Tom Yam Goong (2005) represents a step backwards for Tony Jaa compared to his 2003 movie Ong Bak . First, unlike in Ong Bak, story takes second place to action and has in fact become the excuse for action sequences. Second, and worse still, the action sequences are inconsistent in style and tone, and they suffer from logic breaks.
In Tom Yam Goong, Jaa tells another story close to his heart. Jaa comes from a mahout family, and his childhood was closely involved with elephants. In the film, he plays a young mahout, Kham, who is also trained in the Jaturongkabat martial art, Koshasarn. Jaturongkabat soldiers were trained to protect Thai war elephants in battle, similar to armoured infantry squads that assist tank units. When the elephants in his familyâ€™s care are stolen and taken to Sydney, Australia, Kham goes to their rescue.
Unfortunately, the very first chase sequence in the streets of Bangkok suffers an event flow break. When the container truck carrying both elephants finally manages to break free from traffic, the next shot shows Kham giving up the chase even though it wasnâ€™t possible for him to know that the truck had broken free â€“ there was no reason for him to stop chasing, according to the way the sequence was shot. So how does Kham locate the elephants? He seeks out an old woman who locates the elephants by performing an oracle ritual with a pendulum, while doing a dance.
Once in Sydney, the story becomes all about fighting. On the plus side, these action sequences still retain certain superb characteristics of Tony Jaa's pugilistic skills and choreography. Form (kata) or stances are visible, which is a mark of skill, contrary to what many have been told. While Jaa is a fan of Bruce Lee (who advocated a free style form of fighting with his Jeet Kune Do), fortunately he has not abandoned his training and begun to â€śfight like children.â€ť The phrase â€śfight like childrenâ€ť is used by Shaolin Wahnam founder, Wong Kiew Kit, to describe the free sparring seen in martial art tournaments where little form can be seen.
In spite of their good form, the action sequences suffer from inconsistency in style, in part because Jaa incorporates the signature style of other action movie stars into them. Jaaâ€™s own fighting style comes across as a present day Mas Oyama, forceful and brutal. His hallmark high jumps, done without wires, are as amazing as ever. But Jaa also uses a lot of arm breaking techniques, which are similar to Steven Segalâ€™s conversion of his Aiki-do to Aiki-jujitsu. Unfortunately, Jaa lacks Segalâ€™s speed and fluidity. Jaa does demonstrate speed in one scene where he kicks a knife out of an opponentâ€™s hand, but the angle of the shot was uncomplimentary and didn't give a good indication of how fast it was. The lack of speed in the fight sequences could be deliberate or for the safety of the stunt crew/other actors. On the upside, the relative slowness does give the appearance of forcefulness and brutality.