Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ong-Bak (The Thai Warrior)

Ong-Bak (or The Thai Warrior) is the film Tony Jaa made before The Protector. Viewers for the The Protector, which is a definite must see martial arts film, will certainly see similarities between the two films. For one thing, the basic plots are almost identical. Tony Jaa plays a rural villager who goes to the big city to recover something stolen from his village. In The Protector it's two elephants, and in Ong-Bak it's the head of the village god.

In both movies, in trying to recover the object he's after, Jaa's character falls into a much bigger web of criminal activity. He ends up facing off against a corrupt crimelord and his martial arts trained right hand man (Johnny Tri Nguyen in The Protector and Atthapong Pantanaunkul in Ong-Bak).

While these similarities are certainly not to the credit of The Protector, which came after Ong-Bak, the two movies are very different in the way they unfold and the kinds of fight sequences that are delivered. Ong-Bak isn't the sheer frontal assault that makes The Protector so amazing to watch, but that fact also means Ong-Bak is a more economical film (and that has pluses).

There are some amazing acrobatics on display in Ong-Bak, most notably in the scene where Jaa and co-star Petchtai Wongkamlao (who also appeared for comic relief in The Protector) are running from a crowd of goons. Also, there is an early scene in the village where Jaa is 'practicing forms', which is a nice way to have him show off his skills early on. However, the movie also contains the straight fight scenes fans of the genre want, most notably between Jaa and several adversaries in an illegal Bangkok fight club.

Jaa the actor is much less prominent part of the mix here. In this film, Jaa is primarily a martial artist. In fact, I question whether the number of lines of dialogue he is given gets very far into the double digits. Most of the speaking is handled by the always hilarious Petchtai Wongkamlao, supported by Pumwazree Yodkamol playing a tomboy street urchin whose relationship to Wongkamlao's character is something I still can't quite figure out.

While I could have lived without the Bangkok motorcycle-taxi chase scene, Ong-Bak is an entertaining ride. I'd probably say The Protector is the better movie, but Ong-Bak is the shorter, lighter, and more direct film and is definitely worth seeing.

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