Starring Tony Jaa, Petchtai Wongkamlao, Pumwaree Yodkamol
Written By: Prachya Pinkaew, Panna Rittikrai, Suphachai Sithiamphan, Suphachai Sittiaumponpan
Directed By: Prachya Pinkaew
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Buy on Amazon.com link
With emphasis on beautiful cinematography, love stories, and heavy high-flying wire use, today’s martial arts films have become overly complex and heavy-handed, and more than a little ridiculous. Yes, it’s great that they’ve created kung fu movies that your girlfriend doesn’t mind watching, but in that swirling beauty of cinematography and romance, the adrenaline rush of ass-kicking is lost. And when ass-kicking is lost, the true heart and soul of kung fu is lost.
Ong-Bak harkens back to the days of natural ability and brutality. Tony Jaa (the protagonist) is jaw-dropping talented, with a circus-like acrobatic ability. His moves might remind you of early Jackie Chan, before Chan needed wires and without the buffoonery. Without stunt doubles, without wires, Jaa runs up walls, performs perfectly timed dodging, and executes fluid aerial moves that you wouldn’t believe was humanly possible. (And if you doubt the authenticity, check out the extra on the DVD where Jaa performs similar moves in front of a live audience.) Most impressive is a lengthy chase scene where Jaa jumps over tables (the long way), moving cars, food stands, and various other obstacles.
Acrobatics are also featured in the fight scenes, particularly as part of cool flying elbow and knee attacks. Which brings me to the next point: the fighting may be exaggerated, but it’s uniquely Thai-styled moves, not often seen in kung fu films. Ong-Bak proudly shows off some astounding legwork, elbow and knee attacks, headbutts, and light grappling.
The story itself is simple and unoriginal: thieves steal religious artifact from village, nave and quiet village boy follows them to the big city to retrieve it. There, he teams up with his fast-talking, deep-in-trouble cousin (who is corrupted by the city, but eventually redeems himself), and together they take on the whole city full of nondescript all-black-wearing kung-fu-fighting henchmen.
Hey, if you want epic storytelling, go watch Crouching Hero, Flying Daggers. This movie is all about the fighting. The fight scenes tend to be awash in orange hues, which seem to be prevalent in most Thai kickboxing movies. The light techno and “instant replays” bring to mind the Mortal Kombat movies, but the fighting is of course much better choreographed, and is directed clearly and without idiotic choppy cuts. The director wants you to see the amazing moves, and does a good job presenting the fights realistically with long shots.
The DVD has great special features; unfortunately, they’re each too short. As mentioned before, there’s a brief live performance of Tony Jaa doing his gravity-defying moves and jumping over people’s heads. There’s also a short presentation of the Muay Thai moves that are featured in the film this is a great extra that any specialized martial arts movie should include but, again, it’s very brief, and each move is shown only once. The B-Roll offers a few extra takes (and it’s impressive to watch Jaa do take after take with legs on fire during one action sequence), but I wish more were offered. Of course, the DVD is worth getting for the movie itself, which has successfully reintroduced the kick-ass to kung fu.
Live Tony Jaa and Stuntment Performance Before French Auditorium Audience
The Movements of Muay Thai
French Rap Music Video with Tony Jaa
Making of Music Video
Promo Video Featuring the RZA
English Dolby Surround
Thai 5.1 Dolby Surround
Widescreen Anamorphic 1.85:1
Running Time: 105 minutes