Blu-ray Review
by Kevin Carr

    MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    Rated R
    Studio: 20th Century Fox

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When the beloved idol of a small village is stolen by a thief in the night, the villagers choose one of their own to go to the big city to track it down. Ting (Tony Jaa) travels to the city to uncover the thief in the underground world of illegal fighting. To find the idol, he must become a fighter himself, using the sacred art of rope fighting. With the help of a former villager who had traveled to the city to forget his humble past, Ting is determined to overthrow the local gangsters to find his prize.

As with anyone who enjoys action cinema, I’ve seen a decent amount of Asian martial arts films. My viewing library has been nowhere near extensive, but I’ve seen enough to enjoy a good beat-‘em-up like I enjoy a good shoot-‘em-up film. In this sense, I found “Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior” to be an awful lot of fun.

The storyline feels like it was plucked from a Steven Seagal film from the 1980s rather than a movie made in 2003, but unlike most of Seagal’s films, this movie delivers on the action and the martial arts. This is due to the Bruce Lee-like charisma of star Tony Jaa, who may not be the best actor on the planet but he can kick ass with the best of them.

The best parts of this movie are the gritty and grisly fight sequences that have a power and intensity you don’t find in many movies nowadays. There are some fantastic stunts which are taken more seriously than the Jackie Chan style of filmmaking, which most people are accustomed to nowadays. This is held together by a decent plot that has a nice variety of characters – from Jaa’s do-gooder portrayal of Ting to his slovenly cousin Humlae.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for the contemporary stories of the little guy fighting the crime syndicate.

As much as I enjoyed “Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior” as a guilty pleasure, it will never live in my mind as a great. So many of these martial arts films have been made – and many of them with actors that do their own stunts – that there is a run-of-the-mill feel about the whole thing. Maybe there just weren’t enough elephants in this version.

The newly released Blu-ray includes a live performance by Tony Jaa in France, a rap music video from the soundtrack and Jaa presenting “The Movements of Muay Thai” and breaking them down by title and action.

Anyone who likes a different take on the basic martial arts movie.

DVD Review
by Kevin Carr

    MOVIE: ** (out of 5 stars)
    BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    Rated R
    Studio: Magnet Releasing

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Five hundred years before the events of “Ong Bak,” Tony Jaa’s character of Tien becomes an unlikely hero to his people when he faces the yoke of tyranny of regional slave traders. Touched by violence as a young child, Tien grows to become a worthy opponent who faces the power structure of 1421 feudal Thailand and discovers some alarming secrets about his own history.

Although it serves as a prequel to “Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior,” “Ong Bak 2: The Beginning” is a very different film. First, it jumps back in time almost 600 years to feudal Thailand to tell the early story of our village’s plight. It sets the stage for what would happen centuries later in the first film and presents Tony Jaa’s character of Tien as the blood warrior of the region.

As much as the first film demonstrated the raw power of Tony Jaa, this film takes things up several notches with thee action and fight sequences. The cinematography of these sequences are brilliant, showing a raw and gritty world. In particular, there’s a part in the film when a young Tien fights a crocodile which is simply breathtaking.

For the most part, this powerful action holds up throughout the film, and it takes the martial arts action to a fantastic level. The sense of “Ong Bak 2” is that it is a bigger film with a bigger budget. This trades off some of its rustic charm from the first movie, but it makes the film a spectacle to watch, at least from the scenery and action front.

The biggest hurdle “Ong Bak 2” faces is that the story just isn’t there. Rather than having a single quest as Jaa had in the first film, his character is just called in routinely like a local superhero. I really didn’t get a good feel of the relationship, and the plot and characters definitely took a back seat to the action. It was epic action, I will admit, but that doesn’t mean that the writers should give up on the rest of the film completely.

In the end, “Ong Bak 2” had a better start than finish, which got a bit tedious by the end. On the whole, “Ong Bak 2” suffered too much with the lack of story and character.

The Blu-ray comes with an alternate cut of the film as well as a lengthy making-of featurette in three parts: “the Story and Character of an Epic,’ “Revealing the Majesty” and “The Art of War.” There is also a trio of behind-the-scenes featurettes: “Capturing a Warrior,” “The Kingdom” and “The Community.”

Additional special features include interviews with the cast and crew, some exclusive footage for “Ong Bak 3,” which continues the story from this film, plus the U.S. and international trailers.

The only real drawback to these extensive bonus features is that most of them are not in English and require subtitles. I know that’s an elitist thing to say, but that’s how I roll. At least there’s an HDNet feature “A Look at Ong Bak 2” included, which is my native language. I know... I’m a low-brow snob.

People who love Thai martial arts, and especially Tony Jaa.


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