BLU-RAY REVIEW: Ong-Bak & Ong-Bak 2
Tony Jaa delivers some of the best martial arts captured on film...
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There are few things better than watching a good martial arts film. As one who has absolutely no martial art abilities (I can't even throw a good punch!), I have a respect for those who train their minds and bodies to be able to perform these amazing feats of fighting prowess. For years, Bruce Lee has reigned as the supreme overlord of martial arts. In a time when few even knew what martial arts were, Lee delivered flying fists and feet that made the world take notice. However, that was 30 years ago and times have changed...
In 2003, the world was introduced to Tony Jaa. A Thai-born martial artist with little acting experiance, Jaa delivered a startlingly solid and authentic performance in his first international hit, Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior. Following this hit, the actor starred in the 2004 film The Protector and the 2005 film Tom-Yum-Goong. Now, Jaa has delivered an amazing follow-up to the film that made him a star:Ong-Back 2.
The original Ong-Bak is nothing short of sensational and, if you're a martial arts film fan and haven't seen Ong-Bak, you're not really a martial arts film fan. Yup, you heard that right. Ong-Bak is one of those films that makes you instantly take notice of the main actor; in this case - Tony Jaa. Jaa is a one-man powerhouse, delivering some of the most amazing stunts and fights I've ever seen captured on film. Oh, I forgot to mention, Jaa does all his own stunts. Like Jackie Chan, Jaa isn't afraid to sacrifice the body in order to make his motion pictures realistic...and sacrifice he does. From jumping through rolls of barbed wire fence to throwing himself off of buildings, through wood, and into walls, Jaa is the real deal. He's as hardcore as they come and his performance in Ong-Bak proves it.
Like many martial arts films, which seem to have the little plot, Ong-Bak too suffers from this syndrome. Tien (played by Jaa) is a young farm boy from a farming village in Thailand. When the village's statue/deity is stolen, it's up to Tien - who's been trained in the ancient ways of the local martial art - to get it back. Now you might not think that sounds all that interesting (and you'd be right!) but it's not so much the story as the adventure that's impressive here. Tien must embarks to "the big city" in order to get back what is rightfully the village's property and along the way he battles fighters, gangsters, and thieves and delivers some of the most intense action captured on modern film.
Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior is now available on Blu-ray for the first time and includes a variety of special features. A "Live Tony Jaa and Stuntmen Performances" shows the star and others perform some amazing stunts while "The Movements of Muay Thai" show some of the martial arts moves from the film. The disc also includes a French rap music video by the group Tragedie featuring Jaa as well as some clips from the film and there's even a "Making of" the rap video for those that care. There are a number of scenes from b-roll footage which show some exciting fights and chases, a short video promo for the film featuring The RZA, and numerous trailers for the film.
Overall, Ong-Bak is one of those films that, for action film fans, is a "must see." For martial arts film fans, it's a "must own," and for everyone else, it's one of those foreign films that you can brag about having seen when no one else has...
Thanks to the success of the first Ong Bak, Jaa has returned again as Tien, only this time, it's 1421 and Tien is a prince whose family has been killed. Adopted by a tribe of bandits, the young Tien must learn to fight in order to survive...and learn to fight and survive he does...
The first half of the film finds Tien growing to adulthood and reminiscing about his childhood in flashbacks which reveal some of the background story to viewers. The second half of the film is a total, all out war against the guys who Tien learns have killed his family and made him an orphan. Running on elephants, flipping river boats, and fighting guys with spears, swords, knives, chains, and even elephants; there's action here like you've never seen.
While the original film was spectacular because of its no-name star and low, low budget, Ong Bak 2 delivers with Jaa as both co-director and star and a bigger budget that allows for more action. No doubt Jaa has learned from his past experience and delivers with this tale of revenge that's left with a cliffhanger...and exclusive footage from Ong Bak 3!
Ong Bak 2, like its predecessor, has only a few special features, including a shorter "alternate" cut of the film; a 20 minute "Making Of" featurette that's focused on various aspects of the film (including the characters, the production, and the martial arts); an 18-minute-long hodgepodge of b-roll that shows everything from fight scenes to cast and crew goofing off; 25 minutes worth of interviews with cast and crew; a 3 minute "HDNet: A Look at Ong Bak 2" featurette, two trailers for the film, numerous other trailers for other films, and - as previously mentioned - exclusive footage from the forthcoming Ong Bak 3.
Overall, Ong Bak 2 is bigger than the first, though not necessarily better. What made the original great is only reemphasized in the sequel, but the underground feel of the original is lost in exchange for a bigger budget and more action sequences. For those who loved the first Ong Bak, Ong Bak 2 will continue to tickle your fancy...and kick you in the head. Not to be missed, Ong Bak and Ong Bak 2 on Blu-ray now wherever fine home video is sold.
- Jess C. Horsley