Saturday, September 12, 2009

Movie Review: Ong Bak 2

Ong Bak 2: The Beginning

Thailand, 2008

Genre: Action, martial arts epic

93 minutes

Tien, an orphaned prince, is rescued and trained by a band of pirates from all over Asia, each a master of a different fighting style. Tien becomes the master of all the styles and seeks revenge against the king who killed his family.

Tony Jaa returns in this epic spin off of his breakout hit, “Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior.” Not a sequel really, the film takes place in the ancient Thai kingdoms of Ayuutaya and Sukothai. Using some absolutely gorgeous cinematography, Ong Bak 2 draws from the rich cultural history of Thailand to distract from the mediocre dialogue, bland acting, and contrived story. Beyond the mostly forgettable plot, Jaa steps into a directing role for the first time, following a falling out between him and Prachya Pinkaew, the director of Jaa’s first two films. Jaa’s acting hasn’t expanded too greatly from “The Protector,” but he does get to have some tender moments with Cher Nung, Tien’s pirate adoptive father.

Saving the film, of course, is the amazing action sequences and choreography, making full use of Jaa’s phenomenal athletic abilities. He shifts from style to style with impressive ease and believability, keeping the fight scenes fresh and varied. At the end of the obligatory training/aging montage, he fights a Japanese swordsman, a Chinese kung fu fighter, and what I believe is a Shan wrestler. There is also one scene where he uses a combination of drunken boxing and Indonesian Silat to defeat a band of slave traders. To cap off the movie, the climactic fight scene showcases Jaa’s skills against an army of ninjas wielding a variety of weapons and fighting styles (yes, those are ninjas and Tien was raised by a group of pirates, the irony is not lost on me). Not only is the fight fun to watch, Jaa demonstrates a fantastic command of multiple weapons, including the three-section staff, the Chinese jian, rope dart, and his native krabi krabong style.

While not a great piece of cinema, both the cheesy and intense scenes are equally enjoyable, although for different reasons. The ending lands on a cliffhanger, however, which is unsatisfying, but it does leave room for the sequel, Ong Bak 3. I know I’ll be waiting for it in the next couple of years, even if I can’t remember what happened in the last movie.

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