Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior

Here is the plot for Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior: a young villager goes to the big city to search for a stolen village relic, and kicks lots of butt along the way. Thankfully, the film is much more than that, and that is thanks to its star, Tony Jaa. Jaa is a specialist in muy thai, a form of martial arts seen in Thai kickboxing or the Ultimate Fighting Championships. Watching Jaa is awe-inspiring, akin to watching Rumble in the Bronx introduce Jackie Chan, or Lethal Weapon 4 introduce Jet Li. The filmmakers and marketing execs behind Ong-Bak are pushing Jaa as the next big action hero, and unlike other recent aspirants to the throne (The Rock or Vin Diesel), Jaa has the sheer physicality necessary. This isn't watered down Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme martial arts. This is the real deal.

Ong-Bak is essentially one long race with a lot of violence interspersed amongst it. Think of it as Non-Stop but with one guy and more punching and kicking. Ting (Jaa) goes to the city to look for the head of Ong-Bak, the local village Buddha. He asks for the help of George (Perttary Wongkamlao, Killer Tattoo), who is more interested in betting on Ting's fighting prowess. To get to the statue, Ting has to go through a whole bunch of street thugs, fighters, narrow alleys, and small taxis. There's not much going on upstairs, but the sheer beauty of watching Jaa is more than enough to make up for this. Ong-Bak boasts no special effects, no wires, and tricks. This is old-school Jackie Chan, with Jaa performing a wide variety of eye-popping stunts and martial arts. He flies through the air, attacking opponents with fists, elbows, and knees, and jumps over and under cars, runs through panes of glass, and even through a small hoop of barbed wire. Jaa runs up walls and hops over the shoulders of opponents. It's a great change of pace from most action movies today, where rapid editing means the scenes sometimes change every few seconds and computer animation takes things too far. Anyone can do amazing stunts with the help of wires and computers. Few people can do what Jaa does on screen.

While Jaa displays remarkable physical prowess and dexterity, he is lacking a personality. There are few times where the sheer spectacle of stunts can convince people to overlook the lack of story, and Ong-Bak is one of them. Writer/director Prachya Pinkaew, who co-wrote the screenplay with Panna Rittikrai, knows how to please audiences, and that is with gravity-defying martial arts. Amusingly, when Jaa performs something really cool (which happens a lot), Pinkaew repeats the stunt, perhaps in slow motion or from a different angle. Ordinarily this would get annoying, but surprisingly, this allows one to watch more martial arts mayhem from Jaa.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 47 minutes, Thai and English with English subtitles, Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language, some drug use, and sexuality.

Back to Movies