Ong-Bak (2003)

Posted in Reviews by - June 15, 2013
Ong-Bak (2003)

The most exciting post-millennial Asian success was, surprisingly, of Thai origin. Not the film as such (it’s a pottering drivel of a story) but rather the movie’s star, Panom Yeerum, or ‘Tony Jaa’ to us Westerners.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable finds in the evolution of martial arts cinema, Jaa resembles Jackie Chan in his stunt work but with enough ferocity to make Steven Seagal look like a ballerina. Ong-Bak is all about full contact Muay Thai kickboxing and Jaa is so remarkable to watch he will literally leave you breathless. A chase scene through a Thai market sees Jaa scaling walls in a single leap, gliding underneath moving trucks and somersaulting his way through bustling traffic with split second accuracy.

If you think that’s something, just wait until he starts beating people up. His knees and elbows break cycle helmets. He can perform wildly acrobatic kicks that defy gravity, even when his legs are on fire. The final brawl sees a succession of stuntmen line up as cannon fodder for an exhilarating exhibition, exploiting the film’s unique selling point to such a degree that it will beat any kind of cynicism clean out of your brain.

The movie’s secret, and Tony Jaa’s, is the impressive lack of wires and gimmicks. A distinct lack of special effects is a rare thing in the modern era of instant kung fu heroes. Ong-Bak reverts the genre to its bare essentials and emphatically embraces talent over trickery.

Jaa also forces us to neglect a rather pitiful story line where he travels into the dark, gambling underworld of Thailand to recover the stolen head of his village’s sacred Buddhist statue. But in a movie this explicitly crowd-pleasing, trivial issues like plot and characterisation are a moot point.

This film kicks ass and should come with a band aid.

AKA: Daredevil; Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior; Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior; Thai Fist

This post was written by
Hi there. I'm the editor of Kung Fu Movie Guide. Be sure to visit regularly for the latest analysis, interviews, profiles, podcasts and reviews on martial arts movies made around the world.

Leave Your Comment