Movie Review
Ong Bak – The Thai Warrior
Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Cast: Panom Yeerum (a.k.a. Tony Jaa), Petchtai Wongkamlau

everything I thought I knew about movies is wrong.

I thought that if an action film had a flimsy story line, uneven pacing, terrible acting and a lead with all the charisma of a brick that it meant that it was automatically, irredeemably bad. Clearly this is not always the case.

Along comes Ong Bak – The Thai Warrior to prove that a movie doesn’t have to be good to be great.

"And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord some ass I'll break..."

The story is only a story in the barest sense of the word. It’s basically nothing more than a frame on which to hang a whole lot of whoop-ass. A whole lot. Tony Jaa plays Ting, a young Thai villager who lives peacefully enough, considering he’s the human equivalent of an atomic bomb in the deadly art of Muay Thai fighting. One day the head of the village’s stone idol goes missing, stolen by another villager who high-tails it to Bangkok in the hopes of making some quick cash. Ting goes after the thief, finds himself knee-deep in the Bangkok bar-fighting scene, and, uhm, that’s pretty much it. More ass-kicking than you or anyone else is fit to handle ensues.

Look, for me to say that an otherwise unforgivable film is redeemed by some incredible kung-fu is like the Pope saying that premarital sex is redeemed by the existence of "ribs for her pleasure"—it just never happens—so you know Ong Bak is special. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to mention that at the time I saw this movie I was two days recovering from pretty medieval oral surgery without the aid of narcotics, and, not coincidentally two days into giving up a 15-year smoking habit for good. I should have been super-pissy and intolerant, or at least unable to form a positive opinion about anything, and I still loved Ong Bak.

Picture some of the most outrageous moves from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers without the wires and Ong Bak will still likely surpass your imagination. Every impossible stunt performed in this film is done without the aid of harnesses, CGI, or any other clever editing tricks. And just in case you start doubting what you’re seeing, which I certainly did on several occasions, the movie treats you to multiple instant replays from various angles just to drive the point home that Tony Jaa is a freak of human kung-fu (pardon: Muay Thai) potential.

Dunno what's going on here, but some insurance company's gonna be pissed...

Rare is the action film where the retreats are just as exciting as the attacks, but the balletic choreography of both leave the viewer awed and amazed from start to finish. Watching him leap from a gas station explosion with his legs on fire to issue a good kicking seems every bit as mind-blowing as watching him hurl himself through a loop of razor-wire that looked seriously no more than a foot and a half in diameter.

If you had left a tape recorder on throughout the running of Ong Bak that night, you’d probably have a hard time distinguishing the sounds of the movie from the sounds of the crowd watching it. People were just freaking out, lurching spastically around in their seats and whooping and barking along with every hit because nobody seemed to believe what they were seeing. This movie turned me into a hyperactive 12 year old boy, all fist-pumping and no-waying and spilling wild cherry Icee down the front of my shirt, and man, I can’t wait to do it again.

Tony Jaa is exactly the shot in the arm the tired old action genre needs. In an age that has become lazily reliant on special effects for all of its razzle dazzle, it’s great to see someone unleash a good old-fashioned can of whoop-ass for a change. Provided they can keep him out of buddy cop movies where he gets paired up with a wise cracking sidekick, he could become America’s new favorite action figure. In the meantime, though, catch Ong Bak – The Thai Warrior and marvel at the as yet unadulterated and very un-Hollywood wonder that is Tony Jaa.

By: Jen Cameron
Published on: 2005-02-23
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