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Overall Rating
4.28

Awesome50%
Worth A Look: 38.64%
Average: 4.55%
Pretty Bad: 3.41%
Total Crap: 3.41%

7 reviews, 46 user ratings


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Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Tony Jaa will punch you in the face."
4 stars

Jackie Chan is getting old, and wasting his time in too many projects unworthy of him ('Around the World in 80 Days,' anyone?). Jet Li, too, must be aware of the ticking of the clock: he turns 42 this year, and seems to be branching out into more dramatic fare. The time has come for a new heir apparent of martial-arts cinema, and Tony Jaa may be that man.

Born Panom Yeerum in 1976, Jaa is a young master of the Thai brand of kickboxing, Muay Thai; his influences are Chan and Bruce Lee, and he displays Lee's brutal yet almost spiritual command of hand-to-hand combat and the younger Chan's absolute fearlessness.

Jaa's calling card is Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, which knocked around a couple of years and then opened in America in limited release. You may have seen the ads in which Jaa executes an impossible jump through a loop of barbed wire. Well, that's really him jumping, and that's really barbed wire, and that's about as close as he ever gets to a wire in the movie. Unlike the floating, hopping masters in Hero or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Jaa defies gravity without wire work or computers. He tests the limits of his body so recklessly -- although each stunt has probably been meticulously plotted out -- that I have my doubts as to how much longer he'll be alive. Catch him in action while you can.

The plot of Ong-Bak could have served an early Jackie Chan film. The movie is not named after Jaa's character, whose actual name is Ting. Ong-Bak is a Buddha statue vital to the well-being of Ting's village of Nong Pra-du. Some thugs steal the statue's head. Ting must find it and bring it back. Aiding him is a fellow villager, Hum Lae (Perttary Wongkamlao), who has fled to Bangkok and renamed himself "George." Hum Lae runs scams along with a feisty young woman, Muay Lek (Pumwaree Yodkamol, who has the most annoying voice heard in a movie in years). These three take on the Bangkok crime world, headed by a wheelchair-bound villain who speaks through an electrolarynx. And, of course, there are plenty of opportunities for Ting to show his stuff.

Directed by Prachya Pinkaew with a keen sense of when to keep the camera at a distance (the better to capture Jaa's skillful moves), Ong-Bak takes its time for a while, just teasing us with flashes of Jaa's virtuosity: a sequence of him just practicing his moves, a comically brief two-hit fight (Ting hits his opponent; his opponent hits the floor and stays there). Then the action really kicks in, and normal humans like you and me might get sore just watching some of it. Several of the hits couldn't possibly have been faked; when Ting leaps high into the air and brings his elbow down on someone's skull, you just wince and say "Yep, that poor bastard went to the hospital after the take was done." Considerably grittier and bloodier than what most non-chop-socky devotees are used to, Ong-Bak likely won't go over with admirers of the more stately Hero or House of Flying Daggers, but there's a kind of head-bashing poetry in the movie's fight choreography (by Thai legend Phanna Rithikrai, who directed the 1986 action film Born to Fight, which inspired a fifteen-year-old Jaa to go into the business).

In the end, Ong-Bak concerns itself with the battle of urban and rural; the humble village is seen as a place of generosity and faith, while Bangkok is Sin City, where innocents are fed into the meat grinder of the drug trade or the skin trade. (Some of the storytelling is fuzzy: There's an ill-fated woman who gets hooked on the drugs she's forced to carry, and I didn't know until I read the official website that she's supposed to be Muay Lek's sister.) The outcome of a face-off between the villain and a giant Buddha head leaves no doubt where the film's loyalties lie.

But most of the movie has a more visceral goal -- to make you gasp or laugh or cringe at the physical excesses of Tony Jaa, who I sincerely hope makes it past thirty. I'm sure the elder statesmen Jackie Chan and Jet Li are rooting for him, too, while watching their backs.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10741&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/03/07 08:53:04
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Boston Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Boston Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Boston Fantastic Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Boston Fantastic Film Festival series, click here.
Trilogy Starters: For more in the Trilogy Starters series, click here.

