Starring Tony Jaa, Dan Chupong, Petchtai Wongkamlao
Fight Choreography by Panna Rittikrai and Tony Jaa
Directed by Panna Rittikrai and Tony Jaa
Before I delve into this review, let’s go back over the events that led to Ong Bak 3:
Tony Jaa, coming off of the success of The Protector, wanted to direct and star in his own martial arts epic, even though his industry friends Panna Rittikrai and Pratcha Pinkaew warned him not to, that he wasn’t ready to take that kind of a step yet. Tony moved on without them and started shooting Ong Bak 2. Everything seemed to be going well enough until disturbing news trickled out concerning the production: Tony needed more money to finish the movie, and Sahamongkul Films balked at this, since the film was running far over schedule, it was over budget, the film was already clocking in at four hours, and Tony still wasn’t finished yet. They had a right to be worried, and their fears were soon justified…
Suddenly, and without warning, Tony walked off the set one day into the woods. Two months later he turned up on a radio show and cried (literally) about the amount of pressure he was under. If that didn’t get the studio scared, nothing else could, but luckily cooler heads prevailed. Tony was ordered back to the set, and was told that the budget would be increased a little, but on the condition that his old friend Panna Rittikrai step in to help him finish the film, and that last point was non-negotiable. Panna looked at the mess before him and decided that the film needed to be split into two films, and the majority that Tony directed was Ong Bak 2. Most of the reshoots that Panna directed were for Ong Bak 3. And so here we are…
Ong Bak 3 picks up where Ong Bak 2 left off, with Tien (Jaa) having been betrayed by his surrogate father Churnung, now captured by Rajasena, the man who ordered the deaths of Tien’s parents. Tien is tortured, and has most of the bones in his body broken. A message from the King spares Tien of execution, and orders Tien to be brought to the King. The King’s messenger and a group of royal soldiers take Tien to a small village where they are tasked to heal Tien. But Rajasena isn’t content to let this stand, and sends a group of assassins to kill Tien and the royal guards. The assassins fail, but all of the royal guards are killed, leaving Tien in the hands of the villagers, one of which was his childhood sweetheart Pim. Soon the villagers are able to heal Tien physically, though he is crippled. Tien must take himself on a spiritual journey to heal himself both within and without, just in time to face Bhuti (Chupong), the crow-like witch that led to his defeat in Ong Bak 2, and now has designs on taking power by killing Rajasena…
Ong Bak 3 has problems that mar it from the great finish it should have been. The first and most glaring problem was the story itself. Ong Bak 2 established the world, the characters, and the parameters they existed in. There were no supernatural shenanigans there, unlike here, where it is clear that Bhuti is some sort of supernatural non-human creature. If Ong Bak 2 had established this, then it wouldn’t be an issue, but they didn’t, so now it becomes a jarring difference. They changed the rules that governed that world, and in telling a story you just can’t do that. An argument can be made that it was hinted at in part 2, but if that was the case then it should’ve stayed that way for part 3, not having black gas invading people’s bodies and Dan Chupong on wires flying around (it was only one scene, but still). The way the story dealt with Rajasena also left a lot to be desired, and had no real emotional payoff. Neither did the fates of the rest of Tien’s pirate friends, who are quickly brushed aside, making their appearances in Ong Bak 2 feel somewhat like a waste of time and potential.
Tony Jaa did a good job as Tien, this time getting to emote a bit more than in the previous film. Wongkamlao was his old comedy self as Mhen, but he needed to be in the film more. Dan Chupong was great as Bhuti, but seemed to lose his menace as the film went along.
The fight choreography was a mixed bag. It was technically good, and the stunt men did some crazy things but overall there was a been-there-seen-that feeling I got as I watched. No fight in the film came close to the fight at the end of Ong Bak 2. The fight that should’ve was the long-awaited battle between Jaa and Chupong, but due to story constraints both men are not allowed to really show their stuff when they finally come face to face. The scenes where Tien trains in the new style he uses, coming from a dance Pim teaches him, is better than nearly everything else in the film.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):
CHOREOGRAPHY: (6) It was okay for what it was, but didn’t raise the bar above any of Tony’s–and Panna’s–prior efforts. The fights somewhat suffer due to the change of style from Ong Bak 2, and seemed to just expand on fights you’ve already seen. Maybe the budget and time constraints kept them from coming up with something better?
STUNT WORK: (8) Yeah, the film falters, but not because of the stunt men, who toss themselves off elephants and trees and everything else with a great amount of verve and energy.The elephants also deserve a lot of credit for putting up with all of them.
STAR POWER: (7) Tony Jaa’s reputation took a sure hit from this one, and while he made this film new, exciting martial artists came out with great films of their own, raising the bar to a place he has to reach. Chupong was good but an argument could be made that he should’ve been on-screen less. Wongkamlao wasn’t used nearly as much as he should’ve been.
FINAL GRADE: (6) Ong Bak 3 is a passable film but ultimately disappoints in what should have been a rousing conclusion to Tien’s story. Hopefully this will dissuade Tony Jaa from stepping behind the camera for a very long time–until he’s truly ready.