Ong Bak: Thai Fighter (2003)

I’m not sure why I took as long as I did watching “Ong Bak”. Perhaps it was because I’ve seen so many really bad martial arts films since I was a child, but when I was done with “Ong Bak”, I was just utterly blown away. “Ong Bak” knocked my socks off, and I was cursing myself for not seeing it sooner. “Ong Bak” marks the American premiere of Tony Jaa, a man whose physical talents are just astounding. But be warned “Ong Bak” is not a film based heavily on story, it’s mainly just there for the utterly amazing fight scenes. Fight scenes that are not only some of the most amazing action sequences I’ve ever seen in an action film, but also have some great choreography.

While there’s hardly a story for the audience, the film does have brains and has a plot that is really quite fascinating. Tony Jaa, an amazing martial artist is village man Ting whose village has lost the head of their deity Ong Bak, which was stolen from under them, now he has to travel to Thailand to get it back or die trying. I have no idea who Tony Jaa is, but doing research I discovered he’s quite the star in Thailand and he explodes on the screen for American audiences showing who he is and what he’s capable of with the right script. Jaa has the exact same humility and quiet ferocity Lee had, and really leaps off the screen. For people whom are used to films like “Crouching Tiger” that depend on wire-fu to enhance the fight sequences, and the computer generated fight scenes of films like “Blade 2”, you’re really going to be in shock, or at least in disbelief, that there are no such enhancements made during “Ong-Bak”. There are no wires, no computers, no green screens, just Tony Jaa kicking some major criminal ass. There are leaps, bounds, jump kicks, triple kicks, back flips, and oh so much more.

In one of the most amazing sequences I’ve ever seen, Jaa escapes an entourage of criminals chasing him as he jumps over cars, and slides under trucks. And, just in case people doubt it, director Prachya Pinkaew re-iterates the scene by repeating it again, and perhaps a third time at different angles, and you can hardly believe your eyes at such a spectacle. It took me thirty minutes to convince my brother that the stunts are real without any enhancements, and I think it will take some convincing from other audiences. We’ve become so conditioned to see enhanced fight sequences, here we have some honest to goodness fight scenes that are not enhanced and it’s unbelievable. Jaa is an utterly amazing fighter, and the choreography courtesy of Jaa himself. If you’re thinking all you’ll get are jumps and leaps you’re in for a real treat as Jaa shows some of the best fight scenes I’ve ever witnessed with some truly astounding moves that will make you literally gasp.

Not since Bruce Lee has a fight scene been so utterly compelling. It’s surely a range of action scenes that will leave the martial arts movie buffs arguing for days on their favorite. My favorite is, of course, when Ting must take on contestant after contestant in a fight pit. The film has a cavalcade of funny and odd characters from the villain with the hole in his neck, or Ting’s ex-best friend Dirty Balls, the movie has it all and then some. This is not the type of movie you watch for a story, this has some of the most amazing fight scenes I’ve ever witness, I can not say it enough.  As a hardcore Bruce Lee fan, and someone whose become immensely abandoned by Hollywood whose churned out nothing but hip hop karate flicks, and sweeping mopy (but good) Ang Lee wire-fu martial art epics, it’s refreshing to watch an action film be an action film. Sometimes action just has to be action. Sometimes, an action flick just has to be an action flick, no story, no depth, just Tony Jaa doing what he does: kicking ass, saving people, kicking ass, and kicking more ass in a beautiful adventure flick. Did I mention Jaa kicks ass?