Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ong-Bak 3

In my prior post I reviewed Ong Bak 2 which, despite its serious drawbacks went on to become Tony Jaa's most successful film yet. To clean up the loose ends left by the disorganized and chaotic production, the studio went ahead and made a third film - Ong Bak 3 - but this movie is no less a hot mess than Ong Bak 2. It's just a different kind of hot mess.

Ong Bak 3 has a clearer story than its predecessor. But instead of just tying up all the loose ends from Ong Bak 2, the third movie adds more subplots! We learn that there's a curse on...all Thailand? The village? Oh, I don't know! There's a curse. The evil king has captured and is slowly torturing Tien (Jaa) to death while uttering the most cliched Jabba the Hutt bad guy laugh ever - literally: hah hah haaah! hah hah haaah!). However, he's also going nuts because - as we learn from yet another flashback - he poisoned his predecessor to get the throne. Then there's that weird crow fighter. He's back and turns out to be some kind of evil spirit (I think?) who wants to take the throne so that he, I have no idea why this crow-spirit-thing exists or what it's really after. Meanwhile, Tien is rescued deus ex machina by royal decree and carted off to his village to slough off his vengeful nature through meditation. It got to the point where I just didn't care! "Please Ong Bak 3!" I screamed. "Pick a plotline, any plotline, and just get on with it!"

Ong Bak 3 is filmed with a much more appealing style, so the feel of the movie is less oppressive that the first sequel/prequel. We even get some beautiful shots of Thailand, as opposed to the muddy, rainy slopheap Ong Bak 2 seemed determined to portray Thailand as. However, this improvement is undermined as Ong Bak 3 takes on a religious subtext that is truly from outer space. Nothing against a religious subtext, but this stuff is nutty with a capital freak and I couldn't figure out what religion this subtext is supposed to reflect. There's tons of Jesus imagery: the 'chosen one' dies a death of crucifixion level violence, is resurrected, and then provides salvation to his people. Jaa even grows a beard and wears white when fighting the evil crow spirit, and he hurls his wooden staff down to put everyone on alert that he's there to free the slaves. Moses and Jesus all wrapped up in one? Yeesh. The whole thing is so heavy handed that it quickly goes over the line (WAY over the line!) and becomes a messianic ego-trip for Jaa.

There's some Buddhist/Zen Buddhist philosophy rattling around in the script like a loose pebble in a rusty bucket, but it seems more like window dressing than anything seriously presented. But the worst aspect of religious theme is the over the top supernatural aspects. For example, the crow spirit summons an eclipse at one point, and at another sends wicked black smoke at a monk (never did figure out that the heck that smoke was all about). Later, Tien summons white lighting after he dispels the eclipse. What religion does all this hocus-pocus bullcrap come from? Wicca maybe? No, I can't even say that because it'd be insulting to Wiccans. Long story short, a religious subtext has to have some kind of consistent morality or philosophy. Otherwise it's just a whole bunch of crazy.

Worst of all - for all the backstory in these two movies - by the end of Ong Bak 3 I still have little understanding of what and why most of the action in the film took place. Why is killing Tien so important to the evil king? Why did he kill Tien's parents? Why did the king's boss allow Tien to live? How did Tien end up captured by the slavers? Why does the one guy become a monk? What does Tien learn that makes him turn around? And, if he learned it, why does he go from monk to monkey and literally bite a hunk out of a guy's neck in the final fight? What caused the 'instant replay/do over'? It's hard to take Ong Bak 3 seriously or become invested in the characters when there's no clue as to what's driving or at stake for any of them.

At the end of watching these two movies (total running time of three hours), I felt like there was definitely a good Tony Jaa flick buried in there somewhere. However, it's lost in a mix-master script of ridiculous and overwrought plots/subplots and a lack of logical flow that would give the story elements coherence. The movie takes itself far too seriously and, while some of the fight scenes are good, others are sub par and the use of wire-fu is truly disappointing. Despite the obvious potential and panache used to film these movies and the evident potential, they fall far short of being enjoyable on just about any level and come off as pretentious, dull, and ridiculous.

Hopefully this is just a slip-up for Jaa, and his next offering will be tighter and more focused. He's too good of a performer to throw in the towel!

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