Joe's Movie Reviews

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning

About 4 1/2 years ago, in the spring of 2005, one of the movies you simply couldn't escape hearing about on the internet was a Thai import called "Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior". The star (and director, co-writer, and practically everything else), Tony Jaa, was hailed as the next coming of Bruce Lee, and the film was supposed to be the start of a legend. As impressive a fighter as he was (and he most definitely was impressive), I found Jaa's film to be a bit lacking in a number of key areas. I thought that if he matured as a film maker he could really be something. (He's made a few films in the intervening years, but most of them haven't had much in the way of distribution in the U.S.). Now, we have what isn't exactly a sequel... or even a prequel, really (as such)... but close enough. And while Jaa isn't a world-class film maker yet, he's clearly made some promising steps in that direction.

The first "Ong-Bak" was a modern-day film, and when I heard that this one was set several hundred years in the past, I assumed it must be about an ancestor of Ong-Bak. Well, it sort of is (you'll have to see the movie to understand that "sort of"). Our hero is named Tien (played again by Jaa), introduced to us as a young boy of perhaps ten years old, trapped in the middle of a war in which an invading army is taking over his country and facing little if any obstruction from the official government. His family killed by the invading forces, Tien finds a new home with a band of outlaws who have been extremely impressed by his fighting prowess and offer to train him in weapons and martial arts. Taking up the offer, Tien grows to be a fierce, fighting leader determined to liberate his people.

Some necessary caveats: I totally understand and sympathize with people who have a low tolerance for violence... for the most part, unless it's really essential to the film, I'm not a real lover of violence either (he says, the day before he plans to see "Inglorious Basterds"). But let's face it, this is a martial arts movie, and really gentle souls should probably stay away. Also, genuine Asian martial arts films often have elements and plot twists that you would never in your life see in a similar American release, and which American audience might find difficult to handle. And this is a very genuine Asian film (complete with English subtitles). Just to let you know.

That established, I want to make it clear that Jaa has become an absolute master of martial arts, and the rather thin story and characterization in the first "Ong-Bak" have deepened: you really get to know who Tien and the other characters are. And Tien is not just a fighting machine: you get to know him as a basically gentle man, who loves his country and only wants to live there in peace with his family, and takes up fighting only to set things right (in this respect as well, he truly is the heir of Bruce Lee). When fighting isn't needed, he's more than willing to do things in a peaceful way, and a number of times demonstrates his deep sense of mercy. You don't often get characters this well-rounded in an action movie.

Okay, I've managed to write four paragraphs without going into detail about the action scenes, so here's what you've probably been waiting for: they're spectacular. How many times have you seen the old cliche of one man fighting a army of opponents who do him the courtesy of lining up to take him on one at a time? Not in "Ong-Bak II", where you often see Tien taking on four, five or more opponents at once. You even see him battling one opponent behind him with kicks from his LEFT foot while taking care of another foe in front of him with his RIGHT foot (leaving his arms free, of course, to take on enemies on both sides). And none of those fake Hollywood digital effects, either: what you see Jaa do, he's really doing. Even the stuff that seems to be humanly impossible. Small details are not ignored in the fight scenes, either, as in a shot where an enemy approaches Tien to begin a duel and as Tien approaches him with absolute Zen-like calm, the camera zooms in on a single bead of sweat rolling down his enemy's face (letting you know that he realizes full well what he's facing).

Now, I'm not saying that Tony Jaa is Zhang Yimou or Wong Kar-Wai (or even Jackie Chan as a film maker) quite yet. There are continuity errors, a character or two who suddenly acts in a way contradictory to how they've acted up to that point (because the script demands it), and some scenes that made me go "Hey, wait a minute... why did he do that when it would have made more sense for him to do that other thing?" But ultimately, when a film provides this much action and excitement, filmed as lavishly as this one (it must have had a large budget) and keeps you shaking your head in amazement thinking you couldn't have possibly seen the hero do what you thought he did, you're probably willing to let some things slide. Jaa is clearly getting better as a director (among MOST of his other many tasks on this film: it's hard to imagine him improving as a martial artist), and I'm sure later films will reflect this. In the meantime, he's given us a pretty amazing slice of action in "Ong-Bak II: The Beginning".

By the way, given the setting several hundred years in the past, you don't really need to have seen "Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior" in order to understand this movie. However, having seen it might make a few particular lines in the film's voiceover narration clearer to you, and give you a much different idea about how this movie actually turns out than audience members who haven't. In fact, I suspect some newcomers to Tony Jaa's movies might be rather confused, while those who've seen the first Ong-Bak will be going "Ahh, so THAT's the explanation!" (I wish I could be more explicit without giving away too much.) So it couldn't HURT to watch the first "Ong-Bak" before seeing this one, if you haven't already. It's not on the same level of quality, but Jaa is still an amazing fighter to watch. So why not?


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    Hi Joe,

    On behalf of Magnolia Pictures and the movie’s producers, many thanks for plugging "Ong Bak 2" ... .. thanks also, on behalf of the distributors and producers, for not posting any pirate copies or non-trailer clips of “Ong Bak 2” and if you / your readers want good quality, non-pirated, previews, then the official trailer for “Ong Bak 2” is available for fans and bloggers to post/ host / share etc at ... .. for further details of on-line promotions for this movie and Magnolia releases generally, check-out and their official YouTube channel at .

    Thanks again for your plug.



    By Blogger WEB SHERIFF, at 5:13 PM  

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