A glorious up-to-date take on the old school martial arts classic not seen since the days of Bruce Lee.
"Muay Thai is dangerous," declares the sombre old monk of the Thai village Nong Pra-du. By the film's end it's apparent that this monk’s not that wise. He just sits around stating the bleeding obvious.
His young protégé Ting’s (Tony Jaa) thrilling use of Muay Thai – an ancient form of Thai fighting – is not just dangerous, it’s downright lethal. Good thing Ting oozes honour and respect from every single one of his sweaty fight-drenched pores.
From the moment Ong-Bak starts you know you’re in for a treat. A gaggle of men race to capture a flag from the top of the village’s tallest tree. They bound up the trunk and leap across branches, bodies fall to the ground with a sickening bone-cracking crunch as they fight to be first, the adrenalin starts pumping.
It’s Ting that emerges victorious from the village’s great test. While he may have a name that sounds like music’s most pathetic instrument, the triangle, being played, this is a man not to be messed with. Unfortunately, no-one’s told that to Don (Wannakit Siriput) – a heavy for Bangkok’s ruthless crime lord Khom Tuan – who foolishly cuts the head off 'Ong-Bak', the village’s sacred statue, to impress his boss. Ting heads to Bangkok to retrieve the head with the help of George, a loveable rogue and former villager, charmingly and comically played by Petchthai Wongkamlao.
The plot’s a combination of the country boy meets big city routine coupled with the classic good versus evil battle between humble martial artist and gangster foes. It’s a paint-by-numbers set-up. Ting just happens to be an orphan raised by the Ong-Bak monks and a highly skilled fighter (as displayed in an early mouth-watering scene where Tony Jaa’s training routine in the temple courtyard includes each of Muay Thai’s core eight moves).
Upon arriving in a wonderfully sleazy neon-blinding drug-fuelled Bangkok, Ting discovers that Khom Tuan (Sukhaaw Phongwilal) just happens to own an illegal street-fighting den. The venue offers the setting for the majority of the action. Ting is forced to fight opponent after opponent, including a huge hulk of a man who uses a fridge as a weapon, until he can get close to Tuan.
The crime lord is a brilliantly colourful character; a wheel chair bound chain-smoking bundle of evil whose cigarette ravaged throat has been destroyed to the point where he’s forced to issue his instructions through a computerised voice box. He’s an evil Thai Stephen Hawking.
It would be absurd to criticise Ong-Bak for its coincidences and simplicity. This does not pretend to be Citizen Kane. It’s a glorious up-to-date take on the old school martial arts classic not seen since the days of Bruce Lee. It’s a high-octane, thrilling, joyful return to film capturing the real fighting skills of a martial artist, in a time when we’ve become used to wire-work choreography bedazzling us in magic-realist versions.
The fight scenes are beautiful yet brutal, each kick and blow is felt. The unfathomable moves Jaa uses to athletically escapee his pursuers in the chase sequences are often given triple replays by the director, and deservedly so. Your brain wouldn’t believe what you were seeing on the basis of one viewing.
Jaa’s preparation for this role included four years of Muay Thai training. He puts in an astonishing display of skills in this no wire, no CGI, no camera tricks demonstration. Some Ting’s happening in Thailand, a new cult hero has been born. Just pray to Ong-Bak that Hollywood doesn’t sanitise him for the studio once it gets its grubby hands on Tony Jaa.
Great excitement following very positive responses from people who’d seen Ong-Bak in Thailand.
Completely engrossing with brilliant fight scenes, action-packed chases and grace, power and agility from Jaa’s every move.
The sort of film you babble on about deliriously to your friends and makes you want to see Jaa in action again as soon as possible. It will also inevitably cause you to injure yourself while trying to recreate scenes on your way back home from the pub.