Ong Bak follows Ting (Jaa), a naive villager with aspirations to become a monk. In his small village, the local Buddha statue is deeply regarded and called Ong Bak. When thieves from Bangkok steal the statue’s head, Ting vows to return the head to the distraught townspeople. Unfortunately for the thieves however, Ting is a master of Muay Thai boxing and an amazing athlete. Teaming with George (Wongkamlao) and Lek (Yodkamol), Ting tracks down the thieves while unleashing his formidable fighting skills and leaving many broken bodies in his wake.
Tony is pretty terrible as an actor and he speaks in the same tone for pretty much the entire film, but his dialogue is not for what you’re watching the film. His action scenes are amazing and he brings a real physicality to the screen. Flipping, sliding, and just about flying, he is a dynamo of elbows and knees. With the amount of sheer athleticism he has on display, it is easy to see why he has become such a forefront figure in this next generation of martial arts fans. Wongkamlao has a generally broad sense of humor that thankfully, for the most part, is mostly on point. Yodkamol is cute and helps Wongkamlao with the humor, but overall they play almost a single character. The supporting cast is okay as well, though no one does much to stand out. Special credit to the stuntmen though since they continually get messed up in increasingly violent ways.
Pinkaew does what he does best, deliver an action film that delivers on his actor’s talents with a lean production that doesn’t require much management. Firmly aware of the purpose of the film, he trusted the expertise of Thai film legend Panna Rittikrai to choreograph the action. Showcasing Jaa’s prowess was a wise choice over everything else. The film is shot dynamically, and looks good, though the use of excessive replays is a bit distracting. Though it does reinforce the fact that Jaa is amazing, it does break the flow a bit when it happens in the middle of action scenes multiple times. Music is loud with the use of horns and traditional Muay Thai music throughout. The tune does get a bit repetitive towards the end of the film, but is a memorable enough song. One thing I’ve noticed is that despite the fairly recent vintage of the film, the movie still uses the trademark smacking sound effects typical of older Thai action films. It has since faded in pretty much all other Thai films I’ve seen since, seems that they’ve switched to the more realistic foley of modern films.
Ong Bak is not a good film. It is, however, one of most action-packed films in years and a wake up call to action film makers who have eschewed real fighting abilities for effects work and CGI. With a bit of humor and a lot of action, Ong Bak was Tony Jaa’s big introduction to the world stage as a name in action cinema. While a bit on the rough side, the film is nonetheless one of the most exhilarating martial arts films ever made and features some of the most jaw dropping stunts and fights put to film.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: The Young Master, Born to Fight, and/or Tom Yum Goong