Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (***¼)

Posted on February 1st, 2005 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Tony Jaa is the next great martial arts star. That fact is very clear after seeing Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior. He has the charisma of Bruce Lee, the charm of Jackie Chan, and the grace and menace of the bastard love child of Jet Li and Mikhail Baryshnikov. In this film he does all his own stunts, a la Jackie Chan, and they are wild, eye-popping moves. And just in case you miss them, the director films them from several angles, and plays them back repeatedly, sometimes in super-slo-mo, so you can see that it was all done with physics, not with wires, pixels, or mirrors. At first this replay action took me out of the flow of the film, but after a couple of times I got used to it and grew to expect it because some of the moves were so unbelievable they just have to be re-experienced immediately in order to grok the fullness.

Just to give you an idea of where I’m coming from, I’m no fanboy of martial arts films. I’ve never seen a Bruce Lee film all the way through, just bits and pieces, and my favorite part of Jackie Chan’s films is always the outtakes at the end. But I have seen enough of these kinds of films to get the basic storyline, where the reluctantly violent hero tries in vain to achieve his task with a minimal of bloodshed, but his vile opposition won’t let him hang up his guns.

That same storyline applies here. Tony Jaa plays Ting, a young and naive country boy who goes to the big city to retrieve a macguffin that has deep sacred meaning to his village. Along the way he runs into a former village-mate, now a bottom-rung hustler in the big city, who reluctantly (and comedically) “helps” our hero. Pretty standard stuff, really.

But what sets this movie apart is the fighting and stunt work. Mind boggling is the only way to describe it. This movie is worth seeing just for these facets. However, the script is actually engaging and the story is intriguing, and they (thankfully) subtitle the movie instead of overdub the voices, so the true personality of the characters comes through.

So, even if you’re not a fan of martial arts movies, I think this one is worth a look. And try not to groan and yowl out loud with the action on the screen, I dare you. I also dare you to try and get the tune “Mmm-bop” out of your head once you replace “Mmm-bop” with “Ong-bak”. Go on, I double dare you.

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