Elephant White

Sawadee krup (Hello in Thai). Elephant White does have a white elephant in the title, but said elephant has little more than a walk-on this flick. A 2011 DTV (that’s Direct to Video), Elephant White’s stated purpose is to draw attention to the sex trafficking and child prostitution that goes on in Bangkok. More specifically, a two sentence synopsis would tell you that a CIA type, Curtis Church, who is played by Djimon Hounsou, moonlights on the side as an assassin for hire. Here he is hired by a business man to avenge the death of his daughter at the hands of white slave traders.

The film is mostly a target shoot by Hounsou. Kevin Bacon is onboard as Jimmy the Brit, an arms dealer based in Bangkok, and is Hounsou brother-in-arms, literally. For some reason (political pressure?) the arms dealer was written as a Brit, but Bacon’s accent is so bad that it must be mentioned. You’ll scratch your head to figure out why Bacon’s role wasn’t simply changed to an American.

There’s plenty of action – bombs, hand-to-hand, chases both on foot and by car or truck, and many, many minutes of Honsou’s Church shooting with huge sniper weapons. Sorry, but this gets dull after awhile. Seeing guys go down one by one, through the rifle’s scope just isn’t all that scintillating.

Hounsou does suitably well as an action hero. I liked him when he played a second fiddle to Russell Crowe in the Tigers and Togas epic known as Gladiator. Kevin Bacon is now 53 years old so he doesn’t do romantic leads any more. He knows his weapons (playing Jimmy the Brit), turns out to be a likable character after starting out as a possible bad guy, and even gets off a few funny lines like:

Happiness is a warm gun

Most of the action is at night, so we don’t get to see much of Bangkok. There were a few exterior night shots of the notorious and frenzied Patpong district but I was disappointed otherwise in the locations. If Roger Moore could pilot a speed boat in Bangkok’s klongs (canals) in the film The Man With the Golden Gun, then I thought maybe we’d see a similar chase in this one. But maybe the budget wasn’t big enough.

The film was directed by Prachya Pinkaew who also directed the sensational Tony Jaa in the Ong Bak films. He’s quite talented, and this film was decent. Pointedly, since Hounsou is not a Tony Jaa, the hand-to-hand martial arts were kept to a minimum. Pinkaew has mixed gunplay, a hint of sex, revenge, double crosses with some South-east Asian mysticism, and what you get is a film that is more Thai than western, but doesn’t have all the Thai flavoring that you might have expected. For example most all of the Thai actors with speaking parts spoke terrific English.

Personally, I liked Nicolas Cage‘s Bangkok Dangerous better than this one. But I was able to watch it without leaving home. I downloaded/streamed it via Netflix. With a nice bowl of popcorn it worked well enough.

But unfortunately, that’s about all the praise I can muster. Mai Pen Rai. That’s Thai for It’s ok or nevermind. Or in this case – that’s all folks.

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