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ONG-BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Tony Jaa
Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Audio: Thai Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 105 Minutes
Release Date: August 30, 2005

ďHOW DOES HE DO THAT?!Ē

Film ***1/2 (On the Action Scale)

I recently read where Jackie Chan has considered himself becoming way too old to make the martial arts movies he was renowned for. For one thing, I certainly hope Jackie gets around to completing the promised Rush Hour 3, but if he soon considers retiring, there is a young martial artist to step in his shoes. His name is Tony Jaa.

Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior is the kind of movie Chan wouldíve made back in the mid 70s or early 80s. Itís a classically structured martial arts movie that contains close to no plot and lots of wall-to-wall action. The main attraction here is Tony Jaa, who is the real deal the same way Jackie Chan was at the beginning of his career.

Jaa does all of his own stunts. The main marketing ploy was getting across that there were no CGI tricks or wirework in the stunts of the movie. Though the action is frenetically choreographed, thatís Jaa risking his neck in all the fight scenes. After watching the movie, I found myself wondering how exactly he made it out of this movie alive. And this is only his first movie!

I must admit, I was scratching my head during the opening segments of Ong-Bak. The movie begins with a lengthy sequence where a bunch of men climb a tall tree, attempting to retrieve a red flag. Itís a competition, and the object is to shove every opponent off the limbs and grab hold of the prize at the top of the tree.

I was wondering how in the world this would connect to the plot of the movie that I had already been informed of, but in a movie like this I should no that excessive thinking isnít even a requirement. The central plot involves a young martial artist named Ting (Jaa), who resides in a peaceful village. But then, the sacred statuette known as Ong-bak is stolen from the village, and Ting volunteers to retrieve it and bring it back to safety.

That bit of plot setup is THE only bit of plot the movie seems to offer. The rest of the movie consists of how Ting gets from one fight sequence to the next. His quest for Ong-bak takes him to the streets of Bangkok, where he comes across a band of vicious individuals who are obviously somehow connected to the higher power who has taken the statue.

Ting finds himself in a fighting ring, on more than one occasion, where spectators bet on fights. He manages to take out the most deadly of opponents, much to the spectatorsí surprise. He also leads a gang on a mind blowing foot chase through the streets of downtown Bangkok. In this sequence, Jaa does every jaw-dropping acrobatic stunt imaginable, including running on top of market stalls and peopleís heads, as well as sliding underneath a truck, which had me gasping big time!

Another incredible sequence is a chase scene involving three-wheeled scooters, featuring one of the funniest explosions Iíve seen in any movie (and I donít mean that in a bad way). It also adds in a touch of comedy, as Tingís accomplice, George (Petchtai Wongkamlao), gets frequently hurt in all the action as Ting escapes the worst of injury. It makes sense that Wongkamlao is one of Thailandís most popular comedians, because he fits this sidekick role with pure flawlessness.

After watching this movie, I must say that Tony Jaa has impressed me perhaps more than anybody else after a debut, certainly in a physical action movie, and I am most eager to see what films he follows up with in the future. Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior is a grand showcase of a fresh action star who I think will go so far as to achieve worldwide acclaim.

Video ****

Fox delivers this high-flying action pic in pure visual glory with this outstanding looking disc. The anamorphic picture is immensely clear and detailed right from the opening scene. A lot of the sets have a lot of color to them, which is something the presentation takes great advantage of. Day and night shots are both terrifically handled. The overall detail is more than impressive.

Audio ****

You have the option of watching the movie in either Thai or English. The only downside to the latter of the two, other than the possibly bad dubbing, is that itís only in a 2.0 mix. The Thai track is in 5.1, and it really delivers the audio goods. The action sequences are laced with such fury that you will come close to feeling the kicks and punches bursts through the speakers. The techno/hip hop soundtrack also provides frequent sound highlights.

Features **1/2

While not the high level of extras, the disc does justice in focusing mainly on star Tony Jaa. Included is a Music Video featuring Tony Jaa, plus the Making of the Music Video, ďThe 8 Movements of Muay ThaiĒ, some behind-the-scenes stunt footage, a Tony Jaa Performance at the French Screening of the movie, plus a  performance at an NBA Game, a Promotional Video Featuring The RZA, a Trailer featuring The RZA, and Additional Trailers.

Summary:

Words simply canít express what you will see when you witness Tony Jaa in motion. Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior is a pure action stunner, and a knockout introduction to cinemaís new Jackie Chan!

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