Published Feb 01, 2005If you're one of the nine people who haven't seen this on grey-market DVD, you're in for a treat. Tony Jaa is the right replacement for the tired Jackie Chan and he makes one hell of an impression in this simple but effective action romp. A no-goodnik named Don has made off with the head of the Buddha from Jaa's impoverished Thai town and our hero is sent to the fleshpots of Bangkok to retrieve the relic, only to uncover a massive crime syndicate that purloins Buddha statues when it's not selling drugs or betting on illegal fights. He's reluctant to employ his Muay Thai skills, but really we all know what we're here for.
The inhuman virtue of the protagonist slows the film down, but there's a reason its underground following bubbled up into a North American-wide release. Once Jaa is unleashed on his scum-sucking antagonists, he's revealed to be an astonishing performer his martial-arts skills are impeccable and so is his star power, matching astounding agility with a sullen, slow-burning intensity that lends gravity to the sometimes threadbare proceedings. They need all the help they can get, but they've got all they need in Jaa.
There's a point at which I reached critical mass with the film's insane earnestness and frequent humourlessness, and even the Cheaplaffs Johnson comic foils can't relieve the oppressive atmosphere in the brutal karmic retribution finale. But anyone who has not seen a man deliver elbow hits to people's heads in a motion picture owes it to themselves to see this film, as it makes a strong and exciting case for the practice, as well as its expert practitioner, who deserves a successful international career as something other than Owen Wilson's hapless sidekick. (Alliance Atlantis)