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The Protector

A Man In Search Of His Elephants

There are a few simple rules in life, unwritten but universally acknowledged: Don’t mess with a guy’s girlfriend. Don’t scratch his car. And never, ever steal his elephant.

In The Protector, Tony Jaa shatters arms, legs, skulls and every other conceivable body part in search of his favorite elephants, and why not? He descends from an ancient Thai order of elephant keepers, brave souls who protect the sacred animals for their royal owners. When two of his charges are stolen by the minions of an evil mob boss (Xing Jing) and shipped to Australia, where they will presumably be turned into an expensive entrée, his head-crushing journey begins.

As war-cries go, Jaa’s is highly unusual. It’s hard not to crack a smile when he tracks down the bad guys (“You killed my father… and stole my elephant!”), and it’s even harder when he unleashes one of his furious Muay-Thai beat-downs. Like his U.S. debut, last year’s Ong-Bak, The Protector is basically a showcase for Jaa’s physical gifts, his acrobatic mastery of the martial arts and his fluid, lightning-quick form. He earned his reputation as a screen fighting legend by performing his stunts without wires or doubles, often in a single take. Here, he keeps upping the ante, attacking every scene with a breathtaking ferocity that would make Jackie Chan (who appears in a brief cameo) blush.

And the plot? Well, that’s beside the point, isn’t it? The Protector is little more than a glorified remake of Ong-Bak, with sacred elephants replacing sacred Buddha statues as Jaa’s raison de combat. This time around, the names have changed but the style’s the same, and whatever The Protector lacks in inspiration it makes up for with its intensely gratifying chops.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars