Ong-bak is a grueling exercise in martial arts style. Proudly touting the absence of stunt personnel, special effects, and safety measures, Ong-bak is one of the most convincing martial arts films I have seen. The fights and chases ooze an authenticity that makes up for the lackluster and ridiculously underdeveloped story.
The story is quite simple, so I’ll cut right to the chase. Tony Jaa plays Ting, a resident of a peaceful, but drought-stricken village. On a dark day for the community, the head of their sacred Ong-bak statue is stolen. The statue is widely believed by the residents of the village to bring rains to the dry area. With the town’s population depressed and angry, Ting takes it upon himself to travel to Bangkok to find the treasure. Let’s just say that his Muay Thai skills, passed down to him from monks within the village, will come in handy.
Upon arriving in Bangkok, Ting meets up with George (Wongkamlao), also known as Dirty Balls, and Humlae, and his female companion, Muaylek (Yodkamol). It doesn’t take long for all three to find themselves in trouble with the perpetrators of the theft of the Ong-bak. Fights, chases, and general chaos ensue.
The beating heart of this film is Tony Jaa and his athleticism, and he steps up to the plate big-time. His martial arts skills and awe-inspiring stunts beg the comparison to pre-Hollywood Jackie Chan. He jumps over moving cars, fights hand-to-hand with a gritty precision, and even owes a thing or two to Chan when it comes to his use of ordinary props in battle. Jaa appears to be very young, and if Ong-bak plays well here in the States, I have no doubt we will be seeing more of him. He is a martial arts revelation, and I haven’t seen a film in this genre with the energy of this one in quite some time.
The supporting cast all play second fiddle to Jaa, but they still further the entertainment value of the film. Perttary Wongkamlao adds some great comedic value with an over-the-top and expressive performance as the unfortunate soul trapped with the nickname Dirty Balls. Punwaree Yodkamol is fairly annoying, but makes a nice foil for the other two.
Those looking for an in-depth story of treachery peppered with martial arts had best look elsewhere. Martial arts are what this film is all about, and in sheer entertainment value it is a very well-done film. There is a certain manic energy here that we rarely see in mainstream American film, and down the line we may look back on this as the launching point for the next big martial arts action star.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Length: 105 Minutes
Rating: R for sequences of strong violence, language, some drug use and sexuality.
Theatrical Release: February 11, 2005 (Limited)
Directed by: Prachya Pinkaew
Written by: Suphachai Sithiamphan
Cast: Tony Jaa, Perttary Wongkamlao, Punwaree Yodkamol, Suchao Pongwilai, Wannakit Sirioput, Chumphorn Thepphithak