Ong Bak is basically the story of one man’s quest to find (find here meaning that he kicks copious amounts of villainous ass) and reclaim the stolen head of his small village’s local Buddha statue. But where Ong Bak separates itself from similar kung fu fare is in its ardent disregard for wire trickery and CG-assisted stunts. Instead of relying on those old industry standards, the responsibility of carrying the action sequences is placed squarely on the shoulders of Ong Bak‘s star, Tony Jaa. Jaa then takes that responsibility, does a triple flip onto its head and delivers a skull-shattering elbow drop. My review after the jump:
Jaa plays Ting, a “country boy” living in a small Thai village who, with no available television or internet, masters the art of Muay Thai. Things are fairly peaceful in the village until a thug named Don comes and steals the head of the town’s Buddha statue for reasons that are never made completely clear. Ting is chosen to go after the head and bring it back so that the village’s crops will prosper. He is also told that there is an ex-villager named Humlae living in the city that he should rendezvous with.
Ting makes it to the city where he finds meets up with Humlae, who after leaving the village has changed his identity become a hardcore gambling addict. Humlae gets Ting involved in an underground fight club that is unsurprisingly run by Don’s gang. Several action scenes later, Humlae accepts who he really is and Ting reclaims the head for his village.
Honestly, the story isn’t that great and simply serves as a connecting thread between the mind-blowing action sequences. But you do know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are and you want to see Ting triumph in the end. The filmmakers obviously knew that they were making an action movie and so most of the effort is devoted to the stunt aspect of the movie. Several times, the more impressive feats are shown three times from different angles which adds to the wow-factor when you consider the timing and lack of cheating involved. This is an action movie and it has all the action movie clichés that you want to see. Fruit cart destroyed in a chase scene? Yes. One henchman that runs away after seeing the hero beat his comrades to death? Uh-huh. Disproportionately large explosion? Yes, and made even more ridiculous by the kind of vehicles that explode. Cartoonishly evil and/or chemically enhanced bad guys? You know it. Several times, I found myself laughing in sheer amazement as wave after wave of henchmen was dispatched by a lightning quick blow to the… well any part of their body. A few times during the movie, Jaa does get tagged by a lucky blow. But sometimes that really backfired. For instance, in one of the movies final fight sequences, Anonymous Soldier tries to deliver a kick to Ting’s chest. Instead, Ting turns the tables by attacking the soldier’s foot with his chest. It’s fantastic stuff.
The real highlight of the film is Tony Jaa. I know it’s fashionable to label martial arts action stars as the next Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, but the sheer athleticism displayed in Jaa’s work really does put him on that level. Of course he does all of his own stunts which is awesome, especially when he very nearly kicks off a man’s head while his (Jaa’s) legs are on fire. Read that again. And again. No matter how many times you think about it, the idea of a man with pants aflame kicking the shit out of a bad guy never gets less great. The whole movie is basically an homage to Hollywood action movies with a Muay Thai flavor that is a lot of fun to watch.
The HD transfer is fairly clean but there were some scenes that were a little too grainy. Overall, the upgrade does enhance the movie, especially during the all-important action scenes.
Unfortunately, the features are lacking. There is a short martial arts display from Jaa, semi-behind the scenes B-roll footage, a couple of music features involving Wu-Tang clansman RZA, and a short feature on the movements of Muay Thai.
The B-roll footage is the most interesting feature because it lets you see in a less cinematic way, just how insane some of the stunts are and how quick the action is. It is by far the most worthwhile feature on the disc, which is why it was such a shame that we didn’t get more of it. Only three scenes are highlighted.