Ong Bak

  • Prachya Pinkaew
  • 2005

Tony Jaa is the latest big kung-fu star to come out of Asia. Born in Thailand, he practices a style of kickboxing known as Muay Thai, which frequently involves crunching elbow and knee blows. He can’t act, but what makes him particularly special is refreshing philosophy in kung fu choreography, namely a refusal to use CGI, stunt doubles or wire tricks.

…the acting on all accounts is frankly awful

The plot is relatively bog-standard, village hero Ting (Tony Jaa) must travel to the city to retrieve the head of the villages sacred Ong Bak statue, which was stolen by goons because the village refused to sell them another one of their sacred bracelets. There he teams up with an ex-villager Humlae/Dirty Balls (thankfully unexplained), who has been corrupted by the city and is now a small time hustler with a big debt over his head. What follows is a typical “lets grow to like each other and get back the statue” storyline, nothing to write home about. The acting on all accounts is frankly awful, and female accomplice Muay Lek’s (Pumwaree Yodkamol) screeching voice irritates relentlessly. Apart from an interesting tree sequence at the beginning the first thirty minutes is a chore but then something amazing happens — Tony starts to kick ass.

…the fight scenes are also some of the most brutal and realistic to be committed to film

The last hour of the film is a relentless barrage of fist-in-your-face action the likes of which have never been seen before. Tony’s athleticism is beyond belief. He jumps over cars, bounces off people’s heads, slides doing the splits under moving trucks, and triple somersaults over villains with ridiculous ease. The fight scenes are also some of the most brutal and realistic to be committed to film. Both Tony and the stuntmen aren’t afraid to hit each other hard. Punches and elbows frequently connect with astonishing force and are often rendered in slow motion and repeated from multiple angles for the viewer’s enjoyment. The fight choreography is innovative and astonishingly executed, and Jaa exhibits a total disregard for health and safety, running across barbed wire at top speed, getting punched through walls and attacked with axes and saws.

A refreshing and much needed change to the often ‘too-safe’ martial arts genre, this is certainly the best kung fu film to be released for a long time. The plethora of fight sequences more than make up for the dire plot, and you will never look at a Hollywood action sequence the same again. Tony Jaa is undoubtedly the next big thing, already claiming the title of “the new Bruce Lee.” Kung Fu and action fans have to watch this film and the ridiculous stunts will provide enough entertainment for most viewers, as long as you can roll with the punches. This film has to be seen to be believed and Jaa might not live though his next shoot, so you should check this out.

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