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Moriarty Feels The Impact Of ONG BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR!!

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

I’ll try to be as direct as possible about this.

If you’re not a fan of old-school martial arts films... the ones before people started flying everywhere and we started nominating them for Oscars... then there is no reason for you to read this review or see this movie. ONG BAK is traditional to a fault. What makes the film noteworthy is the feeling while watching it that you’re seeing the birth of a movie star, someone we’re going to see a lot more of in the years to come. Tony Jaa is the single most exciting new martial artist to appear in film since Jet Li, or even possibly Jackie Chan.

As a film, ONG BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR (the title of the American release version that Magnolia Pictures is set to release) is a nimble piece of entertainment, a familiar story that comes to explosive life whenever Tony Jaa begins to fight. Jaa plays a young man who must leave his village when the head of their sacred Buddha statue is stolen. He journeys to the big city, where he hooks up with an amoral hustler (Perttary Wongkamlao) who came from the same village, but who has turned his back on the values with which he was raised. He gets dropped into the world of underground fighting against his own best wishes, the only way he can find the people responsible for defacing the Buddha statue in the first place.

And... that’s pretty much it. Writer/director Prachya Pinkaew has a sharp sense of humor, and the version I saw was paced really well. How much of that is thanks to the post-production polish by Luc Besson as he prepared the film for international release is impossible for me to say, since I never saw the original cut from Thailand. The film takes a little while to get going, and Tony Jaa’s not the most expressive actor I’ve ever seen. It helps that the guy he hooks up with in the city is very funny and knows how to play off of him. When Jaa finally gets pushed into his first fight, you’re primed and ready, and Jaa does not disappoint. Muay Thai is a particularly bone-crunching style of fighting, all knees and elbows and impact, and the fights in this movie look like they were shot full-contact. Jaa’s just as impressive out of the arena, like during an acrobatic foot chase where he seems to defy gravity and the limitations of his own skeletal structure.

Like any good martial arts film, there’s a rhythm to the way this one builds, and it gets more brutal as it goes. It’s impossible not to react to some of the film’s big stunts, with the final fight being particularly outstanding. The movie’s got no interest in being politically correct, as evidenced by the fact that the bad guy is a dude in a wheelchair who speaks through a cancer kazoo, and there are any number of freaky henchmen for Jaa to work his way through. There are some story points that don’t quite make sense, like when Jaa loses a fight and it’s not clear if he threw it or if he actually lost because his opponent is doped up. If you’re watching a film like ONG BAK and obsessing on narrative details, though, you may be missing the point. The details that matter in this movie are the visual flourishes, the moments of impact. Watch the opening scene, where 40 young men compete to scale a giant tree and grab a flag from the highest branch. No CGI. No wires. Just stuntmen getting fucked up, the way the good Lord intended. There are plenty of oddball touches. Sharp-eyed viewers will pick up a grafitti message to Steven Spielberg right in the middle of a chase. I love how certain shots are repeated for emphasis. One friend advanced the theory that any stunt repeated twice means the stuntman got sent to the hospital, and any stunt repeated three times means the stuntman died. Sounds right to me. This is an adrenaline rush, a kick in the head, a big fat slice of action movie chocolate cake, and Tony Jaa deserves a huge career. We may never see him playing HAMLET, but I’ll bet he kicks ass in a whole series of films, and if anyone ever gets around to to teaching him English, there’s no telling just how big he’ll get.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 20, 2004, 4:39 p.m. CST

    damn enter button.....

    by bobby_horsepower

    Ong Bak is a great martial arts movie. I saw it a few months ago on DVD. Strongly recommend it.

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 4:58 p.m. CST

    ...the post-production polish by Luc Besson...

    by godoffireinhell

    So when Luc Besson cuts a foreign film for the international market it is a "polish" but when MiramAXE does the same thing everyone gets pissed and shouts at them for not respecting the source material? What kind of weird double standard is this?? I for one will stick with my uncut Thai version of this film.

