Ong-Bak (2005)
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Review Date: January 27, 2005
Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Writer: Prachya Pinkaew, Panna Rittikrai
Producers: Prachya Pinkaew, Sukanya Vongsthapat
Tony Jaa as Ting
Perttary Wongkamlao as George
Pumwaree Yodkamol as Muay
A young “country boy” goes to the big city of Bangkok in order to retrieve the head of a spiritual statue named Ong-Bak stolen from his village. While there, the man falls upon an underground fight club, in which the asshole who stole said statue, hangs out. After he inadvertently gets involved in an organized scrap himself, the owner of the club likes what he sees, and figures out ways to keep the bumpkin coming back for more. Ong-Bakyan style ass-kicking ensues…
The next Bruce Lee. The next Jackie Chan. For most anyone, those kinds of comparisons would be hard to live up to, but for Tony Jaa, the man who stars in this Thai import, I can’t imagine that the prospect of being compared to those legendary martial arts movie-men, is something for which he was hoping, so early on in his career (it’s his 1st movie!). Of course, Americans (along with yours truly) have been starving for the next big action hero for some time now, and I guess the idea of a new one coming along is exciting for everyone…especially the marketers of this movie. All that said, I liked this film overall, appreciated Mr. Jaa’s kick-ass martial arts and definitely enjoyed all of the film’s action sequences, many of which were filmed in slow-motion, in order to showcase the genuine kicks, elbows and punches to the heads, but at the end of the day, the story here isn’t “all that”, the build-up to most of the action takes too long, and even though I enjoyed most of the fisticuffs in that KARATE KID/KICKBOXER/MORTAL KOMBAT type of way, I can’t say that many of them truly blew my mind—in fact, many of them seemed derivative of most Asian martial art flicks.

One thing that struck as a little contrived – although I’m still not sure if I enjoyed it or if it annoyed me – was the director’s use of triple-replays for many of the film’s punchier action moments. One of the first times he uses it in the film, Jaa jumps up and over a bunch of baddies, hopping from shoulder to shoulder, until he finally gets away from them. We see this once, in regular motion, then again in slow-motion and then again…in even slower motion. That sorta bothered me at first, and it was done again a few times in the movie. I think that sort of takes away from the film’s impact (you realize it’s a movie), but at the same time, some of the stuff was cool to see again. Basically, I’m on the fence about that technique. Jaa is also a great fighter, but a lot of the stuff they showed early on, focused on him running around, jumping over and through things. Somewhat impressive, but not all that exciting on film. The fights were cool though, with a breakdancing kick sequence standing out, as well as the fun use of knees and elbows to the head, a scene in which Jaa throws a man through a window and then jumps through it with him, in order to knee him as he’s flying down (I think we’ve all done that at some point in our lives) and yet another double-knee onto a guy as he falls down upon him. Fun times. None of the stuff is overly gory or bloody though. Whether that’s a plus or minus, is up to you.

The story is very basic, with one of the secondary characters really annoying me at first (his cousin in the film), but surprisingly, coming around near the end of the movie and even giving it a little emotional tug. As well, the film’s directing is fairly straight-forward, with little style to speak of, while its score is “electro” enough to keep the beats going during the fights, while not completely annoying the shit out of anyone. In terms of the action scenes, there are exactly two extensive man-o-mano fight sequences which are great fun to watch, a couple of chase sequences which are “so-so” (one featuring 30mph taxis, which was kind of lame, actually), and a final 15-20 minutes, which are just “all-out action”. The film’s bad guy is a man in a wheelchair who speaks through a vibrator pressed up against his neck and says stuff like “Dispose of him and then meet me in the cave.”— which is fun, no matter how you slice it. I don’t think this film will be heralded as the next big action movie, but it’s a fun time with a new man on the scene that will definitely goose your ass if you’ve been waiting for a sloppy, good ol’ fashioned, no CGI, no wire-fu, “fight movie” to come along. PS: French action writer/director/producer Luc Besson is uncredited as executive producer of this flick and a note to famed director Steven Spielberg (although his last name is misspelled) can be seen on a wall in the film, if you pay close attention.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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