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"The Protector"; Rochester Dance on Camera Festival; International Documentary Association's 2006 DocuWeek Showcase

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The Protector (R), directed by PrachyaPinkaew, is playing at Culver Ridge 16, Henrietta 18, Webster 12, Tinseltown, Greece Ridge 12, and Eastview 13 | Rochester Dance On Camera Festival shows September 15-21 at Little Theatres | International Documentary Association's 2006 DocuWeek Showcase shows September 16-17 at Little Theatres |

Get your hands off my elephant!

Do you dig video games but secretly resent their interactive demands, having to push so many stupid buttons in the correct order? If you'd rather just relax and watch your guy take on all comers than be forced to orchestrate the pixelated mayhem, then pry yourself out of that you-shaped divot in the sofa and revel in The Protector, the latest bone-breaking ballet from Thai martial-arts sensation Tony Jaa. The rest of you, however, will want to stay the hell put.

The Protector's gossamer plot finds our hero Cam (Jaa) on the trail of gangsters who have stolen a pair of his family's beloved elephants and brought them to Sydney for reasons having to do with both the mythical power of kings and pachyderm parmigiana. What follows is a cartoony collection of violent set pieces --- some relentlessly dull, others downright thrilling --- in which Cam beats the stuffing out of the goons standing between him and his elephants. Jaa's particular brand of fighting is known as Muay Thai, and he and director PrachyaPinkaew stage the on-screen action without employing the wires or computer-generated imagery so prevalent in many of today's martial-arts films. The lack of assisted grace, however, doesn't detract from the obvious athleticism and finesse necessary to master the discipline.

One battle takes place in some generic warehouse where Cam's adversaries wield fluorescent light bulbs and attack him on bikes, ATVs, and rollerblades. Another goes down in a fiery Buddhist temple in which Cam faces opponents practicing a medley of fighting styles (i.e., capoeira) in about six inches of water. But the highlight of The Protector is an astonishing single take that has Cam making his way up four stories' worth of spiral staircase, thwacking and clobbering all the henchmen in his path. It's easy to get so engrossed in the action that you don't realize you're watching an unbroken shot, and you can see the exhaustion overtake Jaa as he reaches the top floor.

It's fortunate that martial-arts films have never really been about the story, because The Protector's script is unintentionally laughable, brought to life by awful and strangely intermittent dubbing. The Hot Topic-clad villains twirl invisible mustaches, though Madame Rose (played with evil delight by transsexual ballerina Jin Xing) makes for an interesting foe. Pinkaew makes the puzzling decision to saturate the colors and bleed the emulsions in his film stock, and the run-of-the-mill score by the usually reliable The RZA is not one of his better creations.

Jaa, who burst onto American screens last year with cult hit Ong-Bak: Thai Warrior, seems to have two expressions --- pained and confused --- and his director wisely plays to his clock-cleaning strengths. It's this weak presence that will limit Jaa as he attempts to match the stateside achievements of his agile predecessors in Asian cinema. He lacks the self-deprecating goofiness of Jackie Chan, the soulful intensity of Jet Li, and the kinetic ingenuity of new mega-star Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle), but with both Chan and Li vowing to hang up their fists and feet to become serious thespians, maybe there's room for Jaa. He's reportedly expressed a desire to be cast in the upcoming Indiana Jones film, so I will express my desire that he take an acting class. And soon.

Beginning Friday, September 15, the Little Theatre plays host to the Rochester Dance On Camera Festival, a week-long event showcasing short films and videos, both fiction and documentary, about the art of movement in its myriad forms. Highlights of the festival include Carnival of Rhythm, featuring a rarely seen performance from 1941 by the renowned Katherine Dunham; Been Rich All My Life, a portrait of five women who danced in clubs during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s; and Oatka Trail, the screen adaptation of Garth Fagan's 1979 opus. Go to www.dancefilms.org/Touring-Rochester.html for more information, including ticket prices as well as a list of films and screening times.

This weekend also finds the Little presenting the International Documentary Association's 2006 DocuWeek Showcase, which highlights a selection of short and feature-length films all aspiring to Oscar nominations next year. Only seven other theaters in the country have been asked to take part in DocuWeek, and among the films screening at the Little are So Much So Fast, in which a man chronicles his life after being diagnosed with a debilitating neurological disorder; and An Unreasonable Man, a look at the life and work of Ralph Nader. Visit the Little Theatre's website at www.little-theatre.com for further details.

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