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ONG-BAK, 2003
Movie Reviews!

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ONG-BAK,   MOVIE POSTERONG-BAK, 2003
Movie Reviews

Directed by Prachya Pinkaew
Starring Tony Jaa, Petchtai Wongkamlao, Pumwaree Yodkamol, Suchao Pongwilai, Chumphorn Thepphithak, Cheathavuth Watchar
Review by Andrew Kosarko


SYNOPSIS:

Ting, a quiet young man who lives in the peaceful village of Nong Pradu. As the village's special celebration approaches, a Bangkok villain named Don (Wannakit Siriput) steals the head of the Buddha statue Ong-Bak, which is said to protect the village from bad luck. Ting volunteers to go to the big city to bring back the head of Ong-Bak, but remembers what he was taught by sage monk Pra Cru (Woranard Tantipidok): he must not use his Muay Thai skills to harm people. However soon after arriving in Bangkok, Ting, a peaceful fish out of water, finds that the only way to recapture the village's sacred treasure is by using his arms, his legs--and his head.

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REVIEW:

I can easily explain to you why I love this film. If you’ve read my other reviews you’ll know that I’m no fan of unnecessary usage of CGI or wire work. In a film period where highly stylized wire work is the forefront of popularity, this film takes another approach; amazing natural ability. Tony Jaa flies through the air without any help from computers or pulley systems – and it shows. There’s a naturalism to his fighting ability and techniques that just “wows” you when you watch it.

The Story: The story, is somewhat draggy and gets to be a little tedious at times. The character relationship between Ting and George is very well done tho. Ting is a man on a mission and George is someone who takes whatever path he feels like it. Through his courage and dedication Ting inspires, and guilts George back into an honorable mentality. The villains are over the top and underdeveloped and there is absolutely no love interest. As cliché and trite as it may be, it actually may have helped several “lulls” in the film. There are needless car chase scenes and the plot takes a few pointless zig zags to get where it needs to go. But overall, it works as a whole. I’d say on the line of the 2nd and 3rd acts is a good time to go to the bathroom or grab some last minute grub because the 3rd act really…..kicks with fire.

Acting: The one thing I have a problem dissecting is dialogue delivery from foreign language film. The dictation, enunciation and rhythm are lost on those who don’t speak the language so it’s very difficult to understand the emotional resonance of their acting. However, the facial reactions from Jaa work well with the scenes and help continue the story. The rest of the cast, their acting is about average by the same set of rules.

Directing: Pinkaew knows what he wants to do in terms of keeping a strong focus on Tony Jaa’s character. However, the story gets away from him at points in an attempt to hit all of the action points. There are some extraneous fights and a motor car chase scene that are really un-necessary. But when the moments come for Tony Jaa to show off his abilities – it really comes to fruition.

Cinematography: It’s really wonderful in that there’s not an over amount of slow motion – as in most martial arts action films. By doing this, there is an opportunity to set up a fast paced editing rhythm which I believe adds to the mesmerizing factor of the fight scenes.

Production Design: This film does have a low budget to it from my guess. However, it makes the best of it and diverts all of it’s attention to the stunt work. Even then some of the break away tables and chairs are saved only by the sound design. However, a lot of it pays off when Tony Jaa really gets going.

Editing: The pacing falls into a lull near the end of the 2nd act. It’s almost stagnant and just bland. But at other times it’s really impressive. On some scenes the choice to re-show the same action through another shot is a bit too much. It takes away from the original moment, but on some occasions I found myself hitting instant replay on my dvd remote. In short, the editing is spotty. Sometimes perfect, sometimes a bit much.

Score: There’s a lot of eastern pop references and a lot of general action music. Obviously there is a mix of the flute like martial arts meditation moments, but it never overpowers any scene…well, again, the motor car chase scene had some weird music but that was my only gripe.

Special Effects: Now I get to the part that’s really the focal point of the film. The stunt work by Tony Jaa. He does some of the most awe-inspiring things I have ever seen. His first fight is over in .002 seconds. And you believe it. There is no wire work. No CGI. Just good old fashioned hard earned martial arts ability. It is because of this that Ong Bak stands out in most action films today. It has a modern mentality with great stunts. If you’re not wowed by at least one of his scenes in this film then I want to know what movies you watch that put him to shame. Because to my knowledge there are none.

In closing: Ong Bak is by far the best martial arts film I have seen in a good long while. The story is simplistic and uncomplicated. But for once, you shouldn’t be watching for the story. Yes it will help you get through it, but the sure fire action of Tony Jaa is what you’re checking this one out for. The story is in the end unsatisfying and there is no real character resolution or conflict outside of the physical battles, but overall, it’s an amazing demo reel of martial arts work for Tony Jaa.

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