Ong Bak

cover

AKA: Ong-Bak, Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior, Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, Thai Fist

Year of release: 2003

Genre: martial arts

Director: Prachya Pinkaew

Action directors: Tony Jaa, Panna Rittikrai

Producers: Prachya Pinkaew, Sukanya Vongsthapat

Writer: Suphachai Sittiaumponpan

Cinematography: Nattawut Kittikhun

Editors: Thanat Sunsin, Thanapat Taweesuk

Music: Richard Wells

Stars: Tony Jaa, Petchtai Wongkamlao, Pumwaree Yodkamol, Suchao Pongwilai, Chumphorn Thepphithak, Cheathavuth Watcharakhun, Wannakit Sirioput

Rated R for violence, language, and drug use

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In Ong Bak, Tony Jaa plays Ting, a young man who is sent by his village to Bangkok to recover the stolen head of Ong Bak, a religious statue. Ting meets up with his cousin George (Petchtai Wongkamlao) to try and get his help in navigating the city. George is deep in debt from gambling, and uses Ting to make money from underground fights. This attracts the attention of a gang leader, Komtuan (Suchao Pongwilai), who also happens to be the man holding the head of Ong Bak.

First released in 2003, Ong Bak almost immediately set the action movie world on fire due to the performance of Tony Jaa. Not since the mid 1980's with the entrance of Jet Li had there been such a stunning new entrant into the realm of martial arts films. Ong Bak shot right into the upper pantheon of action pictures, making Tony Jaa a star virtually overnight and cementing Thailand as one of the places to watch for intriguing and exciting action cinema.

Since the introduction of the internet into mass culture, it's become very easy for films to quickly become over-hyped. But this is a case where the hype is justifed. Tony Jaa is simply poetry in motion and a joy to watch. As with Jackie Chan's best work, Jaa has an uncanny ability to integrate everyday items into his action scenes, so that even things like a simple chase through a market become pulse-pounding fare. Once the actual fighting begins, it's hard to say if anyone currently working in action films can match Jaa's speed and intensity, especially during the brutal final brawl, where he is pitted up against a steroid-enhanced Muay Thai boxer in a scene that has "highlight reel" written all over it.

Ong Bak isn't without its' faults, though. Some of the acting is a bit suspect, especially Pumwaree Yodkamol, who plays George's annoying sidekick. The music score sounds like something produced in Garage Band and adds absolutely nothing to the action scenes. And the use of double and triple-takes for the flashier moves gets old after a while. But these are ultimately fairly minor faults, and don't do too much to bring down the movie as a whole. Even some seven years after its' initial release, Ong Bak is still an excellent martial arts picture that's mandatory viewing for fans of the genre.

RATING: 8

Note: The movie has recently been re-released by Magnet as part of their Ong Bak Trilogy box set -- a review is here. Information on the Blu-ray previously released by Fox can be found below.

The picture is in 1080P 1.85:1 and looks great for the most part. The soundtrack, which is presented in DTS-HD, can be listened to in English or Thai. Probably the biggest improvement from the DVD are the subtitles, which are no longer locked into closed-captioning mode.

The extras, which are in standard definition, include:

  • Live stunt performance (3 min.): Tony Jaa performs in front of an audience in France.
  • Movements of Muay Thai (2 min.): A demonstration of different Muay Thai strikes.
  • Tony Jaa music video (4 min.): A rap video from Reed the Weed and Tragedie featuring Tony Jaa (who thankfully does not rap).
  • Making of music video (7 min.): Behind-the-scenes footage from the video shoot with commentary by director Olivier Megaton.
  • Selected B-roll(6 min.): Several alternate takes on some of the stunts.
  • RZA promo video(1 min.): Wu-Tang Clan's RZA appears in this commercial for the movie.
  • Trailers: Several different US and international versions of the trailer round out the extras.