Gentle giant Barney Emerald (Nathan Jones) is drugged and robbed while on holiday in Pattaya. He befriends two Thai sisters, Kraten (Grace Nawarat Techarathanaprasert) who can speak English and Dokya (Kat Sasisa Jindamanee) who is a Muay-Thai kickboxing champion, Barney stays with them until he can recover his passport. After eating some spicy “somtum” at their mother’s restaurant, he accidentally demolishes the place. He vows to find a way to earn the money to rebuild the restaurant.
Why subject yourself to some harmful chemical radiation in order to turn into a strong, hulking mass (a la The Incredible Hulk) when you can simply go to Thailand, have some somtum (that’s Thai for papaya salad) and acquire the same superhuman strength? Except of course if green is your favourite colour- since “somtum” apparently makes you turn chilli red instead of say a leafy green.
Trust the Thais to think of such an outrageous idea as “Somtum”, a movie that teaches you that the secret to your physical inadequacies lies in a tiny red fruit called the chilli padi. Pound tens of them together with some shredded unripened papaya and voila! You’ll become the next “Incredible Hulk” this side of the globe.
That’s what happens to Australian pro-wrestler Nathan Jones, a hulking 6 ft 11 in giant weighing 350 pounds. He plays a gentle docile tourist to Thailand who encounters the secret recipe and suddenly acquires the strength to match his size and physique. Nathan Jones, by the way, is that humongous baddie Tony Jaa had to fight with in “Tom Yum Goong” (2005), and the same guy Jet Li had to contend with in “Fearless” (2006).
“Somtum” is a movie built around Nathan Jones’ distinct, unmistakeable figure. It attempts to do for him what movies like “The Game Plan” and “Race to Witch Mountain” did for ex-WWE champion Dwayne Johnson. Unlike the usual mean crazed-looking guys he usually plays, here Jones gets to act in a colourful, family-friendly action comedy as the perplexed, mild-mannered Western tourist whom two teenagers, Kraten and Dokya, protect from the bad guys he meets during his vacation. In other words, without the “somtum”, Jones is pretty much as good as a deer in a lion’s body.
But it’s unlikely that “Somtum”, a departure for the star who usually plays some crazed deranged baddie, will mark the beginning of his career in comedy. Not from a lack of trying, Nathan Jones simply doesn’t lack the same charisma as his fellow wrestler The Rock. Indeed, his appeal goes as far as his next on-screen demolition, whether is it the frontage of a humble seaside restaurant or a small private jet plane.
Ironically, Nathan Jones is upstaged in his star vehicle by the agility of his young co-star Sasisa Jindamanee, a pint-sized Muay Thai fighter who first burst into the industry in “Born to Fight” (2004). Much like producer Prachya Pinchew’s “Chocolate” (2008), Sasisa Jindamee’s martial arts dexterity will leave you in awe and ashamed of Nathan Jones’ otherwise clumsy wrestling-type moves.
For a movie that sells itself on its action, “Somtum” is also surprisingly sluggish. There are only a few action scenes thrown in and even those are not exciting enough to genuinely thrill. Especially disappointing is its finale where Nathan Jones goes up against three “ang-mohs” who look like opponents Jones forgot to settle a score with during his wrestling days- yes, there’s a lot, perhaps even too much, of macho posturing and throwing things around.
It’s a pity- Nathan Jones does seem like a nice guy, and “Somtum” is a film with good intentions (and good ideas) that tries to do something different for him. But the listless execution doesn’t do justice to its madcap concept nor Jones’ maiden comedic venture. Sad to say, “Somtum” lacks the spice of the dish from which it derives its name.
Behind the Scenes: Just a 15-minute B-roll collection that isn’t very interesting to watch.
Interview with Nathan Jones: A short 2- min clip where Nathan Jones introduces himself and tells you why you should catch this movie.
Trailer: Best avoided if you intend to watch the movie, since some of the best comedic bits are already in it.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is surprisingly uninvolving even during the film’s action scenes. Otherwise, the disc’s visual transfer is decent enough for this colourful action comedy.
Review by Gabriel Chong
Posted on 6 September 2009