The Thai martial arts spectacular Ong-Bak was the freshest blast of action to sweep through the genre for years – no matter how hackneyed the story, everyone loved the intense, brutal fight scenes delivered by star-in-waiting Tony Jaa. The Bodyguard is being promoted as a sort-of follow up, but it’s really not, and fans of Ong-Bak may well leave disappointed.
Tony Jaa’s Ong-Bak co-star Petchtai Wongkamlao writes and directs, and also stars as loyal bodyguard Wongkom, long-time protector of Thailand’s richest family. When the head of the family is ambushed by villains just as he is about to sign an important deal, Wongkom fights back against the odds but fails to save his master. The business falls to his son Chonchai (Piphat Apiraktanakorn), who blames Wongkom for his father’s death; Chonchai refuses the bodyguard’s protection and soon finds himself hunted by the same men who killed his father.
Petchtai Wongkamlao is one of Thailand’s most popular comedians, and it shows – even though this is an ‘action comedy’ he is far more interested in making his audience laugh than anything else. His brand of humour isn’t subtle but it can be funny, and he has no qualms about setting himself up as a target of the comedy. In one scene, Wongkom is just stepping out of a shower when he is attacked by bad guys trying to find Chonchai – our hero has little problem dispatching his foes, but is forced to flee from his hotel room completely starkers. Wongkamlao is no buff action star, and the sight of this naked, flabby 40-something man being chased down the road is undeniably amusing. Elsewhere, there is some silly banter between a pair of cops dealing with a hostage situation and some knowing references to the fact that this is a film we’re watching.
Where the film really falls short is in the action department. Wongkamlao serves up a variety of violent set pieces, but he ain’t no John Woo. Actually, it is Woo that Wongkamlao tries most to emulate, especially during the Killer-style bullet ballet in the opening scene, but it’s hard to work out whether he is spoofing the Hong Kong gunplay king – a shot of slow motion doves gliding across the screen would suggest so – or genuinely trying to copy Woo’s style. In either case, the action is decidedly lumpen, with no zip to the editing and every scene going on much too long. Tony Jaa does make a well-publicised cameo, but Wongkamlao even succeeds in making his incredible skills – as he kicks ass in a supermarket – seem largely unremarkable.
There’s also a pointless and boring subplot about a slum community in which Chonchai hides out while on the run, and a hackneyed love story concerning Chonchai and tomboy slum resident Pok (Pumwaree Yodkamol, another Ong-Bak alumni). Wongkamlao clearly wants to combine thrilling action and broad laughs in the same way Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung did during the eighties, but he’d have been better off sticking to his talents and making a straight comedy. Forget this one and stick around for Tom Yum Goong – the true Ong-Bak follow-up – instead.
[Momentum Asia's Region 2 DVD presents the film in subtitled, widescreen print and includes a short making-of featurette, plus trailers).