Elephant White (2011)
“Set your sights on revenge”
Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Cast: Djimon Hounsou, Kevin Bacon, Jirantanin Pitakporntrakul
Synopsis: An assassin is hired by a businessman to avenge the murder of his daughter by white slave traders in Thailand.
I wonder if the script demanded that Kevin Bacon’s character was British, or whether he decided he wanted a crack at a British accent. No doubt his status as the biggest name attached to Elephant White, Prachya (Ong-Bak) Pinkaew’s English-language debut, means he probably had the clout on insisting that his character be British. And no doubt once given the nod, Mr. B. immediately logged onto Netflix to do some research on convincing British accents: Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins, Don Cheadle in Ocean’s Eleven — that sort of thing. To be fair to Bacon, his attempt at a British accent is better than theirs, but that’s not exactly a high hurdle to leap over. Fair to say, though, that it’s the most entertaining aspect of this sorry thriller.
Djimon Hounsou plays Curtie Church, a former CIA agent now operating as a freelance hitman in Thailand. He’s hired by a businessman to kill six men, and when he successfully accomplishes his mission, the man then hires him to take out the gang of sex slave traffickers who abducted his daughter and turned her into a prostitute after first addicting her to heroin. However, by doing so Church triggers off a gang war which embroils both him and Jimmy (Bacon), his British arms dealer, whose allegiance is less than reliable. There’s also a sub-plot involving a prostitute named Mae (Jirantanin Pitakporntakul), who hangs around with Church and acts as his conscience while he does the nasty things he must. There’s something vaguely spiritual about their whole relationship that sets up that part of the story for a major twist that really isn’t that much of a surprise when it finally arrives, and yet adds an entirely new — and ill-fitting — dimension to an already messy plot.
There’s no doubt that Pinkaew is an accomplished director of action, and it’s during these moments that Elephant White is at its best. At all other times though the film struggles to deliver a coherent storyline and too often dwells on oblique statements made by Mae in an attempt to add an element of mystery. Every few minutes, writer Kevin Bernhardt throws in a plot twist that rarely wrong-foots the viewer, and the whole thing just comes across as a horrible mish-mash with no real identity of its own. It’s a shame, because there are traces of a good story buried within the subject matter, and in the right hands the topic of Asian sex-trafficking could make for an explosive theme for a movie.