Ong-Bak: The Tai Warrior

Ong-Bak: The Tai Warrior – A review by John D’Amico


Ong-Bak PosterIn 1973, Bruce Lee died at the age of 32, taking with him the heyday of martial arts films. In the 1980s, Jackie Chain and Jet Li created a brief revival with a series of stunning fight films, but that ended when they emigrated. Since then, nearly all martial arts films have been period pieces laden with CGI and wirework. If there is any hope for bringing back the raw, no-FX films of yesteryear, it lies with Ong-Bak, the best pure martial arts film since Enter the Dragon.

Tony Jaa plays Ting, a humble young country boy in a rural Thailand village, who goes on a quest to retrieve the stolen head of the village deity, the titular Ong-Bak. Ong-Bak was stolen by a drug peddler working for a cold-blooded crime boss who, for some reason, collects stolen Buddha heads. Naturally, this McGuffin leads him to seedy fight clubs, rope fist fights and back-alley chases, as well as a former villager turned unscrupulous gambler with (once again, naturally) a heart of gold.

Tony Jaa is a fascinating figure in his fights. His style resembles Jake LaMotta more than Bruce Lee, as he lets his opponents smack him around before raining hell upon them. And it is indeed hell he rains – with blinding speed he punches, kicks, leaps and smashes his way through the film. Despite the brutality, it is all played with a sense of humor (be on the lookout for graffiti addressed to Luc Besson and Steven Spielberg, and a foot chase not out of place in a car commercial).

With a villain straight out of a Bond film, a protagonist who rivals Bruce Lee, thrilling chases and amazing stunts, Ong-Bak is a film to see. The limited release date is Feb. 11, do yourself a favor and catch this one. By the way, you might be wondering why we’re reviewing a non-genre film. We just thought it’d be a nice change of pace.