Starring Tony Jaa
Fight Choreography by Tony Jaa
Directed by Tony Jaa
After Tony Jaa had another success with The Protector, he had a vision for a martial arts epic that would mark an apex for martial arts films more ambitious than anything the great Bruce Lee would have come up with, and created the story himself, and decided to also take on duties of fight choreographer as well as directing for the first time, something he was warned not to do by Prachya Pinkaew, long time friend and the director of Ong Bak. Tony dismissed his caution, and what followed was a film that marked both a low and high point of his career…
The film begins in Thailand circa 1421, and the Ayuthaya armies are moving quickly through Thailand, and we center on young twelve-year-old Tien, son of a local Lord, who is being whisked away by his father’s most trusted guard, the armies of Ayuthaya chasing them. After the guard leaves Tien in a place of hiding, Tien is captured by a slave trading tribe and taken to their village, where he is thrown into a crocodile pit for entertainment, which would be replaced centuries later by Survivor. The more things change…
Tien’s death is averted when the village is attacked by pirates, or to be more to the point, Extremely Badass Samurai, Kung-Fu, Muay Thai, Silat, and All Kinds of Wicked Shit I Can’t Pronounce Guys. This film calls them pirates for short, so we’ll go with that. Their leader, Chernang, helps Tien by tossing him a knife and telling him, “ that’s it from us. Your on your own, bro!” Tien does kill the croc, and Chernang decides he might be just badass enough to join his crew. Tien is taken in, and over the years he learns every damn thing they have to teach him. We fast forward years later, and now and adult Tien (Jaa) is testing to officially join the pirates, which involves first taming the King of the Elephants, which is kind of silly, and then fighting off a string of opponents, which is not so silly. He then goes on a bunch of raids, and soon turns his attention to Lord Rajsena, who had his mother and father killed. He plots his revenge, but finds that exacting his revenge may very well cost him the life he has forged for himself now…
I’m not sure why they called this Ong Bak 2, since it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with the original film. I’ve heard some critics call it a Karmic Trilogy, but they may just need to put the hash pipe down and recognize it may be just capitalizing on the name. Of course I may be wrong about that. Maybe the third film clears that up?
This is a dark film, and there are rarely any happy moments. The lightest moments occur when the young Tien meets a crazy villager named Dirty Balls, played by Ong Bak and The Protector’s Petchtai Wongkamlao, who is funny here as he is in the other films, but he’s barely there. Jaa does a really good job keeping the mood tense almost the entire film. You know he’s building to something, but keeps you on your toes to find out what it is. I’ve heard people are discouraged by the ending, but I felt it was strangely appropriate, since we know there’s another film coming.
The fight scenes are nothing short of incredible. The fight against the village slavers was terrific, but nothing can prepare you for the final fight in the pirate’s village. It’s a nearly 30 minute fight scene that will leave even the most jaded martial arts film fan exhausted. Tony pulls out the stops for this fight, using kung-fu, muay thai, sword, 3 section staff, and what feels like every damn martial art ever created, even using a live elephant as a weapon at one point. Just as Bruce used the Fists of Fury to really show himself off, and Jackie used Drunken Master, This film may be the classic film that defines Tony’s skills.
This is also the film that may have ended his career. It’s well publicized that he had a nervous breakdown during the filming and disappeared for several weeks during production. He was running well over budget and the film was running late. He tearfully made his appearance on a radio station to discuss what happened, and Baa Ram Ewe brought in his Ong Bak director Prachya Pinkaew to help edit and finish directing the film. There was so much footage that they shot additional scenes and split the film into two parts. Nevertheless, the damage to Jaa appears to have been done, and it’s easy to see why. Jaa wanted to direct his own films like his idol Jackie Chan, but Jackie cut his teeth behind the camera for years before he stepped in front of it, and did so when there were no expectations of him. Jaa had to be under immense pressure to top his other films, and after watching the fight scenes, it had to be too much, to balance that, the budget, the studio’s demands, and his own lofty standards. Jaa joined the monkhood, and who knows when he will return? It may be a year, two years, ten years. We may have seen the last of Jaa. I hope that’s not the case, but for now we have to consider him lost to cinema history—until he comes back.
Tony Jaa aimed for the moon and actually hit it with this film, and like his character Tien, Tony was unaware his ambition was going to come with a spiritual and physical cost…
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)
CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) The fight scenes are stunning, and easily ranks with some of the best martial arts films of all time. Tony fuses what feels like dozens of styles and manages to still portray each one in an exciting and meaningful way. The movements were graceful and brutal all at once, fast-paced and complex.
STUNTWORK: (10) The running across the stampeding elephant scene was pure lunacy on Tony’s part, but looks incredible. The stuntmen really took it on the chin here, and were the recipients of some terrible falls and strikes, and performed admirably in what had to be a hard shoot, and were able to match Tony’s energy onscreen.
STAR POWER: (9) Tony is at his best here, but we all know what this may have cost him. Who knows what will happen with his career now?
FINAL GRADE: (10) This is one of the best martial arts films ever, mainly from a fighting standpoint. The story did the job it needed to do, and there isn’t enough that can be said about the ambition of the fight scenes. Let’s hope that this and Ong Bak 3 aren’t the last we hear from Tony Jaa…
My personal fave part is Tony Jaa’s interpretation of Drunken Boxing, which is incredible.
Interesting to discover that Part 3 was mainly the remnants of Part 2 – I’d assumed that the third instalment was greenlit after 2 had performed so well at the box office. It also kind of explains Part 3’s main problem – there is very little in the way of martial art action – Tony’s character is absent for long periods of the film. Prepare to be very bored and underwhelmed.
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