Kham grew up with elephants in Thailand. Elephants are majestic creatures, bred for peace, but prepared for war. When an evil Asian gang kidnapped the bull and the baby elephant during a festival and smuggled them to Sydney Australia, Kham must travel to a foreign land, and unravel a conspiracy that will reach into the highest strata of Australian law and business circles. With only his Muy Thai fighting techniques, and a disgraced Thai-descent police sergeant, he must reclaim his elephants, and his heritage... Against almost impossible odds...
I remember when Ong Bak was released several years ago and the resulting "WOW" factor that ensued due to the real and brutal looking fights that took place. The lack of wires used made it seem all the more incredible. The plot was rather thin, but the action and stunts were incredible and in general we were all pleased. With Tom Yum Goong we have the second film from Tony Ja and Prachya Pinkaew, and with it expectations have been raised. We'd seen brutally realistic fights and cool tricks and stunts, and that level has practically become the standard by which we judge, so with this film the expectations for the next progression in film action were high. The question was, however, could they actually meet expectations?
Well the action certainly is brutal again, in several instances even more so than in Ong Bak, and while thoroughly entertaining, the same 'wow' factor was unfortunately not there. There are lots of cool looking tricks and stunts again, but most of these seemed not much different to what I'd seen before, and again there was a very thin plot, which in most places just seemed like an instrument with the sole purpose of setting up more scenarios for fights. This paragraph has been fairly critical of Tom Yung Goong, but don't get me wrong it is and enjoyable martial arts film, but it simply does not have the same ground-breaking impact that its predecessor had.
There have been some developments and progressions with this film, and this is something that the film-makers were clearly trying to show off on many instances. The main one is the use of long takes. There were several fight scenes where there were no cuts, no changes of camera angle, just one camera rolling for several minutes at a time. Now I am a big fan of long takes, as to me this shows that the actors and actresses in the scenes must know their parts and character inside out, and this requires more skill than simply acting for the order of seconds before a cut. The more complex the scene you're shooting the harder it is to do a long take, but that has not put Prachya Pinkaew or Tony Ja off making some quite complex action scenes in this manner. One scene last about five minutes as Kham works his way up the floors of a several story building dispensing with the obligatory drone bad guys on his way. Technically the scenes were very impressive, especially with some of the impacts and throws over edges that were going on, and credit must be given where it is due for these scenes. Entertainment wise, I'm not so sure they are such a big hit (no pun intended). From a simple action point of view, these long take scenes were not quite as entertaining, as the heavy impacts and brutality was notably less in these fights. Some people took big falls, but nobody took an ultra-realistic, bone crunching, full force looking hit. It all seemed softer. So with progression in the film-making and technical side of things, we do seem to have compromised in the hard hitting action aspect.
Once you reach the latter third of Tom Yum Goong it becomes quite evident that this is film is a very much glossed up demo reel, setting Tony Ja up to fight as many different styles and variety of opponents as possible. Pretty much every and any style of opponent is brought into the mix at some point or another. From the low level drone bad guys, we move up to multiple low level drone bad guys, then there is the same type of person but with weapons or on vehicles of various descriptions (rollerblade, BMXs, bikes, quad bikes...), then there is a kung fu guy, a Wushu style swordsman, a capoeira expert, a goliath looking wrestler and then to top it all multiple goliath looking wrestlers. Kham's fighting style varies depending on the opponents, but the main showcase is his display of a more "Elephant style Muy Thai", which focuses on hard hits and breaking bones. This fight was quite humorous as it did just seem like the bad guys were lining up to get something broken, and when the numbers were running low, right on queue twenty or so more of them would run into the room!
The film is nothing but action entertainment, the plot is barely relevant, but does try to give some moral story with it about man's poor treatment of elephants. The comedy light relief comes from the familiar face of Petchtai Wongkamlao, and fortunately some scenes do succeed on the humour front. Whether those two are destined to become a Stephen Chow/Ng Man Tat style pairing remains to be seen! I enjoyed the film, but I had hoped for a little more depth or something extra to make me appreciate it more than just on the violence levels. With so much of the film seeming like a demo show reel, I felt detraction from the fights on screen, so didn't even enjoy that as much as I had hoped. I'll definitely still be checking out all of Tony Ja's future films, as there is undoubtedly a great future ahead of him in the martial arts film world.
Audio & Subtitles
The audio is a mix of Thai, English and Chinese. The DTS track was very strong, and made damn sure that every break or crunch of a bone was clearly heard, to hammer home the point that the person on screen was just practically snapped in half. Surround effects were used fairly sparingly, but effectively.
The subtitles were clear, with decent timing and no evident spelling or grammar errors.
The film print looked pretty good on the whole. I'm still aware the TV and DVD upscaler can make a great difference these days, but on my set up, the picture looked very good. Colours were well produced, detail levels seemed good but not great, and I don't recall seeing any notable artefacts or problems with the print. I'm not a videophile, I'll admit, but I was happy with the picture.
DVD & Extras
Being the single disc release of the film, there were no extras to speak of, just a bare bones release.
If you like your fights in films, then Tom Yum Goong is definitely a film you should check out. The stuntmen and Tony Ja endure a lot to put the entertainment on screen, so it should be appreciated! However, if you are looking for depth, a strong plot or character development, then you are really barking up the wrong tree. It is just a shame that the film had an extended demo reel feel, rather than a film like feel to it, as this has detracted from my repeat viewing desire.