Terracotta: Tom Yum Goong 2 review

For those of us following the many strange twists and turns of Tony Jaa‘s career, it feels like he’s been away from our screens for a very long time. In truth, it’s only been four years since the release of Ong Bak 3.

A lot has happened in Mr. Jaa’s life during this time. Recent interviews and Facebook updates suggest that he’s taking charge of his own career, and he’s determined to break out as a crossover star in America. At the same time, he also appears keen to make more diverse and interesting projects.

Though having said all of this, it does seem rather strange that his choice of comeback picture is a reunion with Prachya Pinkaew for a sequel to Tom Yum Goong.

That’s not to say that Tom Yum Goong 2 doesn’t mark a course change for Jaa and Pinkaew. Fans of their original work and the frankly unbelievable stunts it showcased will be surprised to hear that they’ve now embraced CGI and wire work, and to such a degree that it dominates a number of scenes in this film.

One early sequence sees Jaa’s character, Kham, fighting a number of foes on motorcycles. We’re on a rooftop filled with obstacles and hanging sheets, and it all feels very much like a classic martial arts movie set-up. The scene is well shot, well edited and features an exceptional sound mix, which does an extraordinarily good job of in assisting with spatial dynamics.

But – and it’s a big but – this scene and the escalating sequence that follows it also feature a number of green screen backgrounds, conspicuous wire gags and CG assisted actions. And there’s no doubt about this because the green screen shorts are conspicuous eyesores.

I’m not against CGI or wire work at all and there are many films with both that I adore, but the execution of these techniques in Tom Yum Goong 2 is disastrous. It does not enhance, it only diminishes.

There are still examples of excellent action choreography in Tom Yum Goong 2, it’s just that there’s a lot going on that will distract from them and undermine their impact.

Marrese Crump, who plays a villain in the film, is particularly worthy of praise. He might be a relative newcomer but he makes a real impact here, elevating a number of scenes with his powerful, skilful and distinctive fighting style. The man has real screen presence too, and displays far greater range than most of the rest of the cast.

Jaa is still Jaa and if you’re familiar with his past performances then you’re probably more than aware of his strengths and weaknesses. He might be a little better at emoting these days, but only marginally.

Whenever RZA is called upon for more physically demanding action he’s incredibly awkward, and doesn’t compare well to Crump, Jaa or the highly athletic Jeeja Yanin. He looks incredibly out of place and I think we can now safely say that, as an actor and a martial artist, RZA is an excellent music producer.

The ludicrously overstuffed plot weaves together a coup, an assassination plot and the kidnap of Kham’s elephant – yeah, he’s lost him again. It’s very much all just an excuse for the action sequences, and it does mostly of work in keeping things moving forward and, with help from a simple but effective flashback structure, generates some plot twists and surprises.

Even if it this sequel doesn’t recapture the magic of the first Tom Yum Goong, it’s is still a great deal better than either Ong Bak sequel and I’m still very interested in what Jaa, Pinkaew and Yanin do next. And now also excited to see where Crump goes from here. I’d be very surprised if we don’t see a lot of him.

It’s not the comeback that many Jaa fans, including myself, were hoping for but there’s just enough here that it could bode well for the future.

Tom Yum Goong 2 aka The Protector 2, or Warrior King 2 depending on where you live, is showing at the Terracotta Film Festival on the 29th of May and is currently available to rent on VOD in the US.