Monday, January 19, 2015

Movie Talk - The Ong-Bak Movies

Pants to be darkened as well as charred and crispy!

I think it’s time to see what other countries have done with martial arts movies. It is rare we hear about these types of movies from other countries. Since I looked at something from Indonesia earlier, today’s set of movies hail from the land of Thailand. In 2003, Ong Bak aka Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior was released in Singapore in 2003. It did so well over there, the movie ended up getting released internationally in 2005. It made its main man, Tony Jaa, into a star. It also spawned two spin-offs, Ong-Bak 2 and Ong-Bak 3. It even introduced folk to the fighting style of Muay Thai and its predecessor, Muay Boran.

I was in college when I saw the first Ong-Bak movie. I heard some good stuff about it, so I decided to rent it one day. Before this weekend, I actually hadn’t seen the spinoffs. I had rented Ong-Bak 2 but I never got around to finishing it. Recently, I found out that all three movies are on Netflix, so I decided to check them all out. By the way, Netflix only has them undubbed, so you’ll have to use subtitles if you watch them. Personally, I’ve been watching most foreign movies undubbed since I was in college. Most dubbing usually doesn’t sound good and it makes me invest in the movie more.

Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior
As I said before, the movie was released in 2003. The story is about a young monk-in-training named Ting who lives in village in Thailand. When the head to the village’s precious Buddha statue is stolen, Ting heads to Bangkok in order to get it back. There, he meets his estranged cousin, Humlae, and his friend, Muay. Together (sort of), they try to find out who has the head. They run across a gang of thieves through a fight club. Many fights and chases take place.

I can see why a lot of folk latched on to this one. This was a good movie for the most part. The story may be pretty basic and simple, but it is still pretty decent. I also liked the character of Humlae. While he was a good comic relief character, he also receives the most development character-wise. His friend, Muay, was cool and kinda cute (annoying voice though). The villains are okay, but they don’t stand out well.
This was the moment where you know you’re getting something good.

The biggest attractions about the movie are the fights and stunts. Before his stardom, Jaa started out as a stuntman, so he’s really doing all of this stuff. It all looks good. The stuntwork is pretty good and it goes out of its way to show you that there aren’t any extra things like wires and CGI helping. The fight scenes are pretty epic from beginning to end. They are well choreographed and look pretty brutal. The final fight scenes are straight-up awesome.

There are some things I’m not too keen on with the movie or at least the version I’ve seen. Ting as a character is kind of bland. He’s a good fighter, but that’s all he pretty much does. I do like that he’s one of the silent type. The story could have had a little more meat to it. There were scenes deleted from the international version, so I wonder if the movie would have been better with those scenes added in. That doesn’t mean the film is a disaster. The stunts, the fights, and some of the characters make this a watch.

Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning
Ong-Bak 2 was released in 2008. Even though it’s billed as a sequel, it’s actually a prequel and it takes place in the 1400’s. Jaa is also the co-director in this one and the next one. In the movie, Jaa plays Tien, a young man out for revenge. We find out that his parents were killed as a boy. Afterwards, He was sold into slavery and saved by a group of outlaws. They train him in all sorts of martial arts. After he’s learned all he can learn, he goes out after the people who wronged him and his family.

This movie is okay in my opinion. There is stuff I like about it and stuff I’m not a fan of. I will say that the story was okay. It’s a little more interesting that the story from the first movie. Most of the story is told in flashback. It’s also a darker story. There’s little humor and it ends really downbeat. Let’s just say that things don’t work out for Tien and his adopted father.
I wonder what Dumbo thinks of the kick.

The fights and stuntwork were pretty awesome. There were a variety of weapons being used this time. There were also a variety of fighting styles on display. I guess Jaa wanted to show that he could do other fighting styles too. It’s also bloodier than the first movie since there a variety of weapons being used this time. It all looked pretty good. The last 20 minutes are pretty awesome. My favorite fight scene is probably the drunken fight scene. It really feels like homage to Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master movies.

Now, there are things I don’t like. It should have been named something else because the current title is pretty misleading. While he is a determined fighter, Tien is a little bland especially his adult self. He actually doesn’t say that much. I actually think the young boy who played Tien said a lot more than Jaa did. The story does feel a little disjointed at times. There are also some pretty slow and unnecessary parts in the movie. This may be the reason I didn’t finish it way back when. The most notable scene is a long dance scene at the main villain’s palace. It also leaves a lot of small subplots dangling. I guess that’s what Ong-Bak 3 is for, so hopefully it works out. Overall, it’s an okay movie.

Ong-Bak 3:The Final Battle
The third movie was released in 2010. It literally picks up where the last movie left off. Tien is taken and tortured by the king who killed his parents. He gets saved by a neighboring village. The monk there is able to heal his wounds and Tien learns more about bettering himself. Meanwhile, a fighter (the crow-like guy) from the last movie uses his dark magic (I’ll get to that) in order to kill the king. He makes himself king and takes Tien’s village as slaves. A renewed Tien then heads to that kingdom to faces his final challenge.
Hey, I didn't know Thailand decided to remake The Crow!

Well, it was good while it lasted. This movie was pretty lackluster and kind of weird. The story was okay for what it was. Everything that was left unresolved in Ong Bak 2 was resolved here. We even see the creation of the Ong Bak statue. I did like the journey Tien went on. He went through a pretty grueling torture scene. He also went from a path from fury to enlightenment. He even said stuff this time and gets a pretty girl, so I liked how it ended for him.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good stuff ends. I was taken aback by all of the supernatural stuff here. I’m mostly talking about the crow dude who becomes the main bad guy for little reason. It really felt out of place here especially since the last two movies were pretty realistic and grounded. I like supernatural movies at times, but I felt that it was shoehorned into this series for little reason. If the second one had introduced the supernatural elements, it would have been jarring but fine. Also, that crazy hobo was annoying.
Uh... what move was that? It looks like it needs some music or something.

The fights are not exciting this time. They’re choreographed well, but something felt missing from them. I don’t know what it was. It was either how they were shot or the fact that they felt less brutal. The only ones that was on par was the imagined fight (that was weird) and the final fight. There’s also a lot of padding in the movie and I mean a lot. I actually zoned out at points. It was a little like the last movie in that aspect only worse.

Something tells me that Ong Bak 2 and Ong Bak 3 were supposed to be one complete movie. It actually makes sense when I think about it and look at the backstory about it. The story would have gelled better. The feel of everything would have been better. Had both movies been one movie, that movie probably would have been decent. They may have had to sacrifice a couple of things, but it would have worked. As two separate movies, they both feel lackluster with the third movie being the worst. As it stands, Ong Bak 3 is not a good standalone movie.


Well, I have to end it somewhere. Jaa has another series of movies out there, so I’ll look at those on another date. It’s weird how this series as a whole went. The first movie was pretty good while the last two movies have some big issues. I do think Jaa is a good martial artist, so I hope he makes better movies. So, I think it’s time to get back to America and look at that white guy who kicks in slow-motion. Peace and God Bless.


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