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Muay Thai Giant

tn_muaythaigiantI first paid attention to Nathan Jones in THE PROTECTOR/TOM-YUM-GOONG I think. He’s a bald Australian muscleman who’s about 7 feet tall, so it’s striking to see him fight a regular-to-small sized guy like Tony Jaa. I guess he was also in Jackie Chan’s FIRST STRIKE, I haven’t seen that in a long time but I’m sure that was a pretty cool fight. In the review of THE PROTECTOR I wrote “I’d love to see this guy in some more movies – luckily he’s in an upcoming MOST DANGEROUS GAME rip-off from prestigious WWE Films.” Well, that turned out to be a brief, badly-shot fight against Steve Austin in THE CONDEMNED, where you couldn’t even tell how big he was. He fared a little better as a tournament fighter in Jet Li’s FEARLESS. In the recent CONAN THE BARBARIAN I think maybe he was the guy guarding the giant octopus. To make sure nobody throws unhealthy food in the tank or whatever.

But MUAY THAI GIANT (originally SOMTUM) is the first movie where he’s a main character. He plays Barney Emerald, an Australian doofus who wins a trip to Thailand in a contest, but then gets drunk and robbed of his money, clothes and passport, and can’t leave the country. He finds shelter at a monastery and befriends two little girls, which made me think this was gonna be kind of cheesy and that’s why I avoided renting it until now.

mp_muaythaigiantWell, it is cheesy but what surprised me is that the weak link isn’t the little girls, it’s the giant. Jones, at least in this particular role, is a shockingly terrible actor. He’s playing it for sweetness and laughs, so he’s always smiling and over-selling his expressions in a way where you have to occasionally ask if the character is supposed to be retarded in some way. I don’t think he is, but I’m honestly not sure. He was in the WWE for a short period of time but I think some of this acting would even seem bad in that context where he’s trying to have his expressions seen by the people in the back row.

The joke is supposed to be that although he looks like such a monster he’s a total sissy. When he happens to see a little girl getting threatened by gangsters he tries to help her, but mainly by cowering over her crying and begging for them to let him go. Unfortunately it’s more sad than funny, especially since it continues throughout the movie. How many times can we watch an action scene where a physical specimen like that, who we want to see get in some fights, stands in the middle covering his head and whimpering? It’s not fun.

But the girls do feed him some spicy papaya salad and learn that it has a weird effect on him. Not only does his face turn red but he flies into an uncontrollable rage and starts smashing everything. This causes him to destroy their mother’s restaurant, so he agrees that even if he straightens out his passport situation he’s gonna stay around to help them raise the money to rebuild it. Eventually they turn him into sort of a line cook/mascot, putting him to work with a giant bell instead of a mortar. But first they bring him to some underground fights where they come up with the idea of feeding him spicy food and using his Incredible Hulk type abilities to destroy the other fighters.

And then they decide that would be wrong and don’t do it.

But the interesting part of the movie is that one of the two sisters (Sasisa Jindamanee) is a local muay thai champion. Her mom doesn’t allow her to fight but she does it anyway. In one scene that I can’t imagine in an American movie she tries to raise money by taking a sleazy underground fight against an adult man. She holds her own but gets bloodied and almost knocked out a couple times, and the actress looks about 14 or 15 years old, so it’s pretty crazy.

She has a couple good street fight scenes too. There’s the one when they first meet Barney, where she keeps jumping off his head or chest, or kicking his hand to make him slap the gangsters who are after her sister. Later she gets attacked by the boxer and his thugs while buying papayas for the restaurant. She can mostly handle them by herself but then gets help from the female papaya vendor, who we already knew was tough because she was chewing a toothpick. The scene is fun because they find about a dozen different ways to use papayas as weapons, ranging from throwing them at heads to actually kicking them up a guy’s butthole. Ouch.

The other sister is a pickpocket, and she gets them into alot of trouble with a dangerous international crime syndicate by swiping a jewel that turns out to be the key to a huge stash of drugs and stolen diamonds. In an American kids movie that would have to be some kind of misunderstanding, but in this movie the girl actually is a thief. Her mom tells her not to be and it gets her in trouble but the movie never really preaches against it.

