Killer Imports is a regular feature on Film Junk where we explore foreign-language films from around the world that haven’t yet had their chance to shine.
After listening to the Macho Movie Review of Ong Bak 2, I was prepared to enjoy an awesome action flick when I inserted my DVD of the movie into my player. To be honest, I had purchased the DVD prior to listening to the review, and I had sampled some of the action scenes. Like Wintle and I imagine other movie lovers, I have a backlog of unwatched DVDs that is growing rather than shrinking. So the acclaim given and enthusiasm shown by Wintle, Nagy, and Billy in their review moved Ong Bak 2 to the top of my stack. Yet, their review came out weeks ago, and I have finally written my review. Why the delay? Because I was disappointed. I guess I should have been skeptical after Billy said that Ong Bak 2 was now his most favorite action flick, supplanting Conan the Barbarian.
I wasn’t sure that my opinion was worth expressing especially since I gather that the majority of people really like this film; however, there is a fair share of negative reviews out there, too. Maybe I might have appreciated Ong Bak 2 more if I hadn’t been unduly influenced by the MMR. I would rather write a review of a movie that had some merit or at least appeal for me. Wait, that’s not true. I think I would enjoy writing about a movie that I really hated, and that sparked some ideas worth expressing. But I don’t think I really have much to say about Ong Bak 2. For me, it was simply okay.
I think I enjoyed the first Ong-Bak more, probably because of the stunts in the modern locations. Ong Bak 2 does amp up the fighting with stronger opponents for Tony Jaa. I didn’t see a connection at all between the two movies other than the star, Tony Jaa. He’s not even playing the same character, I don’t think. I read that Ong Bak 2 is actually a prequel to the first film.
I never did bother to find out what Ong-Bak means after watching the first film. I thought maybe if I found out, I could understand the connection between the two movies. In Thai, â€œOngâ€ refers to a Buddha statue. â€œBakâ€ means a scar or mark created from a blade. The stolen Buddha statue from Tony Jaa’s character’s village has a mark on it, so â€œOng-Bakâ€ is the village’s Buddha statue. There is a village legend about a Muay Thai teacher who risked his life in retrieving the statue from Burmese invaders; Buddha supposedly protected the teacher by transferring a wound from the teacher to the statue. The Buddha statue appears during the opening credits and shows up later as well. Oh, I think I understand why Ong-Bak plays a role in Ong Bak 2 now. Saying any more might spoil the film, so I’ll stop this line of thought.
I also enjoyed The Protector aka Tom Yum Goong; I think I prefer it over Ong Bak 2. (Tom Yum Goong is a popular Thai dish that is hot and sour; it was supposed to imply that watching the movie would be like having Tom Yum Goong. That is, both are stimulating.)
I had seen at stores the DVD releases of The Bodyguard and The Bodyguard 2 with Tony Jaa on the cover, but I had not picked them up because I thought they might have been Ong-Bak and The Protector released under new names. Research on the Internet uncovered the information that they were different movies; however, Tony Jaa only has a small role in each of them. So avoid them unless you’re a Tony Jaa fanatic. Some people have enjoyed The Bodyguard and The Bodyguard 2 on their own merits though.
I do find Tony Jaa’s high-pitched talking voice kind of wimpy. (And yes, I do realize my own voice is high-pitched.) Because Ong Bak 2 doesn’t have much dialog, I can’t complain about Tony Jaa’s voice in the movie. Tony Jaa plays a character that is orphaned early in the film. He is abducted by slave traders and rescued by a gang leader who admires his spunk and utter fearlessness. He is raised in a gang village occupied by individuals who teach him various martial arts and magic. This allows Tony Jaa the opportunity to demonstrate different styles of martial arts as well as the use of weaponry. For me, the liberal use of the knees especially after a long leap was the trademark action move of Tony Jaa’s Muay Thai martial art. For those who can’t get enough knee action, don’t worry. Jaa hasn’t abandoned the knee slam. Jaa later does a solo theatrical dance routine during the course of the movie, but I don’t recall the gang village having a dance instructor. (Maybe the deleted scenes on the DVD will have that training sequence. I’m kidding. Actually, he learned the dance as a kid.) As an adult, he leaves the village to seek revenge against the man who killed his parents.
Now the MMR of Ong Bak 2 makes a point of saying how good the story is, and how looks among the characters reveal intentions and feelings making dialog unnecessary. I’ll agree that the simple plot services the film in allowing the sequences of fight scenes. But to me, there’s not much of a story. As for the fight scenes, I didn’t find them very interesting. I suppose I’m much more into balletic choreographed action, but I can appreciate visceral messiness as well. Having seen so many action films, I need something special to impress me. I will say that the fight scenes are certainly better than any of the ones from the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I realize that’s not much of a compliment. I wasn’t impressed by the weaponry either.
I should mention that I did find the scenes involving elephants to be awesome. It does seem to be rather abusive, or maybe I should say disrespectful, in the way that some elephants are treated like furniture. I have seen film footage of zoo elephants going on berserk rampages, so the docility of the Ong Bak 2 elephants seems strange. The elephants don’t seem to mind someone swinging on their tusks and running around and under their bodies. I guess the elephants were well-trained. I assume they were real. Tony Jaa did say that he had to spend several months with the elephants so that they would become familiar with him.
The cinematography failed to show the natural beauty of the locations. The lighting on the combatants I felt was often too dark. There are some night time scenes I felt could have been better lit as well.
Ong Bak 2 had a troubled production history that isn’t apparent from the final film. The final budget was triple its original estimate. Ong Bak 2 was directed by Tony Jaa and his mentor Panna Rittikrai. They also co-wrote the story. Rittikrai was brought in as co-director to complete the film after Jaa had a money dispute with the producers and walked off the job. Gone are the repeated multiple angle shots of key action stunts. Some people think that the repeated multiple angle shots in earlier films were â€œamateurish.â€ I’d love to see this done for a dramatic dialog sequence. Ha ha.
Jaa’s unprofessionalism during the production of Ong Bak 2 has apparently not affected his clout in the Thai movie industry, because he still has directing, writing, and producing credit for Ong Bak 3, scheduled to be released on December 5, 2009. And plans for an Ong Bak 4 have already been laid out.
Magnolia Pictures recently picked up the rights to release Ong Bak 2 domestically in the US. It’s scheduled to be released later this year. I don’t know if it will be released theatrically or direct-to-DVD.
If you want to hear an effusive review of Ong Bak 2, I suggest you listen to the MMR of it. Even though the story is simple, I think I may have misunderstood the ending. I think I need Wintle to explain it to me.