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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 38.64%
Just Average: 4.55%
Pretty Crappy: 3.41%
Sucks: 3.41%

7 reviews, 46 user ratings

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Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior
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by Peter Sobczynski

"It will pop the eyes of even the most jaded action fans"
4 stars

In a remote Asian village, the head of the stone idol of Ong-Bak has been stolen under the cover of darkness, not doubt by the sleazy, twitching punk who had earlier been offering the town leaders enormous sums of money for it. This is bad news, but what makes matters worse is that it has happened just before the annual Festival of Ong-Bak and without that head, the village is doomed. Ting, the champion athlete who has just been crowned the king of Ong-Bak, or something like that, volunteers to retrieve the head and return it before the festival; as one of the elders gravely informs him, “The fate of the whole village rests in your hands!”. He tracks the head to Bangkok, where it has fallen into the hands of a underworld boss who has apparently built his empire on stolen idols and underground fight clubs. Therefore, Ting must save the idol and his village in the only way he knows how–by beating the beejesus out of anyone that the bad guys throw in his way, whether it is in the ring of the fight club or out in the streets.

The above is a description of the new martial-arts extravaganza “Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior,” but it contains none of the balletic lyricism of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and Zhang Yimou’s recent genre exercises and it doesn’t feature a wacky American guy to remind viewers that the Asian guy talks funny in the manner of too many recent Jackie Chan films. Instead, it is an unapologetic throwback to the zillions of kung-fu movies that appeared in the 1970's to cash in on the popularity of Bruce Lee–a bit of brutal nonsense in which extensive scenes of people punching each other in the face are strung together with the barest minimum of plot. In fact, with the possible exception of a couple of songs on the soundtrack, this film could have played as is in your grindhouse of choice from three decades ago without a single alteration.

I must stress that I mean that last sentence as the highest compliment imaginable. Sure, “Ong-Bak” may be just another silly, low-grade kung-fu movie but think about how long it has been since there has been such a thing. Oh sure, there have been have plenty of movies in recent years that have featured martial-arts moves but so many of them have been tricked out with such frills as CGI and extensive wirework or filmed by people with no real sense of how to capture such action on film that they lose much of their impact. By comparison, this film is nowhere near as stylish but it aims to do only one thing–to showcase the moves of star Tony Jaa (clearly being positioned here as the heir to Lee, Chan and Jet Li)–and it does so in ways that will pop the eyes of any jaded action buff.

While it starts off slow from an action standpoint, once Ting hits Bangkok and seemingly everyone in Bangkok hits back, the fight scenes in “Ong-Bak” are brutal, bloody astonishments to behold. There are fights involving ropes, chains, spices, saws and even a refrigerator, but the majority of the battles involve two (or more) people just pounding the crap out of each other with an intensity that hasn’t been seen in a martial-arts film in a long time. Intellectually, I know that the fights were presumably choreographed so that they would look as fantastic as possible without people actually getting hurt. That said, the lack of any obvious touch-ups lends the scenes a frisson that has been lacking in too many recent action films–the performers really look as if they are putting on a strenuous and painful display and when they get knocked down hard, you can almost feel the impact yourself. (Adding to the realism is the decision in some scenes to show a key stunt and then immediately repeat it using different camera angles–while somewhat klutzy from a cinematic point-of-view, it does drive home the point that these are real stunts being done by real people putting themselves in real danger.)

The only real flaw in the film is that it becomes pretty obvious early on that star Tony Jaa was cast for his fighting skills and not for his acting abilities; he simply lacks the force of personality that separated people like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan from the rest of the pack. When he isn’t fighting, he just kind of stands there stiff and humorless, as though uncertain as to what to do when he isn’t leaping through the air. Luckily, the filmmakers seem to have recognized his limitations and have surrounded him with a group of colorful characters (the chief bad guy, for example, speaks with one of those voice-box things that they give to throat-cancer patients, adding a weird twist to his typically evil pronouncements) to liven things up and have also inserted bits of humor that inspire laughs (including the appearance of a vendor in the middle of a brawl announcing “Knives for sale!”) without watering down the proceedings.

“Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior” is nobody’s idea of a great, profound film and it probably won’t inspire a new wave of kung-fu films in the way that “Enter the Dragon” did long ago. However, those clearly aren’t the intentions of the filmmakers–all they have set out to do is make a straightforward, meat-and-potatoes action film that relies on the visceral impact of the material itself, and not a bunch of post-production tricks, to provide the thrills and they have done that admirably. For anyone who can recall burning brain cells at kung-fu triple-bills at the Oriental or the McVickers (or for those who were too young to do so but desperately wish that they had), watching this film is like stepping into a film geek time machine set for 1977. For anyone who doesn’t find that notion enormously appealing, I think you still have time to catch the next show of “Hitch.”

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10741&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/10/05 23:10:09
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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

11/24/09 Alex Thorne Truly Brutal, and all the better for it. inspired coreography 5 stars
11/11/09 Albert Valentin Jaa definitely showcases his raw sheer talent with no CGI or wirework. Great star debut. 5 stars
3/15/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess One of the best martial arts movies ever! 5 stars
9/19/07 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
7/18/07 marita he's just beautiful, I love him 5 stars
3/01/07 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
10/25/06 AJ Muller some of the finest fight scenes ever filmed; Tony Jaa is phenomenal 5 stars
8/22/06 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
2/20/06 Vega WOW 5 stars
10/09/05 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
9/11/05 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
9/03/05 Christine Hosie not that good,overhyped,good fighting scenes but a bit boring storywise 3 stars
8/27/05 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
3/08/05 Los Daddy Knees and Elbows Everywhere...Loved It 5 stars
3/07/05 malcolm disappointing 2 stars
3/02/05 HORAN THE MAN!!!!! TONI JAA LICKS ASS!!! 1 stars
2/27/05 Marc Basque Holy fucking badass man. 4 stars
2/20/05 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
2/17/05 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
2/14/05 somm good actors 5 stars
2/13/05 Gray incredible action! 5 stars
2/11/05 Kenneth Flickstein Amazing martial arts ability... only one finishing move used over and over. No real plot. 3 stars
12/21/04 Jackson A real action movie that entertains 5 stars
12/11/04 moviegoer wipes the floor with HK and Hollywood action movies 5 stars
12/03/04 Maroth Phan This movie is totally awesome 5 stars
11/26/04 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
11/11/04 Karess !100% action, amazing!!!!! 5 stars
11/06/04 Gaijin84 By far the best martial arts movie in 10 years. 5 stars
11/05/04 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
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  DVD: 30-Aug-2005



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