Ah, Tony Jaa. Is he going to be the next in line in fighting superstars, following on from Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Mark Dacascos? (Okay, maybe the last one's a stretch but I think he's great.) Tony Jaa comes across as a more brutal version of Jackie Chan with a penchant for jumping really high in the air and then coming down elbow first on the top of some poor unfortunate's head. Supposedly, Ong-bak is a bit violent for Jackie and a bad example for children. I don't know about children, but I performed this move on the postie today when he didn't bring my Hepburns CDs. Luckily, he saw the funny side of his fractured skull. Literally.
Let's face facts, it's all about the fights and stunts. Are they any good? The short answer: yes. The longer answer: it's pretty amazing the feats that Tony Jaa can perform. Whether it's leaping from tree branch to tree branch, diving through a hoop of barbed wire with his hands touching his feet or kicking the turds out of someone whilst his legs are on fire, he constantly amazed me. Something that The Raid missed badly was variation in the fights. Ong-bak doesn't suffer from this problem. Even fight includes a different element so boredom is never an issue. The final scene tops everything that came before which could have been a potential problem.
There are some supporting characters who add some humour to the proceedings. There's George (AKA Humlae and Dirty Balls) who is a bit of a dodgy swindling character always trying to make money out of Ting's (Tony Jaa) fighting skills. His partner in crime is Muay Lek who is okay for the most part, until she starts crying and wailing. She was still at school when she filmed this and had no prior experience. I suppose I might grudgingly let her off.
Every hero needs a worthy villain to overcome. Bad guy duties fall to a David Lynch-esque character who has a wheelchair and talks with a microphone held to his neck. He is fairly harsh and certainly knows how to deal with a martial arts expert. There didn't seem to be any real threat to Ting for a long time, he sees off anyone he comes into contact with, so it was very welcome when a drug-fuelled nutter who can't feel any pain enters the fray. You finally feel that Ting is in danger.
Do you really need to know the plot? Okay. The head of a sacred statue gets thieved from Ting's village. He has to get it back. Job done.
After seeing this I'm looking forward to the two sequels. I love Jackie Chan older films and this is similar, but is different enough to feel fresh and worthy of your time.
If you like this you could also try:
Police Story, Armour of God, Drive, Crying Freeman.