Ong Bak review by Matt FuerstI was a impressionable teenager when the Pay-Per-View Ultimate Fighting Championship events began. Being said impressionable teenage boy, I was enthralled in the contest where competitors from all over the world duked it out for the right to call themselves the Ultimate Fighting Champion. At the time I of course daydreamed about training to try something like that, but being a hermit/shut-in led me to stick to simply watching it on TV. Fast forward many years of my life, I found myself at a bit of a personal crossroad. The idea of training still stuck with me, I decided to give it a plunge. I enrolled in the local training center and began studying the art of Muay Thai. I am extremely lucky that where I live we have an amazing trainer, a 4 Time Thai champion by the name of Matee Jedeepitak. I've spent 6 months of so training and have enjoyed every minute of it. Spending a lot of time on Intertron message boards dedicated to Muay Thai followers, I began reading about this movie - Ong Bak, shot in Thailand, with Thai actors, featuring Thai fighter Tony Jaa. I eagerly anticipated a US DVD release. Well the benefits of running a mildly successful film review site reared it's head as a member of my super secret underground DVD network contacted me asking if I'd be interested in reviewing a little movie called Ong Bak.
The setup of Ong Bak is nothing original at all. A small Thai village is holding a festival, with games and worship intermingling amongst the villagers. A group of villains from "the city" (Bangkok) slip into the village during the night and take the head of their Buddha, named Ong Bak. In the morning the villagers find the atrocity and realize their village will be doomed without the protection of Ong Bak. They nominate the mightiest warrior in the village, Ting (Tony Jaa) to head into Bangkok and retrieve the head. Thus begins Ting's journey.
Ting handles the overwhelming nature of a large city like Bangkok well, but he still needs some help in finding the perpetrators. He enlists a very reluctant former member of his village, George (Petchtai Wongkamlao) and George's female sidekick Muay Lek (Pumwaree Yodkamol). George is a greedy man, and not really interested in the needs of the village at all. He intends to use Ting for his own gain as much as possible, then discard him at the first opportunity. George and Muaylek are in the movie for two purposes: to provide comedic relief to the stoic and heroic Ting and to get Ting into situations where he has to kick some serious A. They succeed quite well in both.
A movie like Ong Bak just wouldn't work if we couldn't get Muay Thai artist Ting into a fight pit, and Ong Bak delivers many times. The athleticism of Tony Jaa truly must be seen to be believed. If you're member of the movie going public that is tired of the latest fad of wire-fu, Ong Bak is a wonderful breath of fresh air as all of fights are done in real time, without wires or special effects. Ting fights his way through a nice variety of stereotypical enemies: the steroid crazed, disrespectful Westerner; the fleet footed Easterner; the crazy styled freestyle fighter. Ting consistently comes up victorious in the pit against his opponents, and does so with a great deal of panache. Knowing some basics of Muay Thai I feel that Tony Jaa is quite proficient in the art. While some of the action veers away from pure Muay Thai, Jaa (and his fight choreographers) deliver a lot of great Muay Thai action. Jaa's proficient use of elbow strikes, devastating knees (both standing and jumping) and powerful foot jabs are all hallmarks of Muay Thai and really distinguish it from other Eastern martial arts.
Ting of course isn't in Bangkok to fight, he's there to recover the head of Ong Bak, so this search for the relic puts Ting in the situation of being in a lot of chases sequences. Whether he's being chased by the bad guys, or chasing them, the stunt choreography during these scenes will literally bring a smile to your face. Jaa's athleticism is unlike anything you've ever seen before, including Jackie Chan movies. Chases have Jaa jumping through bundles of barbed wire, jumping over moving cars or jumping and running on the heads of people (again, "Look Ma! No Wires!"). The story of Ong Bak progresses and reaches the end that you fully well know it will reach as soon as it begins, but the real fun is getting there.
Ong Bak is coming to the US on DVD via Magnolia Pictures. The DVD is hard matted to 1.85:1 ratio but unfortunately isn't anamorphically enhanced. Still the picture quality if pretty high and better than some Anamorphic DVD's I own. Obviously this is a Thai film, so the issue of subtitles and dubbing comes into play. Ong Bak is presented with it's original Thai soundtrack, with English subtitles. I think this was the correct option for Ong Bak, I generally preferred my movies dubbed (I know, I'm not a movie snob like a lot of critics, who get real militant about dubbing films) but the story and dialogue in Ong Bak is so simplistic, it is better just to leave it in the original Thai and to read an occasional subtitle.
I mentioned in my opening paragraph my study of Muay Thai, so I had a built-in interest in seeing Ong Bak. But, I need to balance this with my built-in interest in seeing good movies and attempting to write good, helpful reviews about them. I gave Ong Bak a glowing endorsement, and think most people will have a genuinely fun time watching it, but realize that it's hard for someone to view me as a neutral observer. Again, the story is fairly hokey and simplistic, but I find this to be true with your average summer action blockbuster. What really sells the tale is the fun action on the screen and an interesting look into both the big city and small village life in Thailand. If you've seen a action movie starring Van Damme, Seagal, Jet Li or Jackie Chan in the past 5 years, I would urge you to pick up Ong Bak when you see it in your local store. It delivers a lot more fun in a package than your average action film.
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