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Golden Network Asia Limited

Official Site

Director: Prachya Pinkaew

Producer: Prachya Pinkaew

Written by: Prachya Pinkaew, Panna Rittikrai & Suphachai Sithiamphan

Cast: Tony Jaa, Petchthai Wongkamlao, Pumwaree Yodkamol, Rungrawee Borrijindakul, Chetwut, Wacharakun, Sukhaaw Phongwilai


Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior is one of many Asian imports to the States these days, but it is the first to come from Thailand, and more importantly it’s the first to feature the superlative Tony Jaa. The movie’s tagline is “No stunt doubles, No CGI, and No strings attached.” Make no mistake, this movie is the real deal, and its star Tony Jaa is, to borrow a phrase from the now-infamous Patrick Duffy, “a fucking cesspool of talent”.

Like most martial arts movies it has very little in the way of narrative. A young man, Ting (Tony Jaa), lives in the idyllic small town of Nong Pradu somewhere in Thailand. One day a group of toughs breaks into the shrine and steals the head of Ong-Bak, an artifact of immense religious value. Of course it is up Ting to follow them to the hive of scum and villainy known as Bangkok and meet Hum Lae (Petchthai Wongkamlao), a former resident of Nong Pradu who is studying to be a priest. (Important note: Bangkok supposedly translates to City of the Angels) Once there he finds Hum Lae now goes by the name George and has abandoned his small-town roots for life as street hustler with the aid of his partner in crime, Muay Lek (Pumwaree Yodkamol). Those are the central conflicts to the movie. Can Ting recover the Ong-Bak statue from crime lord Khon Tuan (Sukhaaw Phongwilai) in time for the town’s religious ceremony? Will Hum Lae and Muay Lek be so inspired by his example that they turn their backs to the glamorous, but ultimately empty life of the big city? Is it really necessary for me to give you the answer to any of these questions?

Tony Jaa is what sets this movie apart from the competition, way apart. It takes 20 minutes of screen time until he is tricked into fighting at an underground tournament, but after that he is constantly running from, chasing after, or knocking out the film’s many villains. More than once during the aforementioned sequences the audience would loose a collective sound of disbelief as he performed the impossible. The movie helped to dispel this disbelief by replaying footage of his more dangerous stunts from different angles a la classic Jackie Chan films. In fact a man of his superhuman abilities should be given a mask and a cape. Tony Jaa is an incredible athlete but that does not make for a good martial arts movie (Gymkata anyone?). The fights deliver on every level; muay thai is a brutal, efficient art where no energy is wasted, which is not always fun to watch, but you can feel his pain and the pain of his opponents when it is obvious he is giving 100% into everything that he does. Combine this with the action scenes’ fast pace and superb editing to create the perfect illusion. Occasionally the movie gets a little over the top, as when two guys who should be corpses continue to stand up and exchange blows, but it is a minor quibble since not even death should interrupt action this entertaining.

Tony Jaa has one more secret weapon in his arsenal beyond his athleticism and martial arts—his charisma. Action stars often have the most threadbare plot and minimal character development to back them and yet they need the audience to be emotionally invested in them. Here the audience actually cares about the outcome every combat and is solidly in the protagonist’s corner. Some stars have this quality (Jackie Chan); others don’t (Steven Seagal). Lucky for us Tony Jaa has it to burn. Part of the attraction is, he constantly pushes himself to new height. We as the audience get the impression that, if effort were capital, then no expense was spared in the making of this movie.

Tony Jaa combines the physical whimsy of Jackie Chan with the straight beat down of Bruce Lee. Everyone will enjoy Ong-Bak, but action fans will find a special place for the DVD, right next to their copy of Fist Of Legend.

—Woodrow Bogucki

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