Jaa is being groomed to be the next martial arts hero on the strength of his
performance in this film. Comparisons have been flowing in the martial
arts community saying that Jaa is worthy of the stardom of Jet Li or Jackie
Chan. (Jaa has recently signed up to star in Drunken Master 3
is Jaa's first film, filmed on a shoestring budget in Thailand with some
help from France (French director Luc Besson of La Femme Nikita fame
is an uncredited executive producer). The storyline is not
particularly innovative, however it is savvily put together and Jaa's
performance, as well as that of Petchthai Wongkamlao (as the comic relief)
make for a fun action movie.
plays Ting, a principled man who lives in an old-fashioned Thai village.
When bad guys from the big city steal the head of the "Ong-Bak," a religious
statue in the temple, all of his neighbors are sure that they are
doomed without the protection of the idol. So Jaa goes to Bangkok to find
Bangkok he looks up George, a former villager who had moved there in search
of fame and fortune, but who is now a cowardly small-time con man. At
first, George tries to look at Ting as a mark, but eventually seeing the
bravery and honor of his visitor, George rethinks his own life and tries to
help get Ong-Bak back to his hometown.
thieves hang out in a sweaty fight club in Bangkok, where Ting's skills
quickly catch the attention of the local crime lords. The head of the
crime family is an older man who speaks through a voice box due to a
tracheotomy. (The scene where the chief bad guy smokes a cigarette
through the hole in his throat has been done before, but it never fails to
be disturbing.) He insists that he does not believe in idols, but he
appears to spend a lot of time and effort stealing them.
the boss loses money betting against Ting, he insists upon the "hick"
fighting more at the club before returning the idol head. Ting quickly
realizes that they are not trustworthy, so he starts a one-man assault on
the mob. This leads to a series of well-choreographed fight scenes,
all of which appear to have been done without special effects, just due to
the athletic prowess of the cast.
Still, the movie, despite its low-budget origins, wants to play with the
action movie big boys. Sometimes it works (a chase through the streets
and markets of Bangkok is terrifically choreographed), sometimes it doesn't
(a chase with three wheel Thai taxis tries hard, but you can't get too
worked up over a race going about 20-miles-per-hour.)
During one fight scene there is a note scrawled as graffiti on a garage door
saying, "Speilberg, come play with us." The fact that the famed
director's name is misspelled is either charming or kind of sad, I can't
Ong-Bak is sort of like the old-school
martial arts movies of Bruce Lee, just a fun action romp that doesn't claim
to be high art or something it is not. As for whether or not it will
be the launching pad for a new martial arts superstar -- well, in a just
world, Jaa should become a star just for one scene where he fights off bad
guys while his pants are on fire. That takes dedication.
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Posted: February 4, 2005.