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Year: 2003  
Director: Prachya Pinkaew  
  Cast: Tony Jaa (Phanom Yeerun), Petchtai Wongkamlao, Chatthapong Pantanaunkul, Suchao Pongwilai, David Ismalone, Erik Markus Schuetz, Rungrawee Barijindakul, Don Ferguson, Chatewut Watcharakhun, Pumwaree Yodkamol, Nudhapol Asavabhakhin
  The Skinny: It's a nostalgia gravy train for Hong Kong action junkies! Ong-Bak is light on the more cerebral aspects of film (story, dialogue, etc.), but its ass-kicking action and the acrobatic flair of star Tony Jaa more than compensate.
by Kozo:

Just when the hopes of Asian action fans were dimming, along comes Ong-Bak. Despite a hackneyed story, stock characters, and nondescript acting, this 2003 Thai import comes chockfull of all-out, acrobatic action the likes of which has not been seen since early-nineties HK Cinema. Star Tony Jaa dispenses punishment with cinematically satisfying panache, and his opponents take it with equally pronounced bone-crunching oomph. Ong-Bak may not be art, but it sure is fun.

Jaa is Ting, a country boy from the village of Nong Pradu. He comes to Bangkok to find and return the head of Ong-Bak, the village buddha who supposedly protects and helps the village. The head was stolen by greasy fellow Don, but he's not the main culprit. It's actually crime boss Khom Tuan, a wheelchair-bound bastard who talks through an electronic voicebox and generally acts like an evil bastard. Khom Tuan steals and sells national treasures (like Buddha heads), and also runs illegal boxing dens on the side. Aside from being entertaining free-for-alls, these fights are convenient meeting locations for all the principal characters. The fights are frequented by George (Petchtai Wongkamlao), another Nong Pradu transplant who denies his rural roots and pretends to be a fulltime city boy. When he steals Ting's money and uses it to bet to Khom Tuan's fights, Ting goes in pursuit. Big surprise: Ting ends up in the ring.

The characters of Ong-Bak come straight out of a screenwriting handbook. Ting is the stoic, righteous, ultra-kickass country boy; George is the loudmouth sidekick who denies his roots, but later realizes how important they are; Khom Tuan is your standard evil bastard, who cheats and steals, and breaks his word with pride; Muay (Suchao Pongwilai) is the tomboyish street girl who's drawn into the film only to provide some sort of girl/child anchor for those in the audience who need one. The film's conflicts and themes are also routine and by-the-numbers. Muay's sister prostitutes herself to get Muay into school, George questions his personal rift with his father, and the big city is portrayed as complete crap next to the simple rural life. The good guys fight for family and honor, and the bad guys for greed and the desecration of culture. If Khom Tuan turned out to be Ting's father, the film would only be slightly less original.

However, what makes Ong-Bak special is not a brilliantly plotted narrative, nor any witty, post-modern dialogue. In this film, those things are strictly routine, and possess all the excitement of a sick fish. Nope, it's the action in Ong-Bak that sets it apart. Tony Jaa runs, jumps, and courts mortal danger with a panache that matches—and sometimes even eclipses—Jackie Chan in his prime. The illegal boxing sequences possess a fun mix of styles (Muay Thai, standard boxing, Jeet Kune Do), and are choreographed with a dynamic, and gratefully brutal impact. An extended chase sequence through the back alleys of Bangkok showcases Jaa's impressive athleticism, as he jumps over obstacles (cars, people, sharp objects) and sometimes even through them (rings of barbed wire, parallel planes of glass). It's all a little over-the-top and showy, but who goes to a movie like this for gritty, no-nonsense realism? If Jaa is the future of Asian action stars, that wouldn't be a bad thing at all.

Jaa's physical abilities are especially fortunate when you consider that his acting prowess is far from refined. Jaa is blankly handsome, but possesses little charm or overt screen charisma. Essentially his job in Ong-Bak is to show up, stand around, then jump into action using his flying elbows of doom—which doesn't really recommend him for a variety of roles. Hopefully Jaa will be able to make more than Ong-Bak clones one day, but right now, it's all good. For those jonesing for the glory days of Asian action cinema, Ong-Bak is just what the doctor ordered. (Kozo 2003/2004)

Notes: • The Edko VCD from Hong Kong is actually a very good VCD, EXCEPT the print used appears to have been trimmed for violence. This is espcially noticeable during the climactic action sequences, which appear to lose their impact.
Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
20th Century Fox Home Video
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Thai and English Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
English and Spanish subtitles

images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen