James Reviews Prachya Pinkaew’s Elephant White [Blu-Ray Review]

A straight to DVD movie starring Djimon Hounsou as an assassin and Kevin Bacon as a gun runner in Thailand directed by Prachya Pinkaew, the director of two of my favorite action films in the last 10 years, Ong Bak and Chocolate? How could I have missed it? Why didn’t it come out in theaters here? Why am I asking so many questions? This is what I was asking the whole time while watching the film. The most important being: Is this a good film?

An American mercenary who is very cautious with his name (Djimon Hounsou) is finishing up a job in Thailand for an employer when he offers him one more job. He asks him to kill the crime lord who abducted, prostituted his daughter and ultimately killed her. He accepts but is wary when a mysterious 14 year old Mae (Jirantanin Pitakporntrakul) comes into his life and gives him a new meaning to his mission: To stop the sex trafficking of young girls in the area altogether. With the help of Jimmy the Brit (Kevin Bacon, who I wasn’t sure if he was from New Zealand, South Africa or England), an experienced gun runner, he starts a one man army against Boss Katha (Weeraprawat Wongpuapan) and his criminal empire, finds out more about Mae and gets double crossed along the way by those you least expect.

On paper, this sounds like a surefire action classic. A bit of a message sprinkled throughout with some great actors and a director who knows how to direct some of the best and original action to come out in the last decade. So why does it fall flat like a stuntman on his head? It might be because the message comes across a little too in your face. Of course it’s sex trafficking, a serious topic that the world is still attempting to deal with. But Pinkaew is not performing at full force, not necessarily his fault entirely, but by the script written by Kevin Bernhardt, which seems to be reaching for the stars to give a typical lone wolf story, sprinkle a bit of comedy yet at the same time dealing with a touchy subject.

The pieces don’t fall into place, and it’s as if everyone on board wasn’t fully behind this venture. Not to say the acting was bad, because it wasn’t. The criminals were varying, from lowly street toughs to upper echelon sleaze. Hounsou makes for a formidable anti-hero, who goes through a transformation while killing all those around him, but it sometimes feels a little bland, especially in some of the hand to hand combat scenes sprinkled throughout. Not sure if that’s because of his inexperience in that field or he’s just not the best at it, but he’s likable and you root for him in the film.

Then comes along Kevin Bacon, who as of late is back in full force, especially with his turn as Sebastian Shaw in the new X-Men film. Even in that film, his accent was pretty awful, his German always feeling as if it was someone playing a German person. Yet that’s what his character was essentially doing, but in this he was supposed to be British and I never got that from his muddled yet changing accent. As I said earlier, it was all over the place and could be compared to different time zones which is never a good thing, but he still injects the role with charisma that makes you wish he was just using his normal voice. But then again, he wouldn’t be able to throw in some cockney humor in.

Then comes the beautiful Pitakporntrakul as Mae, which this being her first film she does as much as she could with the ‘angel on my shoulder’ type of character she was written. She gives a warmth and Hounsou’s Curtie with a meaning. When the film becomes a mess because of a twist ending, it goes from being a decent inoffensive Sunday watch to a head scratched for no apparent reason. Not wanting to ruin the ending, even by referencing other films with a more effective use of this type of ending, just adds fuel to the fire of the upset feeling I had when finishing this film.

There are no extras at all included with this release, which is always a shame, even with a sub-par film. It might be the film nerd in me, but I like to be able to hear a commentary or see some interviews with the stars and filmmakers and understand where they were coming from. Again, it feels as if it’s another lazy way to present a film, as was the film’s essential plot line throughout. It is playing on Netflix Instant Watch right now, and if you have 90 minutes to kill, I’d say check it out. You might enjoy it much more than I did. But after Pinkaew’s previous efforts of Ong Bak, The Protector and the superior Chocolate, I was expecting much more with his effort with more established stars not from Thailand. It might be telling that he’s going back to the drawing board and doing a film with Tony Jaa again, a sequel to The Protector for 2012, but it might be best for a director with a keen eye for extreme action. This time the action was just very middle of the road and vanilla.


Buy the Blu-ray on Amazon.com

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1 Comment

  • Amazing how you criticize Hounsou’s fighting and Kevin Bacon’s accent, but praise “the beautiful Pitakporntrakul as Mae,” who “does as much as she could with the ‘angel on my
    shoulder’ type of character”, giving “a warmth and
    Hounsou’s Curtie a meaning.” She was so bad her entire performance was dubbed by another actor. You should get into another business.

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