Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ong-Bak 2

Ong Bak 2 and Ong Bak 3 combine to form a single story that is a prequel to Tony Jaa's wonderful Ong Bak. The story told in these movies takes place 600 years earlier than the modern day Ong Bak and, further, the two stories have nothing in common. So if you like Ong Bak you do not have to see installments 2 & 3. That's good because although this pair of movies tell an epic story with great potential, these movies are what is commonly referred to as 'a hot mess'. I'll start with Ong Bak 2 and then review the third movie in tomorrow's post.

Tony Jaa could never be accused of not trying hard enough. His movies are filled to the brim with plot, subplot, characters of all kinds, wicked villains, and exceptional fight scenes. Of course, Jaa's skills as a martial artist are truly amazing and his movies really deliver, so much so that this viewer finds them almost a bit too much! Unfortunately, Ong Bak 2 is too much. It tries to cover too much ground in a single story and ends up delivering well on nothing. There's a complex political backstory, a love story, a coming of age subtext, and lots of fighting. Since none of these pieces of the movie are fully developed, Ong Bak 2 comes off like a victim of multiple personality disorder. All the different plotlines come forward and then vanish, shouting over each other in a confusing train wreck of storytelling.

Part of the reason the movie turned out so badly is that production of Ong Bak 2 - which was really supposed to be a complete film without a sequel - turned into a Francis Ford Coppola-style debacle: out of control cost overruns, power struggles with the studios, and Tony Jaa apparently disappearing in the middle of shooting for two months. This chaos is clearly reflected in the resulting movie: Ong Bak 2 is so confusing with all its flashbacks, time shifting, and patched-up ending that you wind up lost as to what's going on and what the thread of the story is.

Ong Bak 2 is also filmed in a very dark and overly dramatic manner, with self-conscious cinematography, unnecessary slo-mos and cuts, constant surging music, and strange color effects (not sure what the technical term for that is). And - to underline the dire IMPORTANCE of all that is happening - it is raining pretty much non-stop in this movie. Ong Bak 2 spares no expense to look great, but Tony Jaa (playing a nobleman's son named Tien) is another story. He's truly hideous in his rat's nest of long hair and just hard to look at without wincing. There are also scenes where the color and lighting make him look like Michael Jackson. Creepy!

Finally, while Ong Bak 2 has some good fights, several fall flat. This is very surprising for a Jaa film. Slo-mos clearly reveal the weak contact between Jaa and his opponents, undermining the impact of the fights by letting us clearly see that they are - of course - staged for the camera. Elsewhere fast cuts render many of Jaa's moves impossible to follow. Lastly, the film makes use of wire-fu, shocking considering Jaa has always seemed to pride himself on presenting the real deal.

Ong Bak 2 desperately needed its sequel in order to make sense, provide a resolution, or any viewing satisfaction. The third film was an attempt to provide an emergency clean-up effort after this runaway debacle slammed into a brick wall and splattered onto DVD.

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