User Comments

11/25/09 Alex Thorne Truly Brutal, and all the better for it. inspired coreography 5 stars
11/12/09 Albert Valentin Jaa definitely showcases his raw sheer talent with no CGI or wirework. Great star debut. 5 stars
3/16/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess One of the best martial arts movies ever! 5 stars
9/20/07 Johnnyfaye if you didn't like this movie, then you shouldn't have went to see it. Awesome Genre film 5 stars
8/10/07 Bruce Tri I see Tom Yum Goong is amazing and outstanding, He must have a chance like Bruce Lee place 5 stars
7/19/07 marita he's just beautiful, I love him 5 stars
3/02/07 Dark Enchatress Tony Jaa is killer! Great movie!!! 5 stars
12/20/06 Dark Enchantress Great Movie! Great moves! Great everything! 5 stars
11/09/06 Jason Amazing fight scenes!!!!! There was a plot! 5 stars
10/26/06 AJ Muller some of the finest fight scenes ever filmed; Tony Jaa is phenomenal 5 stars
8/23/06 Quigley The fights alone are worth your time. Skip it if you want a good plot. Tony Jaa is awesome 5 stars
6/14/06 drydock54321 nice fight scenes but kind of dull 2 stars
2/21/06 Vega WOW 5 stars
10/10/05 JeromeBosch He should have killed the loud whiney bitch. 5 stars
10/09/05 K. Sear Thin on plot but Tony Jaa has some absolutely amazing moves!!! 4 stars
9/28/05 Phil Good kick-boxer, looses head and has to run and jump over lots of things. Ouch - arm!! 3 stars
9/13/05 bbbr totally suck 1 stars
9/12/05 Bloodclot Great stunts...too bad the rest of the movie was absolute poop. 1 stars
9/10/05 Zaharin Bin Abdul Razak Superb action movie despite negligible story 5 stars
9/04/05 Zaharin Bin Abdul Razak Bad screenplay and bad acting. Fight scenes were shit too. 2 stars
9/04/05 Christine Hosie not that good,overhyped,good fighting scenes but a bit boring storywise 3 stars
8/28/05 Tom Burns Tony Jaa is just amazing. Jawdropping action. 5 stars
8/27/05 Rever_Bear-Trap Tony Jaa is inevitabily going to be the next Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan & Jet Li rolled into 1! 5 stars
5/10/05 George Adams Get rid of the boring bits 4 stars
3/15/05 Las Great 5 stars
3/09/05 Los Daddy Knees and Elbows Everywhere...Loved It 5 stars
3/08/05 malcolm disappointing 2 stars
3/03/05 HORAN THE MAN!!!!! TONI JAA LICKS ASS!!! 1 stars
2/28/05 Marc Basque Holy fucking badass man. 4 stars
2/21/05 Ja Rule Jaa Rules 5 stars
2/20/05 ajay funny and entertaining, but it's pretty cookie-cutter, nothing to "ground breaking" 3 stars
2/18/05 Fahad Pinto great skills 5 stars
2/16/05 Maalstrom Great Action and skeleton plot makes for a very fun movie. 4 stars
2/16/05 jeff who needs plot in a martial arts movie??? 5 stars
2/15/05 somm good actors 5 stars
2/14/05 Gray incredible action! 5 stars
2/12/05 Kenneth Flickstein Amazing martial arts ability... only one finishing move used over and over. No real plot. 3 stars
12/22/04 Jackson A real action movie that entertains 5 stars
12/11/04 moviegoer wipes the floor with HK and Hollywood action movies 5 stars
12/04/04 Maroth Phan This movie is totally awesome 5 stars
11/27/04 jeba rocks! my fav scene is where tin jumps and attacks don with his knees to break the helmet! 5 stars
11/22/04 CJ Quach I've seen many martial arts movies, and I must comment that this is one of the best/ 5 stars
11/12/04 Karess !100% action, amazing!!!!! 5 stars
11/07/04 Gaijin84 By far the best martial arts movie in 10 years. 5 stars
11/06/04 George The most amazing pure action martial arts movie ever - no wires no trick photography. 5 stars
9/18/04 JC awesome fighting and stunts 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  11-Feb-2005
  DVD: 30-Aug-2005

UK
  N/A

Australia
  10-Mar-2005




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