Written by Prachya Pinkaew and Panna Rittikrai
Directed By Prachya Pinkaew
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Hey, look, it's Mil's bimonthly review! Yeah, yeah, I know. Anyway, as I walked out of the Arclight with a good buddy of mine, a buddy with whom I spent many an evening in smoke-filled theaters in San Gabriel in the 80’s watching Jackie Chan, Chow Sing Chi, Chow Yun Fat, and other folks tear up the screen before Hollywood had any inkling of who they were; we had to say how fantastic it was to actually be blown away by good old-fashioned physical artistry in the form of the martial arts fight sequence. I don’t mean to denigrate some of the truly fine flicks coming out recently, such as the soon to be released Kung Fu Hustle, which is superb, but this little surprise from Thailand, Ong-Bak, really needs your attention. It’s the story of Ting, a monk-in-training, who is sent on a mission into the big bad city after the head of his village’s Buddha statue is stolen by a low-level gangster. The story is fairly elementary and does lie there occasionally, but its star Tony Jaa is simply astonishing. The filmmakers boast that there are no wires and no special effects—well, who needs special effects when Tony Jaa simply IS a special effect? The action sequences are raw and dirty and amount to a brilliant hodge-podge of vintage Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Bruce Lee, but Jaa is so unique that he really molds it all into something refreshing and bold. As a long time fan of no-holds-barred fighting, I also was really excited to finally see the use of knees and elbows in fights utilized so often and with such ferocity that I actually gasped a few times.
As I said, you don’t want to look for a lot of meat with the story, it is quite simplistic, even the clichéd moment where his teacher tells him “Now that I have taught you the art of Muay Thai, I now ask you never to use it,” tries to set up some conflict in Ting’s mind as he sets out into Bangkok to retrieve the stolen head, but as soon as his much-revered master is out of the rear-view mirror, he doesn’t think twice about raining skull-cracking elbow-shots onto the dome of whoever stands in his way. Tony Jaa is definitely the next big thing in martial arts filmdom, it will be interesting to see what happens when Hollywood ropes him in and shackles him with insurance companies that won’t cover him for just about every stunt he performs in Ong-Bak, so I say “get it while it’s hot.”