Tom Yum Goong

Ong Bak with elephants.

Released in 2005, certified Taiwan:R-12. Reviewed on 02 May 2006 by Scott Morris
Tom Yum Goong image

There's many things that you could say about Tom Yum Goong, but I think the most important thing to say about it is that it is the sort of film where a man will throw a baby elephant through a plate glass window. This is by no means the central point of the film, nor does it happen more than once. Unbelievably, it's also not a completely gratuitous leftfield happening either, it makes a sort of sense, at least at that point in the film having grown used to it's internal logic and fast 'n' loose approach to gravitation. I don't want to pass moral judgements or anything, but there's going to be a certain percentage of the population that have no wish to see a grown man throw a stunt baby elephant through a plate glass window and that's entirely their lookout.

However, there's going to be a percentage of the population, and I'm guessing it dovetails nicely with the portion of the demographic that would watch a martial arts film like this, who may not go around actively encouraging the throwing of baby elephants through plate glass windows but aren't going to walk out of a cinema in disgust having seen it. I'm sorry if this feels like it's labouring a point about a man throwing a baby elephant through a plate glass window but a man throws a baby elephant through a plate glass window, by Jove!

Okay, lets put the baby elephant / window interface to one side for a moment to look at the latest outing from the Prachya Pinkaew / Tony Jaa pairup, fresh from international success with the ouchtastic Ong Bak. Plot and Chop Sockey films have rarely made the easiest of bedfellows, but you can bet it's basically revenge-based, this traditionally having the best scope for beating people up. Normally it's the kidnapping of a loved one, or the killing of a loved one, or occasionally the dishonouring of a Shaolin Temple. In the case of Tom Yum Goong, it's elephant kidnapping. See, the Thai people, or at least Kham (Tony Jaa) treat their heffalumps as beloved family members, as we are brutally bludgeoned over the head with in the opening few minutes of Kham growing up in a happy loving family unit consisting of his uncle, a really big elephant and a little baby elephant Korn, little realising that he'll grow up to be thrown through a plate glass window.

Tom Yum Goong image

Such happy states of affairs cannot last forever, especially in this sort of film, and given how sugar laden Disney? Magic? Kingdom? this segment is it comes as something of a welcome release when the elephants get kidnapped and Kham's uncle takes a bullet in the gut. After the first martial arts showdown, which is of the sort of quality that makes one immediately rewind and watch it again, Kham finds out that his beloved ivory repositories have been shipped off to Australia. Onwards and down-underwards!

At which point for the sake of my sanity I'm going to stop even thinking about the plot, as it rapidly descends into the usual muddy ring of corrupt cops, good cops getting framed (Petchtai Wongkamlao, returning from Ong-Bak) and Vietnamese crime lords / restaurateurs (don't ask). Frankly it's something of abject, needlessly convoluted mess that takes up far too much time that would be better spend staving people's heads in. That's the thing that this does well, and the rest of it is heading rapidly away from the 'charmingly naive' of Ong Bak to the downright amateurish.

But by the very Beard of Wotan, the stuff it does well is remarkable. The bonecrunching efficiency of the final reel takedown of transgender Vietnamese crime boss/bossess's (look, I told you not to ask) goons is a lovely, sympathetic groan inducing display of brutality that matches anything seen in the previously supplied outing, as well as pretty much any martial arts film of the last twenty years. You know all of that glowing writeup from the previous Ong Bak notice? If you could go ahead and copy it into here that'd be great, and equally applicable. In fact, I imagine that the major criticism most folks might level at Tom Yum Goong is that it often comes across as Ong Bak Again. It's a fair comment, really. It only becomes a real problem if Ong Bak wasn't much cop, however Ong Bak is quite a lot of cop indeed.

Perhaps this film only really deserves a three star rating, as when the fighting dies down it's often quite painful to watch it. However, IT HAS A MAN THROWING A BABY ELEPHANT THROUGH A PLATE GLASS WINDOW. Recognise the realness!

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Prachya Pinkaew
Cast list:
Tony Jaa (Kham)
Petchtai Wongkamlao (Mark)
Bongkoj Khongmalai (Pla)
Xing Jing (Madame Rose)
Nathan Jones (T.K.)
Jackie Chan (Needless Cameo That Is Nonetheless Seemingly Obligatory To Mention)