Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior movie poster
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Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior movie poster

Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior Movie Review

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The kung-fu era in America has all but faded nowadays, since Jet Li failed to really catch on and Jackie Chan has resorted to doing fluff that amounts more to comedy than action. But then there's "Ong-Bak," a movie forced to limited release due to its struggling genre but one that deserves much more recognition than it ever is going to get.

Subtitled "The Thai Warrior," "Ong-Bak" is understandably one of the few movies to make it across the Pacific from Thailand. Thailand may be a little behind in the times as "Ong-Bak" harkens to movies of old, with a very basic plot, poor acting and lackluster direction, but, then again, that might just be what the genre needs. The movie thrives on its action and bone-crushing fight scenes, of which there are many. Tony Jaa is a force to be reckoned with.

Tony Jaa. The trailer for the movie suggests that Jaa is the next greatest thing after such masters as Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Is this so? Jaa, of course, does all his own stunts without ropes or special effects, which are definitely a few things that have grown tiresome in recent years. Chan especially has lost his edge now that many of his movies employ special effects ("The Tuxedo," anyone?), and ever since "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" made flying Asian people cool, the technique has been overused to death. I'm not knowledgeable in the different fighting techniques, but Jaa has what appears to be an unique style, where he tends to use his elbows and knees more than anything else. He definitely knows how to kick some ass. Unfortunately, Jaa lacks the intensity of Bruce Lee and the personality of Jackie Chan. He's playing a character, of course, that of an innocent country boy, but his screen presence needs a lot of work.

The acting doesn't help, either. While Jaa isn't that bad, some of his supporting members are, although good acting is never a prerequisite for a good kung fu movie. I'm usually not one to support dubbing, but I really feel this one might benefit from such an atrocity, as aside from the acting a few of the characters, namely Jaa and Pumwaree Yodkamol (the girl), have rather obnoxious voices that probably won't resonate well with American audiences. Of course, that's just me, but this is my review...

Another thing that needs to be reworked for American audiences is the soundtrack. The movie seems to be full of keyboard-synthesized Thai music, some of which is pretty excruciating to the ears. The "noise" at the beginning of the movie, which I guess is supposed to be music, and the strange sounds that occur during the chase sequence, are especially noteworthy. The music is almost laughably bad - of course, that may be somewhat intentional.

Of course, all of this ranting about the acting and the music and so forth pales in comparison to what really matters - the action. While some sequences are better than others, most are quite impressive as Jaa takes down guy after guy (most of the bad guys seem to be brutish Australian white guys, strangely enough) with pain-inducing hits. While there is a fair share of poorly shot moments where it is clear the characters didn't even come close to touching each other in reality, there is also a fair share of absolutely painful moments that make the movie more than worthwhile. The last few fight scenes are especially violent and entertaining.

I am skeptical about Jaa as someone who could be the next Bruce Lee, but based on fighting style alone, he's pretty impressive. "Ong-Bak" isn't a well-done movie, but its non-stop, cringe-inducing fight sequences make it more than entertaining enough to satisfy any kung fu fan. For those who love the genre, this one is a can't miss.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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