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For fans of martial arts movies, 2003's Ong-Bak (OB), with its unrelenting showcase of thrilling acrobatics and no-holds-barred combat was nothing short of a modern-day miracle, and its debutant leading man Tony Jaa nothing less than a Savior of the genre. While the plot of naïve villager Ting going to Bangkok to retrieve a stolen idol of village deity was slimmer than Kate Moss after a month in Ethiopia, the film flashed a cheerful absurdity that added to its charm, and the meticulously composed and fearlessly executed full-contact fight scenes were cause to heartily applaud. The follow-up Tom Yum Goong had been given a working title of Ong-Bak 2, appropriate given that the plot was the same, replacing the idol with an elephant and Bangkok with Australia. TYG had its good moments, but landed a few notches below its predecessor as a satisfying action trip. Six years after his ground breaking entrance Tony Jaa is back (this time also cornering the director's seat) with the officially titled Ong-Bak 2.
Unlike conventional sequels OB2 is not a follow-up to the events of the first film; it is in fact not even set in the same century. The character of Ting in OB2 is the son of a nobleman in medieval Thailand who is murdered by political rivals. Young Ting escapes and after various mishaps, including being forced to fight a crocodile, comes under the umbrella of a bandit lord. The bandit lord teaches Ting the ways of life, including of course various manner of martial arts, and makes Ting his successor. But Ting is still haunted by the memory of his family's slaying and decides to take revenge against the betrayer. The bulk of Ting's history is given to us in the form of flashback inserts, which one reviewer found “incomprehensible”. Frankly, you would have to be someone with less than half a brain to not be clued in to the bare elements of the script. While the film has its base in certain historical events, it is essentially a fantasy, with vampires and man-bird hybrid warriors amongst its players.
Tony Jaa as director has his priorities straight about how to present his character; dialog is kept to a minimum (Jaa's first line some comes almost halfway into the film) and he effectively uses his eyes to display the emotions of his character...and of course his limbs. Apart from the tried-and-tested Muay Thai, Jaa displays several other martial arts flavors in the film, including swordplay, stuff that looks similar to the old-school Hong Kong Kung Fu films...even the “Drunken” style. The early fight scenes may slightly disappoint those expecting a reprisal of the rapid-fire full-contact mayhem of OB (and the edits are more frequent than necessary) but it is quite competent fare. The film's most spectacular action choreography is saved for its last third, where Ting takes on a small battalion of assassins. This is a half-hour's worth of almost unbroken barrage of badasserie, with Tony Jaa transformed into a tornado of exhilarating heroic mettle. All things considered, it pushes the film into a league ahead of TYG.
Let's face it, the original OB was lightning in a bottle. The "sequel" in its quest to be more grandiose falls a little short, but on its own is an entertaining fantasy break. The biggest risk Jaa takes in this film is not any one of the stunts but the ending...a cliffhanger that leaves the door wide-open for Ong-Bak 3 (which hopefully will be a proper follow-up). I will be waiting; I only hope it's not another 6 years in the making.
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Re:Ong-Bak 2 (dir. Tony Jaa)
Apr 24 2009 06:50:17
It's bak...again! Awesome.