April 1, 2011

Netflix'ns: Ong Bak Trilogy

Netflix'ns is a series of review shorts of films, new and old, seen on Netflix, be it DVD or streaming. For better or worse, I sat through these films and have lived to tell the tale. These are not so much reviews as just comments on the film watched. Some will be first time views, others will be revisits. This is a work in progress.

In 2003 the world was introduced to a new martial arts star. Tony Jaa stepped up to take the reigns from the likes of Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Besides making the world by storm, he also brought a new level of physical intensity to the screen with his acrobatic skills, fighting ability, and the downright violent looking fights. Seriously, his fights are in close, brutal, and really painful looking. There is a very different look to his screen battles than those of either Chan or Li.

The first Ong Bak tells a simple story. The head of Ong Bak, a Buddha statue, in a small village is stolen and Jaa's Ting is sent to Bangkok to retrieve it. Ting heads off to the big city where he encounters a healthy slice of the underworld. He is chased, has fights with bad guys en route to his final goal.

Nothing special narratively, but it has a nice gritty feel to it and watching Jaa throwing knees and elbows, hurdling cars, and other impressive feats kept my eyes on the screen.

Five years later saw the release of Ong Bak 2: The Beginning. This outing bears little resemblance to its predecessor aside from a glimpse of the statue. This movie takes us back in time where we meet Tien as a young boy whose father is killed by a ruthless dictator. He is adopted by the leader of an outlaw clan and taught the ways of martial arts and weapons. Years later Tien, now a young man, sets out to get revenge.

This movie has a lot more action and shows Jaa demonstrating a number of different styles, including drunken boxing, while retaining the brutal shown in the first film. I loved the action and the way in which it is shot, but I cannot say the same about the movie as a whole. It is jumpy and roundabout and never seems to have all that much focus aside from getting us to the next fight Then there is the ending, wow. It is anti-climatic and left me wondering, that's it? Simply put, it was a terrible way to end it.

Two years later Ong Bak 3 arrived and picked up right where the second left off. Unfortunately, the fighting has been further diminished and a good chunk of the movie is taken up by Tien recovering from the beatdown he suffers at the start. It is like that Steven Seagal movie where he comes out of the coma and must teach himself to fight again so he can get his revenge. That's what happens here before getting even trippier in its final fight.

Overall, I like the series. The first is the best movie, the second is the best for the fights, and the third is good for its attempt to elevate the material (despite completely failing). I think Jaa is a fantastic martial artist and not much of an actor. I would love to see more movies from him like the first two and Tom Yum Goong (aka The Protector)

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