Ong-Bak (2003)

Posted in Reviews by - June 15, 2013
Ong-Bak (2003)

The most exciting post-millennial Asian success was, surprisingly, of Thai origin. Not the film as such (it’s a flimsy excuse for carnage), but rather the film’s star, Panom Yeerum, or Tony Jaa to the rest of the world. Perhaps one of the most remarkable finds in the evolution of martial arts cinema, Jaa resembles Jackie Chan in his stunt work but with the steely ferocity of Steven Seagal in his prime. Ong-Bak is all about full-contact Muay Thai kickboxing and Jaa is so remarkable to watch he will literally leave you breathless. A chase through a busy Thai market scene sees Jaa scaling walls in a single leap, gliding underneath moving trucks and somersaulting his way through bustling traffic with split-second accuracy. If you think that’s something, just wait until he starts beating people up. His knees and elbows break through cycle helmets. He can perform wildly acrobatic kicks that defy gravity, even when his legs are on fire. The final brawl sees a succession of stunt performers line-up as cannon fodder for an exhilarating exhibition. The movie’s secret, and Tony Jaa’s, is its impressive lack of wires and gimmicks. A distinct lack of special effects is a rare thing in the modern age of instant kung fu heroes. Ong-Bak resets the genre, stripping it back to its bare essentials and emphatically embracing talent over trickery. Jaa’s powerful performance helps to negate a rather basic story in which he must travel into the dark, gambling underworld of Bangkok to recover the stolen head of his village’s sacred Buddhist statue. But in a movie this crowd-pleasing, trivial matters like plot and characterisation are a moot point. This film kicks so much ass it should come with a band aid.

AKA: Daredevil; Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior; Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior; Thai Fist.

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Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a keyboard in London, UK.

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