
Tony Jaa used the original Protector as a platform to exhibit Muay Thai, a martial arts style about debilitating punches, knees, and elbows that take the breath out of you simply by watching them. The Protector had a real sense of inertia to it. The unfortunate henchmen in the way of Tony Jaa looked like they were actually getting theirs limbs broken and their faces smashed, but in The Protector 2 none of the umph is present. Everything is laughably fake. The dropped elbows give way to late reactions, and very few times does it actually look like Jaa is hurting someone.
The Protector also showcased Jaa’s free running and acrobatic skills, and the sequel pays homage to this lineage, but only momentarily. You’ll see some impressive jumps, vaults, and ledge grabs in The Protector 2. One scene in particular uses GoPro footage from Jaa as he jumps from a rooftop to a balcony across the street, which was very impressive. But the acrobatics stop halfway through the movie and never return with as much gusto.
Don’t watch The Protector 2. It took everything that made the original good, threw it out the window, and in its place supplemented a convoluted plot, special effects-heavy action, and uninspired characters. There are a couple of good martial arts sequences here, in particular the one-on-one fights between Tony Jaa and RZA or his main lackey, but thats it. If you want to watch a martial arts movie on par with the original Protector, I recommend you just rewatch it.
Edited by Malia Hamilton