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Ong Bak Reviews

Toronto Film Festival: 2003

“…it's not every year that you get an action treat like Ong-Bak.”

People generally attend the film festival with the implicit goal of seeing something with intellectual or artistic heft. But it's not every year that you get an action treat like Ong-Bak. This kinetic Thai feature stars Tony Jaa, an explosive (not to mention abnormally supple) martial artist who makes Jackie Chan seem staid by comparison. The plot—something about a stolen Buddha relic—is simply a pretext for Jaa to unleash his astounding chopsocky arsenal.—A.M.

Toronto Star

“...the star...Tony Jaa, is already looking like the next Jackie Chan or Jet Li.”

Other films on Geddes' list of hot picks include Ong-Bak, which he admits has a simple, predictable plot, but is well worth venturing out at midnight because the star, a 24-year-old former Thai stunt man named Tony Jaa, is already looking like the next Jackie Chan or Jet Li.

"The thing in stunts now is to use wires and lifts, but this kid doesn't rely on any of that," says Geddes, playing a short clip from Ong-Bak on his laptop in which Jaa, while being chased, hurdles through a tight circle of spiky barbed wire in one effortless bound. In another clip, he leaps over two moving bikes. In yet another scene, he launches himself directly over the heads of a group of chatting schoolchildren, and they don't even notice.

French director Luc Besson has already put the stamp of approval on Ong-Bak by purchasing the world-wide rights for the film. Besson is currently producing the film's sequel, starring Jaa, in Thailand, but rumour has it he'll attend the midnight madness screening in Toronto.

New York Times

“…audiences may need bananas to restore potassium after just sitting through the movie.”

An action film that works far more consistently is the Thai martial arts marathon "Ong-Bak," directed by Prachya Pinkaew. Tony Jaa, a stuntman turned actor in his first starring role, assaults the screen, and what seems like the entire adult male population of Thailand, with such unnervingly exuberant Thai martial arts technique that audiences may need bananas to restore potassium after just sitting through the movie.

He plays Ting, a young disciple who is sent to Bangkok to locate a head “Ong-Bak” stolen from his village's Buddha, a crime that will loose calamitous luck if not redressed. He has to do so without being impeded by George, a former village resident who now thinks of himself as a gambler and player; he has been corrupted by the city, with its skyscrapers and everything.

After a prologue corny enough to be banned from the Atkins diet, Mr. Jaa hurls himself through "Ong-Bay" with an expenditure of breathtakingly realized physicality that Gower Champion would love, especially if he were choreographing action sequences. A foot chase through the streets of Bangkok allowed Mr. Jaa to display a physical wit and gymnastic panache that drove a late-night audience to applause for the first of many times.

Armed only with a haircut that suggests he has spent too much time watching Don (the Dragon) Wilson, Ting battles a crime lord's impressive numbers with a healthy, awe-inspiring talent for violence and without the use of wire-assisted special effects that even martial acrobats like Jackie Chan and Jet Li demand. The pursuit scene featured Mr. Jaa running on the shoulders of a crowd that both reminds you of the "Once Upon a Time in China" films and surpasses them.

Seeing the fit, constantly moving star leap, slap and punch his way through the film introduced something moviegoers don't often experience: fear for the safety of the protagonist. And the film received the kind of final approval stage shows crammed with showstopping numbers usually garner: the crowd was too intoxicated by its star's efforts to want to leave the theater, even at 2:30 a.m.

Ain’t It

“...Tony Jaa, the 25-year-old weapon of mass destruction who stars in Ong-Bak, is the new Bruce Lee...You have to see this film. This is the must-see film of the year.”

Ong-Bak kicks the living shit out of every martial arts movie made in the last ten years. Every. Single. One. This thing makes Iron Monkey look like god-damned Gymkata. Fuck! A coherent review is impossible right now. I'll try, but it's probably just going to devolve into "And then he... with the... and then the guy... holy shit! With his legs on fucking fire!!!"

Plot-wise the film is essentially a Buddhist version of Drunken Master II -- a thug (played by the Thai Adrian Zmed) steals the head of his home village's Buddha, and local orphan boy Ting sets off to Bangkok to retrieve it. Ting, having been trained at the temple in Muay Thai fighting (and given the strict admonition never to use it, of course, it being fucking ass-brutalizingly lethal and all), proceeds to beat the holy living sweet merciful fuck out of a local boss and his gang, the toughs at the illegal street fighting joint run by Zmed's boss, Zmed, the rest of the boss' hoods, and the hand-picked Burmese boxer who is Zmed's boss' enforcer in the climactic fight that just annihilates the fuck out of any other climactic fight scene in any other martial arts movie ever. I'm not kidding. To me the gold standard for climactic fights scenes was the aforementioned Drunken Master II. After the hellacious way Ting and the Burmese boxer fuck each other up over the course of this fight DM II looks nearly quaint in comparison. Burning coals and industrial alcohol suddenly don't quite measure up when multiple adrenaline injections directly below the heart and skull-fracturing elbows come into play.

Speaking of obsolescence, I hope Jet Li has made some wise investments. Tony Jaa, the 25-year-old weapon of mass destruction who stars in Ong-Bak, is the new Bruce Lee.

Let me say that again, in case you thought I was off my head or exaggerating or something you know the one, all the legends have it. That sequence in the club where Ting wipes the floor with the hand-picked champs, finishing off with the punk-wannabe bad-ass who even makes the ring announcer recoil in fear and horror when he steps up... or the blow that finally takes out Zmed... this guy has it. HE HAS IT.

I can't overlook the direction here either. Prachya Pinkaew does a great job keeping the action flowing while highlighting Jaa's jaw-dropping moves and just generally rocks that shit hard. This guy has a future too, and Luc Besson (who snatched up the distribution rights for this baby at Cannes) made a very wise investment in establishing a working relationship with Pinkaew early in his career.

Ong-Bak is quite possibly the best film that has ever been shown at Toronto's Midnight Madness. The only thing that could possibly be in the ballpark is Dead-Alive back in '92. Sure, the plot's thin and some of the secondary performances weak, but this isn't fucking Mamet. I made this prediction last night, and I stand by it -- slap Jaa's dreamboat mug on a poster and keep the ad campaign simple, building it around his fighting style and teasing folks with just how fucking much ass gets kicked in the film, and Ong-Bak could do Blair Witch numbers. This puppy might need a little word of mouth, but a nine digit domestic box office is within reach here.

You have to see this film. This is the must-see film of the year. Every card-carrying geek who's ever plunked down their coin for a piece of dung like the Tuxedo just to catch those few moments of Jackie genius that he still doles out now and then; every one of us who stops flipping the remote when a Green Hornet rerun is on; every one of us who's ever come out of a film sparring with your buddies -- this is the one you have to see.

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