Hong Kong may rule the martial arts cinema scene but a lot of countries have played in the ‘arena’ on occasion with mixed success, each trying to deliver the next shining star. Thailand’s recent entry for martial art supremacy comes at the hands of Tony Jaa and his Ong-Bak series of movies.
Starting of with a grand mob of focused young men climbing and fighting their way to the top of a towering tree, all vying for a symbolic piece of cloth, Ting (Jaa) bests the other combatants in the ceremonial display in which we get to see a bunch of guys literally thrown meters to the ground in this winner take all challenge. Once declared victor of the contest the humble townsfolk sponsoring the traditional event all assemble in their local temple to revere their cherished statue of Ong-Bak, worshiping he lest he fail to keep the good fortune and plentiful future crops for the village.
The ceremony coincides with the arrival of some city punks wishing to trade for some statuettes and other artifacts. When the punks are denied they show their displeasure by decapitating the statue and returning to Bangkok with the head of stone. Ting of course volunteers to retrieve the head, leading to an eventful journey that includes meeting up with a former young villager who has adapted to the vices of the big city all too well. From that point we get the expected market place chase scenes, street battles and general mayhem until the requisite happy ending.
While a decent fighter and capable of some nice moves, I respectfully declare that Jaa is no Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan or even Jet Li, as most of the posters and ads for the movie proclaim. While he has definite skills and an uncanny ability to jump through tight hoops and loops, he lacks the grace and speed of these other masters. Don’t get me wrong he is no slouch either, but he won’t displace these guys.
A decent movie with humble and noble intentions it is entertaining enough. But even setting aside the martial arts aspects, this movie is always a step shy in every regard to the more acclaimed films of his battling brethren.