Ong Bak

"Very Good"

Ong Bak Review


Ong Bak is punk rock. In an age when martial arts pictures primarily consist of arty wire tricks, operatic settings, comic cornballery, and/or urban buddy situations, Ong Bak is a breath of fresh air, as gasped through a bloody, shattered windpipe.

Hong Kong is nowhere to be seen here. Ong Bak is a full-on product of Thailand, starring the brutally limber Tony Jaa, in a magnificent debut.

From an opening scene in which young Ting (Jaa) non-violently defeats his fellow mud-soaked villagers in a treetop game of capture-the-flag, director Prachya Pinkaew pushes a fast but steady pace that's punctuated by electrifying chases and bone-crunching fights.

The story is a simple one, as it should be: When a lieutenant in an organized crime syndicate steals the head of Ting's small village's Buddha statue, Ting sallies forth to Bangkok get it back. In the city, he adopts the assistance of his reluctant cousin George, who has abandoned his rural roots for a raw life of hustling, scamming, and owing debts to bad, bad men (including one in a rad Serpico t-shirt). Forced into battle at a seedy fight club, Ting runs afoul of the crime syndicate that stole the Ong Bak, and lots of violence ensues.

Sound familiar? Ong Bak owes a lot to its predecessors in the genre, but its Thai sensibilities (and its Muay Thai fighting style) create a vastly different feel from its kung fu brethren. Instead of the typical motorcycle chase, we get a mid-speed tuk-tuk rally, and the gunplay and slick settings of Hong Kong are completely absent. No glitz here: Ong Bak is all grit, from the sweaty street settings to the bad guy who speaks through a larynx modulator (a.k.a., a "cancer kazoo," for South Park fans).

Our hero Jaa is a marvel of twisty long limbs and hysterical gymnastic tricks. And he's the real deal - Ong Bak is free of wires and CGI, and we still can't believe that nobody got killed in the Blues Brothers-style tuk-tuk pile-up and unfinished-freeway stunts.

Pinkaew's direction and writing are swift and fun, with minimal chit-chat and no throwaway love story to bog down the action. An early chase through Bangkok's endless alley markets becomes a hilarious obstacle course of barbed wire and chili paste, and when Jaa's not fighting, Pinkaew guides him through a hot and seedy underworld with true country-boy determination.

Fortunately, Jaa fights a lot. He beats up anonymous thugs, street gangs, Aussie fight club brutes, and a boss-henchman jacked up on Giambi Juice. And if you miss something, don't worry; Pinkaew will show you an instant replay, often with multiple angles. While he leaves hidden messages to Spielberg and Luc Besson on his sets, Pinkaew's most powerful cinematic influence is clearly John Madden (the one who broadcasts football, not the one who made Shakespeare in Love).

Sure, we love the grandeur of the Ziyi Zhang art-house kung fu flick as much as anyone. One can even claim that we're living in the Second Golden Age of Martial Arts Pictures. But every now and then, it's good to turn off that orchestral symphonic rock CD and pull out the old Sex Pistols tape. Like a loud listening of "Never Mind the Bollocks," Ong Bak renews.

Primary DVD extras include tons of Tony Jaa outtakes and how-to exhibitions. But kids, it should go without saying, don't try this at home!

Aka Ong-bak, Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior.



Ong Bak

Facts and Figures

Run time: 105 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 23rd October 2003

Box Office USA: $3.9M

Box Office Worldwide: $4.6M

Distributed by: Magnolia Pictures

Production compaines: Baa-Ram-Ewe, Sahamongkolfilm Co.

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Fresh: 90 Rotten: 15

IMDB: 7.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Ting, Petchtai Wongkamlao as Humlae / Dirty Balls / George, as Muay Lek, Suchao Pongwilai as Komtuan, Chumphorn Thepphithak as Uncle Mao, Cheathavuth Watcharakhun as Peng, Wannakit Sirioput as Don, Rungrawee Barijindakul as Ngek, Chatthapong Pantanaunkul as Saming, Nudhapol Asavabhakhin as Toshiro, Pornpimol Chookanthong as Mae Waan, Udom Chouncheun as Ta Meun, Boonsri Yindee as Yai Hom

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