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"Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior"

Directed by Prachya Pinkaew.
Written by Panna Rittikrai and Prachya Pinkaew.
Starring Tony Jaa and Perttary Wongkamlao.
Release Year:  2003
Review Date:  2/19/05


I'll give my friend Chi "Ninja Boy" Szeto credit--man knows how to pull some shit out of his ass.

Here's what I mean--in his post "Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior" review, he successfully compared this movie to the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie "Bloodsport"...and the comparison is brilliant.  It's so brilliant that I can't even pretend to take credit for it right away.

The similarities between the two films start here:  at the end of the day, both of these movies really suck.  In "Ong-Bak", a Thai villager named Ting (Tony Jaa) is asked by his townspeople to retrieve a stolen Buddha called the Ong-Bak from local thugs/criminals...even though one scene before the Buddha is taken, he is specifically told by his town leadership to never use his Muay Thai boxing skills to hurt anyone else.  So, after being sent on his way, he must beat down all manner of gangster glitteratti to get his Buddha back, enlisting the help of a wayward son of one of the Thai villagers (Perttary Wongkamlao) in the process.  This of course leads to maybe the funniest sad ending of all time.

Where "Ong-Bak" makes its mark is in the presence of Jaa, who really is the classic cliché of being "worth the price of admission alone."  Jaa is a specimen; the stunt work in "Ong-Bak" is mostly great, and the fight scenes give Jaa good opportunity to show us his full slate of talents, from the fighting to the leaping to the flipping to the sheer speed of his moves.  Sure, Jaa is throwing those Muay Thai elbow moves way too often in "Ong-Bak", leading to much laughter from my audience each time he downs a foe by knocking him over the head with a vicious elbow move.  And yes, I thought it was strange too, watching two guys walk a large barbed-wire ring out into Ting's path just to have his jump through it; who needs a large barbed-wire ring, anyway?

Much like Van Damme was early in his career, there is nothing but brimming hope for Jaa's future career...but, that will lie firmly in the hands of the directors that work on his films.

Because, as we all know, Van Damme was mostly unlucky in his film career, despite the good looks and good-looking moves; save for "Double Impact", "Timecop" and maybe "Universal Soldier", he made more bad flicks than good ones.  He did work with a couple of great directors--John Woo for "Hard Target", and Ringo Lam for "Maximum Risk"--but it just never came together for him.  One has to hope that Jaa will be luckier, but in watching "Ong-Bak", he does have a couple of things working against him:  1), he's not much to look at.  He's not crazy ugly, but he's definitely not easy on the eyeballs. You will notice that the publicity shot used for the "Ong-Bak" poster has Jaa turned around. And 2), his voice is not exactly action-hero tough.  As a humble villager, perfect.  As the lead investigator in an international crime saga, or even as the head honcho of a local gang, you wouldn't buy that the guy is a leader of men even after the amphetamines.  (Does it help that his name in "Ong-Bak" is Ting?)

But, the "Bloodsport"/"Ong-Bak" comparison goes deeper.  When "Ong-Bak" is a fighting movie, it's pretty cool to watch.  But every moment outside of the fight arena is just plain bad, bad in the ways that will make it watchable only as a spectacle of bad filmmaking.  The wayward son, George, has a sister, and the sister is almost get-up-and-leave-the-theater annoying.  There is a full-scale, big-production car chase...with golf carts.  The head bad guy uses one of those modulators to speak from a hole in his neck.  Oh, and the head bad guy has stolen the Buddha, but he doesn't really even need it...his nefarious plans include stealing other villages' Buddhas and making one big Buddha in some big-ass cave.  (Seriously, my friend Yac, Laikisha and Chi were all howling during this horseshit.)  The head bad guy's #1 lieutenant, knowing that he doesn't have enough strength to beat Ting on his own, literally jams five needles into his chest to soup himself up...and no, that doesn't even kill him.  I don't want to totally ruin the very end of the film, but one character, in his dying breath, says to another character--no, I am not making this up--"Go...and...get...a good job!" before eating it.

Add to all of this the fact that Jaa's action scenes are further dissected by the filmmakers into giving us double- and sometimes triple-takes of each stunt, and you realize just what a piece of shit "Ong-Bak" is.  "Bloodsport", which I will usually watch in its duration when it's on HBO or TNT, is really bad, too...but no one questions the cool fight scenes.  I think that in the hands of capable filmmakers Jaa has a real shot at superstardom...but, I see that the director of "Ong-Bak" is directing Jaa again in his next film.  Uh-oh.

Still, "Ong-Bak" is worth checking out for some of the cool stuntwork.  And hilariously bad acting.  And that ending.

Rating:  Rental


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09