Warrior King 2

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Another touching tale of a boy and his elephant laced with corruption, conspiracy and ultraviolence."

11 years after the original film, the Warrior King team have reunited to create Thailand's first ever 3D action film and the most eagerly anticipated martial arts title of the year. Tony Jaa, his international reputation now cemented by the Ong Bak films, returns in another touching tale of a boy and his elephant laced with corruption, conspiracy and ultraviolence. Kham loves Khon as a brother, so when Khon is kidnapped and the trail points to an elephant trader with a nasty reputation, he rushes to the rescue - only to land in trouble of a very different kind from what he anticipated.

Despite its set-up as a mystery and the return of Petchtai Wongkamlao's Sergeant Mark as a possible friend or possible foe, the film doesn't waste much time on plot. There's an affectionate early sequence that sees our hero teaching a few moves to kids, reflecting the traditions of the genre, but within 15 minutes we're plunged into a series of breakneck action scenes whose pace doesn't let up.

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The breadth of talent on display here is impressive, including Marrese Crump (who also acted as a fight choreographer) as a mixed martial arts mastermind who is genuinely scary to watch, JeeJa Yanin as twin sisters who make up for their comparative slightness with viciousness, RZA as a devious head bad guy with a few nifty moves of his own, and pop star Yayaying Rhatha Phongam (known to international audiences for her work in Only God Forgives) making quite an impression in her first action role. Director Prachya Pinkaew's ability to work with their diverse styles and fit them together in a way that makes narrative sense also deserves credit. Even the extras put up quite a fight and in places there are over 200 of them on screen at once.

Where Warrior King was admired for its complex four minute long single take action sequences, this film extends one of those to 20 minutes. This will be straining things for those most interested in seeing the story progress, but fans of martial arts will find it fascinating throughout, and there are a number of cleverly reworked traditional moves to please the home crowd. Most impressive is the sheer speed of the action, which has the downside of making parts of it hard to follow but means you get a lot more bang for your buck than with the average action film.

In order to pull all this together and make the 3D effects work, the film has resorted to more extensive use of CGI than previously. The usual rule applies: when it's used to polish real stunts in generally blends in well, but where it's used on its own it sometimes looks rough. Most of what we see here is the real thing, however, with stunt artists and even stars risking their lives to pull off some sequences. The ethics of this may be debatable but they all seem to enjoy working that way and it gives proceedings considerably more edge. It does mean that, as in the original, the actual elephant work is kept to a minimum - some risks being harder to mitigate than others - but Jaa, who himself grew up with elephants, is clearly at ease with his larger co-star and the chemistry between them is adequate to drive the plot. JeeJa, meanwhile, gets a classic revenge arc that sees her handle a difficult shift in her character's physical confidence and ability.

Though it will have limited appeal to a wider audience, this is a film whose energy and inventiveness will thrill martial arts fans. If you've never previously considered setting your own feet on fire to make them better weapons, well, enjoy, and don't try this at home.

Reviewed on: 14 Sep 2014
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Kham finds himself the chief suspect in a murder.

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