At the end Barney tears apart a private jet with his bare hands. So at least in that respect it’s a good role for him.

Now that I read about him, Jones has had an interesting life. In the ’80s he was doing armed robberies in Tasmania, got caught and did 7 years. While in the joint he got into lifting heavy things. Next thing you know he gets out, becomes Australia’s powerlifting champion. Gets first place in the World Strength Championship 1995. Got interested in MMA and fought at Pride 1 (submitted by sumo wrestler). Became a bodyguard for some rich guy. Then got into pro wrestling. Made it into WWE, but not long after his first televised match was sent to the farm team in Ohio to improve his skills. Came back, was on some team with pre-UFC Brock Lesnar, got tired of it and decided to quit.

He didn’t really make it to the top of WWE, but he got to be heavyweight champion of WWA once and tag team champion of NWA. In 2003 he won Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s “Most Embarrassing Wrestler” Award. But he has a degree in economics.

Well, this is a pretty stupid movie. I guess I shouldn’t get so excited about a guy just because he’s giant. Turns out that doesn’t make him a movie star. He makes a good big guy for little guys to fight, though. Nothing can take that away from him.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 10th, 2011 at 3:35 pm and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

21 Responses to “Muay Thai Giant”

  1. This is a weak entry into the long line of horrible action movies that have maybe an aggregate 15 minutes of awesomeness in them.

    Once I reached the breaking point, when I realized that Jones wasn’t actually going to fight anything, it was a pleasure to fast forward through his mugging and the movie’s many “jokes.”

    I’ll be looking forward to more from the little girls in MUAY THAI GIANT, though. That boxing scene was brutal. I know it’s what happens in ridiculous Thai action movies, but I still can’t believe all those people stood & cheered & waved money while a 70 pound girl got annihilated by a fully grown man.

  2. I remember his WWE run, and let’s just say…he’s better off playing mostly mute thugs in action movies. I’m surprised WWE actually hired him for one of their movies, because apparently when he left, he intentionally waited for them to be doing a tour in Australia, packed up all his bags and took them with him, and when there, handed in his notice. In effect, he just used them to get a cheap ride home.

  3. I’m undecided if I want to see this or not now. I guess if I just go in knowing what to expect from him, it should be alright.

    Man, his life sounds pretty awesome. I didn’t see the economics degree coming.

  4. I don’t know, I liked it. It took its time but it eventually got me where I needed to go. As far as surprisingly brutal Thai children’s movies go, though, it’s no FORCE OF FIVE, a.k.a. THAI JIM HENSON’S DIE HARD BABIES. That’s like the kid-on-adult fight scenes in this one but not played for laughs and with machine guns. Obviously I recommend it.

  5. @Mr. Majestyk Whooaaa there, buddy. You just blew my mind with Force of Five. I’m tracking that one down right now.

  6. Jones was also in TROY, as that guy Achilles in 10 seconds at the start.

  7. Mr. Majestyk’s recommendation is known to me as POWER KIDS, which seems easier to find than FORCE OF FIVE, and I second it.

    After seeing the cheesy but wildly entertaining RA ONE 3D today, I can’t help but think that many of the lesser, stupider Thai action movies would be much improved if they had musical numbers sprinkled in them, but you can’t trust my opinion because I want everything to be a musical.

    I’ll stick to my other original complaint and appeal to filmmakers to make shorter movies. Seriously, there is no need for MUAY THAI GIANT to be more than, like, 55 minutes long.

  8. You guys should check out a film called “Brave”. It has some really good fight scenes and one of the craziest stunts I’ve seen, even for a Thai movie: a guy back-flipping into thin air off the top of an unfinished high-rise.

  9. I liked this back when I saw it (under the original title SOMTUM), but it’s no BORN TO FIGHT, that’s for darn sure.

    In fact, having the awesome Dan Chupong pop up in this and then have him do next to nothing was an insult to action film fans, frankly.

