The heroic lead player in this kung fu adventure flick, Tony Jaa, is already being widely acclaimed as the next Asian martial arts’ superstar to stand alongside the likes of Jackie Chan and Jet Li. In terms of this film’s central plot, there’s also something of the legendary Bruce Lee about the sternly charismatic Mr Jaa.
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Ting (Jaa) is a simple man, from the isolated village of Nong Pradu, entering the criminally dangerous and morally polluted environs of Bangkok city for the first time in his life. He learns that the moral certainties of his Muay Thai kickboxing creed probably won’t be enough to shield him from being drawn into the murky underworld of gambling dens and of fight clubs, despite the protections afforded by his prodigious self-defence reflexes, and awesome hand-to-hand combat skills. In order to find the man who stole the head (‘Ong-Bak’) from his village’s sacred Buddha statue, Ting must negotiate with errant ‘cousin’, Humlae – alias George (Mum Jokemok) – for local knowledge and assistance, and rescue streetwise girl Muay (Pumwaree Yodkamol) from the menace of violent gangsters.
Heavily promoted as the first movie that dares to break away from the currently populist cycle of spectacular CGI and ‘wire fu’, Ong-Bak launches its agreeably humourless star into a veritable mêlée of bare-knuckle boxing (in his first bout, Ting floors his formidable opponent almost effortlessly), where all the prominent stunt work is performed on real locations, or as live action in the studio. Happily, much of this is fresh and original, even when the heroic Ting is being pursued by a rabble of henchmen and, wisely choosing the better part of valour, escapes in a race through busy streets, obviously mimicking those hectically paced acrobatic sequences familiar to many genre fans from Jackie Chan’s numerous Hong Kong comedy thrillers.
In addition to the running, jumping, vicious kicking and sometimes quite brutal punching, Ong-Bak showcases a hugely enjoyable ‘car’ chase featuring a bunch of those unique tricycle taxis (like a cross between a scooter and a milk float), which only seem to be operated in Thailand. This impressive sequence opens the drama up, in terms of scope and international appeal, and is clearly intended to set Ong-Bak apart from most other films that are designed to introduce new Asian action stars. Whether Tony Jaa can acquire the acting talents required to make it big in Hollywood as a result of this is anybody’s guess.
Meanwhile, Ong-Bak is unquestionably an extraordinary debut, with relentlessly swift action scenes (albeit very often guilty of customary ‘instant replay’ – to make full use of multiple camera angles), and it comes strongly recommended to all you serious fans of martial arts cinema.
In addition to a ‘plain’ rental version DVD, digitally restored and re-mastered in anamorphic widescreen (enhanced for 16:9 TV), featuring a brand new orchestral score especially composed for Ong-Bak’s British release, and (of course!) another of Bey Logan’s commentary tracks, there’s a two-disc Platinum Edition available to buy, that boasts the sort of mind-bogglingly comprehensive extras’ package we have come to expect for collectors’ DVDs nowadays. The Road To Glory offers an eight-part making-of documentary; The Art Of Muay Thai is an exclusive look at the world of Thai kickboxing; From Dust To Glory presents us with an interview with star Tony Jaa; and there’s also highlights from the film’s promotional tours (including live martial arts’ demonstrations by Jaa), some deleted scenes, footage of the fight rehearsals, an interview with action consultant Don Ferguson, further interviews with Jaa’s co-stars, trailers, and (on both discs) a choice of soundtrack options and language subtitles. Whichever version you pick, Ong-Bak is a treat you simply cannot afford to miss!