Sunday, November 2, 2014

#1,539. Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (2003)

Directed By: Prachya Pinkaew

Starring: Tony Jaa, Petchtai Wongkamlao, Pumwaree Yodkamol

Tag line: "No stunt doubles, no computer images, no strings attached"

Trivia: Tony Jaa trained extensively in the ancient form of Muay Boran (the predecessor to Muay Thai) for four years in preparation for this movie

No computer graphics. No stunt doubles. No wires”, claims a tag line for 2003’s Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (released simply as Ong-Bak in its native Thailand), and to see the movie is to realize how amazing that statement truly is. The film’s star, Tony Jaa, performs feats of strength and agility so impressive you’d assume a team of special effects artists were working overtime. But no…. everything you see in Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior is 100% Tony Jaa, and what he’s able to do will have your jaw scraping the floor in disbelief.

When the head is stolen from the statue of their beloved God, Ong Bak, the residents of Ban Nong Pradu, a small farming community in Thailand, send Ting (Jaa), their best and brightest, to retrieve it. With only a few dollars in his pocket, Ting heads to Bangkok to search for the thief, a thug named Don (Wannakit Sirioput) who works for the city’s biggest crime boss, Komtuan (Suchao Pongwilai). Once in Bangkok, Ting seeks out Humlae (Petchtai Wongkamlao), a cousin of his who left the village several years earlier. To Ting’s dismay, Humlae, now known as “George”, is a street hustler who, along with his partner Muay Lek (Pumwaree Yodkamol), begs, borrows, and steals every chance he gets. At first, Humlae refuses to help, but changes his mind when he learns Ting is a skilled martial arts fighter. When Ting easily defeats the current champion of a small fight club, who also works for Komtuan, he incites the crime lord’s wrath, leading to a series of encounters with Komtuan’s henchmen that will put all of Ting’s skills to the test.

From start to finish, Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior is the Tony Jaa show, and the actor wastes no time showing the world what he’s capable of; in the opening scene, the young men of Ban Nong Pradu compete against each other in an ancient ritual, vying to be the first to retrieve a flag perched high atop a tall tree. As dozens climb to reach the flag, many fall (or are thrown) to the ground below, but Ting outshines them all, grabbing the prize and descending the tree with the agility of a cat. As exhilarating as this sequence is, the real fun begins when the action shifts to Bangkok, where Ting engages in several fights, all the while trying to avoid the goons Komtuan sends to kill him. An early chase features a number of remarkable feats, with Ting jumping over (and sliding under) cars in his attempt to get away (at one point, he even leaps through an incredibly narrow barbed wire hoop). My favorite chase, however, involves motorized rickshaws, which Ting and Humlai use to pursue Don. In a movie filled with thrills, this sequence stands as the most exciting.

Jaa would go on to appear in a couple of sequels to Ong-Bak (2008’s Ong-Bak 2 and 2010’s Ong-Bak 3), as well as 2005’s The Protector, a movie every bit as electrifying as this one. In each of these films, Tony Jaa lays it all on the line, and like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan before him, pulls off a miracle or two in the process.

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