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 7:12 p.m. CST

    It is about time...

    by bodiless

    ..that is movie made it over here. By the time it gets in wide release in the US, I will have had the Region 0 DVD for a year. I'm interested to see what changes Benson made to this, but am also praying that he cut none of the brutal scenes out. The problem is, we're probably gong to have a bunch of hyped up news reports of 13 year olds cracking each other's heads open after they see this. By the way, in some of the overseas websites on this flick, it does mention that several of the stuntmen were horribly injured while making this movie. I saw one clip where Jaa does that one move where he runs up and slams his knee and elbow into the stuntman playing the big heavy that he fights in the last part of the film. He hold the pose until the director yells cut...then Jaa collapses in pain...and the other poor slob is left writhing on the floor in a bloody mess.

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 7:59 p.m. CST

    the phrase "cancer kazoo" is absolutely hilarious


    that's all. Movie looks good, a nice return to conventional martial arts movies.

  • Nov. 21, 2004, 3:08 a.m. CST

    Thank friggin god

    by Reverendz

    I love Fong Sai Yuk movies and the once upon a time in China movies, Chinese Ghost Story, etc... But frankly, I've had my fill of wire fu and matrix bullet time crap for a while. No more balancing on the tops of trees, no more 360 spins to kick someone n the face. Just kick some ass, old school.

  • Nov. 21, 2004, 3:22 a.m. CST

    Fuck Hollywood...

    by Gluecifer

    "and if anyone ever gets around to to teaching him English, there

  • Nov. 21, 2004, 5:11 a.m. CST

    My copy

    by Wyrdy the Gerbil

    Had crap subtitles and story wise theres not much to the film but i still loved it.....

  • Nov. 21, 2004, 12:13 p.m. CST

    awesome flick

    by speed

    i got me the dvd version with no english subtitles. only thai language and maybe some chinese subs, but i sat thru the entire flick with jaw open and thoroughly amused. I laughed a fair bit. i think the director has a pretty dark sense of humour about him and that comes through.

  • Nov. 22, 2004, 1:35 a.m. CST


    by crimsonrage

    ...I saw this a year or so ago, and while I don't want to fall into the stereotype of the typical whiny fanboy, I must say that I was NOT impressed with this film. The editor's penchant for slow motioning every stunt and showing it to us 10 times from 10 different angles just kills any momentum the action might have had, and the sound effects are sub-par, dull little thuds (and sound is just as important as choreography when it comes to martial arts films). Plus the story and characters were paper-thin (usually that doesn't matter, but if the characters, story, AND fights suck then what are you left with?). For some reason I think if this film was made in America and sent straight-to-video not one person would give two shits about it. But since it's from Thailand, everyone acts like it's the second coming of Chang Cheh. Eh.

  • Nov. 22, 2004, 8:45 a.m. CST

    True Story

    by Shigeru

    After I saw this in the theater I kneed my friend in the stomach and he fell down. I now threaten people that I will go "Ong-bak" on them.

  • Nov. 22, 2004, 11:35 a.m. CST


    by triflic

    Should be "What will a guy will do to get a little head?" /will be funny after you've seen the film.

  • Nov. 23, 2004, 12:45 a.m. CST

    had it for 1 year..

    by holoholojoe

    darnit, it's the best martial arts movies made since jackie turned 40! hahaha, unbelievable stunts. forget the story, forget the plot. just slow mo the fight scenes, man, that's closer contacts than UFC! i am not kidding. let me ask you this, jackie can "pull" his punches, but how do you even pull a Knee or an elbow? the shots i saw were bone crunching hits! man, arguable one of the best martial films these past few years. if you want to see "dances with wire fu" this is is NOT for you. if you want go "go back to the 80's and hard core HK flicks", get this now!

  • Dec. 17, 2007, 1:31 p.m. CST

    I've got this in my que on Netflix...

    by just pillow talk

    Protector was great once he got pissed off at the end, so I'll be expecting more that with this movie...

  • Dec. 17, 2007, 1:32 p.m. CST

    and fuck spelling queue right

    by just pillow talk

  • Dec. 19, 2007, 10:21 a.m. CST

    enjoyed The Protector much more than this

    by just pillow talk

    though this did have its amusements...<p>[techno music]...<p>Cripple dude buying it by having a giant statue head crushing him. That was priceless!