    And FORCE OF FIVE is good? I need to check that out. I saw CLASH recently and was bored to tears: it was like some took that shoot-out scene from POLICE SQUAD where Drebin and some dude shoot at each other from 3 feet away and constantly miss into a full length feature.

  10. karlos: I’m not a fan of POWER KIDS, but it’s watchable. Like Majestyk said, the fights are good, and the kids are committed to their performances. It’s way more cloying than detractors of CHOCOLATE claim that film is, and not half as awesome.

    But if you’re a fan of remote control toy car races you’ll probably like it more than I did.

    Mike’s recommendation of BRAVE is a good one too. The filmatists seemed to be trying all sorts of neat stuff in that one, particularly in terms of plot, which is way more circuitous than most Thai films that I’ve seen. The ratio of gunplay to fighting weighs too heavily on gunfights for my taste, but it’s never dull.

  11. I’ve been seeing BRAVE at Ye Olde Porne Shoppe for a few years now but I’ve gotten burned on so many non-Jaa affiliated Thai flicks that I never took the plunge. But when I hear tell of back flips off the top of high rises, I realize the error of my ways.

  12. Think of BRAVE as the Jackie Chan movie Luc Besson was never able to make, for better or worse. Remember how the fights in RAGING PHOENIX seemed a bit staged and over-rehearsed compared to CHOCOLATE? Same problem here. And there are some pacing problems. The film has a reputation for excelling in areas that most Thai films neglect, like plot, wit and charm, but falls a bit short in the action areas.

    Mike B (not a Beastie Boy as far as I know) is a watchable guy. He should be in a better film some time.

    Also: skate shoes.

  13. Well, Mike B was in THE SANCTUARY, which was a decent off-brand Jaa-style “Give me back my thingamabob!” vehicle. I forget what it was about but I remember there being kicking involved.

  14. You might have similar difficulty remembering BRAVE a few months after seeing it. When Mike first mentioned it, four or five other recent films came to mind simultaneously. The use of shaky cam at certain points doesn’t do much to distinguish it from its peers either.

    Except there’s a scene where pee plays an important catalyst in a bomb rescue. Difficult to forget that.

  15. Yes, karlos, the firearm inaccuracy was out of control in CLASH, and the POLICE SQUAD comparison is apt, but you didn’t enjoy the MMA style asskickery? You didn’t appreciate how that hot Vietnamese chick could take a punch? You didn’t like their clever use of the sloppy tango to trick the bad guys?

    It’s not a great movie, but I was able to blind myself to the poor gunplay, so I liked it a lot. I demand more Thanh Van Ngo pictures. I’ll be casting director and executive producer myself if I have to. That’s the sacrifice I’ll make if that’s what’s necessary for me to work with her and see her in more movies. Really, I don’t mind.

  16. I remember thinking that the performances in CLASH had more gravity than you usually find in that kind of film. But I saw it within a few weeks of a really crappy Thai film called THE VANQUISHER that had a similar premise but was just horrendously executed, particularly in the acting department. So my opinion might be skewed.

  17. Mouth:

    To be fair the two leads were OK but it just didn’t work for me as an action flick.

    Nguyen is a pretty charismatic cat and Ngo is lovely to look at and also some real chops on her, but after what felt like the nth “bullets going everywhere” firefight I kinda checked out.

    Maybe I should watch it again.

    I understand their previous film, THE REBEL, is vastly better.

  18. THE REBEL is way better than CLASH. The inexplicably invincible guy really puts it over the top.

  19. For me Nathan Jones will always be the guy who had his arm broken arm wrestling on the Worlds Strongest Man competition.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDrijM0H_Uc

  20. Maxiao – Thanks for that link. I remember seeing that but I didn’t remember it was Nathan Jones. I love watching those because they do such ridiculous Incredible Hulk shit but they seem like such sweethearts. The guy seemed to feel so bad about it.

  21. Clash is okay, but is basically a retread of Ronin. The Rebel is sooo much better.

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