If you have a soft spot for stuntmen, steer clear of Ong Bak 3. The final act in Tony Jaa’s trilogy features the same high-flying, bone-breaking action sequences we’ve come to expect from the martial arts master. Unfortunately, Ong Bak 3 seems to have forgotten that Tony Jaa’s fight scenes are what people pay to see. The first ten minutes of the movie drops a chain-bound and shackled Tien (Tony Jaa) right in the middle of dozens of staff-wielding soldiers. After that, the movie painfully drags along as Tien is near death or in various stages of recovery up until the final scenes. Tony Jaa’s acting is no substitute for his fighting prowess and the film suffers mightily when he’s not cracking skulls.
Hit the jump for the full review.
Ong Bak 3 starts off right where Ong Bak 2 left off, so a brief review is in order:
Ong Bak 2, a prequel to Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior, features Tony Jaa as Tien, a young prince of a provincial ruler in Siam, circa 1421. When a rival noble, Lord Rajasena (Sarunyoo Wongkrachang), sends his assassins to massacre Tien’s family, Tien is the only one to escape alive.
His survival is short-lived, as he is soon picked up by a band of slave traders. Finding him uncontrollable, the slavers throw him in a pit to be eaten by a crocodile. Tien is saved from certain death by Chernang (Sorapong Chatree) the leader of a guerilla tribe known as Garuda Wing Cliff. The group of expert martial artists takes Tien under their wing and trains him in their varied fighting styles.
Rising to become their most powerful warrior, Tien leads the guerillas in a vengeful assault against the slave traders and an assassination attempt against Lord Rajasena himself. Tien is betrayed by the guerillas and his adopted father, who reveals that it was he who killed Tien’s actual father. Tien manages to subdue most of the traitors, until the mysterious Bhuti Sangkha, the Crow Ghost (Dan Chupong) appears, tipping the scale against Tien. Tien is last seen surrounded by hundreds of Lord Rajasena’s warriors and the movie ends on a cliffhanger. Ong Bak 3 literally opens with that scene.
Again, Ong Bak 3 starts off well, with Tien using his chains as weapons against his staff-wielding guards. He manages to brutalize a fair number of them before being overcome by sheer numbers. Under Lord Rajasena’s orders, Tien’s body is basically crushed into a pulp. (It seems the only way to defeat Tony Jaa is to chain him up and break every single bone in his body.)
Tien’s guerilla allies attempt to free him, but they are defeated by the Crow Ghost. (As a sidenote, the Crow Ghost bares a striking resemblance to Tony Jaa, but is not the same actor simply playing a darker version of Tien.) Lord Rajasena offers to hire the Crow Ghost as a mercenary, but he refuses. Instead, he offers to remove the curse he has put on the Lord and his domain, then disappears.
Lord Rajasena attempts to execute the battered Tien, but his hand is stayed by a royal decree claiming Tien’s body. Returning to the village of Kana Khone, Tien is in no shape to defend himself against the invaders who are after him. Luckily, the villagers manage without him.
Tien’s childhood love interest, Pim (Primrata Det-Udom) and Master Bua (Nirutti Sirijanya), now a Buddhist monk, revive Tien and assist him in his rehabilitation. After spending most of the movie healing, Tien returns to find the villagers have been enslaved by the Crow Ghost, who has killed Lord Rajasena and taken his place as king.
In the final battle, Tien fights legions of the Crow Ghost’s warriors before dueling the malevolent spirit himself. Tien sees two outcomes to the battle: one resulting from his vengeful past and the other owing to his newly enlightened state. One ends in his death while the other brings peace and freedom to his people. I’ll let you guess which one he chooses.
First let me say that I loved Ong Bak. The brutal and palpable no-wires fight scenes were what brought Tony Jaa to people’s attention. While the story was simple, the movie was thrilling and fresh. Ong Bak 2 took it in a different direction, possibly owing to Tony Jaa taking on director duties, though all three films were written in part by Panna Rittikrai. Ong Bak 2 took most of the light-heartedness out of the franchise and substituted a dark storyline of revenge and betrayal. Oh, and they added literal buckets of blood to go along with the bone breaking.
At least Ong Bak 2 was wall-to-wall fight scenes, each becoming more complex and eye-popping than the next. Multiple fighting styles, varied weaponry and even the use of elephants as fighting assistants. Yes, you read that right. Unfortunately, Ong Bak 3 spaces out the fight scenes between the first ten minutes and the last half hour. So if you want to check them out, just fast forward through the entire second act of the movie.
The bright spots: obviously Tony Jaa’s original and incredible fight scenes, Dan Chupong’s fights as the Crow Ghost (which are nearly up to par with Jaa’s) and way more elephant choreography, which never gets old. Also, the insane ramblings of Mhen (Petchtai Wongkamlao) are absolute scene stealers and act as the only saving bit of humor throughout the movie.
The issues: way too much time waiting for Tony Jaa to fight while letting less-skilled fighters fill in the space, too many cuts to scenes from prior movies and the loss of the realistic feel of the action in the original by using some CG special effects and wire-fighting for the Crow Ghost.
The story itself is a classic tale of revenge and rebirth, which can be much further appreciated when viewing the trilogy as a whole rather than in its individual parts. Since I’m woefully ignorant of the facets of Buddhist philosophy, let me just say that the rise and fall of Tien is very similar to Christian theology. Ong Bak 3 could easily be a retelling of the story of Jesus Christ…if he were a martial arts master in 15th century Siam.
If you saw the first two movies in the Ong Bak series, you have to at least see the final act. It’s the weakest of the three but it completes the story. There are tie-ins back to the original, such as the villagers creating the Ong Bak statue that Ting searches for in the first movie. We even see how the statue got the scar across its face. Mhen (Petchtai Wongkamlao), the village idiot in Ong Bak 2 and Ong Bak 3, was Humlea in the first Ong Bak, so it’s nice to see his comedic return. Then there’s the idea that Tien was reincarnated as Ting centuries later. The attention to detail makes the trilogy worthwhile for any Tony Jaa or martial arts fan, just don’t expect a masterpiece of storytelling.
Few and far between, on the DVD at least. There is a brief look “behind the scenes” with Guy Mezger (karate and kickboxing champion) who talks about the choreography of Tony Jaa and his display of an ancient form of the Krabi Krabong style. Then he hocks the other two movies in the trilogy. Other than that, you can check out the trailer for Ong Bak 3 on the DVD or just watch it here.