Monday, October 25, 2010

ONG BAK (2003) - Ass Kicking for Dummies

When most people think of Thailand, they inevitably think of two things: Thai food and people getting their ass kicked. And they'd be right.

...and in the process, punch half the country in the face.

Ong Bak begins in a little village in rural Thailand. The villagers are pretty fond of a big Buddha statue named Ong-Bak that supposedly brings them good luck, and when some rich folks (those damn rich folk, never up to any good) drop by and try to buy the statue, they're refused. A few nights later, some dastardly ruffians break into the shrine where the Buddha is kept and cut off its head and steal it. When the villagers wake up to find the statue's head chopped off, they are enraged and start preparing for bad luck which is sure to follow. It's up to Ting, the local martial arts expert and general all-around badass, to recover the statue. The village rounds up some cash and sends him on his way to Bangkok to get the statue's head back.

The world's slowest, yet most exciting, tuk tuk chase.
Ting is played by Tony Jaa, who was a virtual unknown before Ong Bak became a huge hit worldwide. The dude is a killing machine - according to the trustworthy source that is Wikipedia, he used to copy Bruce Lee's moves as a kid and he also did somersaults off his dad's elephants. Somersaults off of elephants. After starring in a few more movies, he's apparently called it quits on acting and decided to become a real life Buddhist monk. He's obviously the real deal. Jaa does some wack stuff in the movie - he's incredibly buff and flexible, and did all of his own stunts without any wires or any computer generated crap.

Back to the story, Ting makes his way to Bangkok and runs into his hustler cousin Humlae and his girl sidekick Muay. Humlae and Muay basically run around Bangkok scamming people at casinos, street races, and fights. Ting gets their help to try and locate the head of the statue, and in the meantime gets dragged into some underground fights where he makes money for the group.

Tony Jaa would like to kick your ass.
Ong Bak is a refreshing take on the martial arts movies that used to be churned out by the hundreds in the 70s and 80s. The fights are really intense and Jaa is a straight up weapon: he knees people in the face, punches them in the face, round house kicks them in the face, smashes tables on people's faces, hits guys in the face with refrigerators, etc. If it's got a face, Tony Jaa can and will find a way to hurt it. Being a foreign film, it's got a few quirks. Maybe it's just me, but some of the Thai dialogue sounds hilarious to my decadent, evil Westerner ears. Even worse is when some of the characters say things in broken, heavily accented English. It's all in good fun though, since chances are you'll be watching Ong Bak for the action scenes and the crazy stunts and not for some world class acting and delivery.


TL;DR - Tony Jaa destroys most of Thailand while trying to get back a statue for his village - 8.5/10