Friday, December 15

Movie Review (Part 2): Ong-Bak (2003)

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Part 2: The Impressive Stunts

Read Part 1 of movie review (Theme and Story)

More than anything else, what strikes most in Ong-bak is not the story, script, acting nor anything else, but the symphony of flying bodies, breaking bones, and elaborately staged chasing scenes. Ting (Tony Jaa) defies gravity and physics with his authentic Muay Thai moves. He leaps over cars, two intersecting bicycles, market stalls, and even on top of people’s heads. He slides under a moving truck. He runs and escapes through a large coil of barbed wire. He seems to show off what he can do best. And the film seems to be a primer in techniques for hitting people with your elbows and feet through conceivably defensive stances.

Ting keeps the hype strong. All his fight scenes are jaw-dropping. They are all spectacular enough to ignore the other stuff on the film, especially the mediocre story. It puts life to a lifeless storyline and an overused plot. Things could have been really dragging, but seeing Ting outrunning gangs in strictly designed obstacle courses placed in everyday Bangkok busy streets in its dark side is quite a treat.

With those impressive camera movements supplementing the stunts (of fighting with the use of their limbs), the opening scene of the tree-climbing contest sets the pace of the movie filled. The take-off of the story happens when the ancient Buddhist statue of the hero’s village, Ong-bak, is stolen. And Ting is the town’s hero bound to bring back Ong-bak’s head. He maintains a clear mind and heart – not fighting for reasons of vengeance, money or personal gain, but only to retrieve the sacred statue, and later on, be a monk. The story is simple. No much complication on the storyline. In fact, it doesn’t even pay the usual attention to romantic involvements in a storyline.

Only one goal is with him: to finish his mission. No girls, no much fuss about the world. Just bring back the statue using the art and combat of Muay Thai.

The film seems to concentrate more on its physical aspect that the story doesn’t get pushed towards a more brilliant route.

A big portion of the budget falls into burning cars, falling 3-wheeled Thai vehicles, destroying market stalls, elaborate chasing scenes, and making a great number of giant statue heads mostly shot underwater and in a cave. The film doesn’t deal much with the post-production special effects but works mainly with the rawness of what has been captured during the principal photography. The extraordinarily striking moves of the main character lets you forgive some choppy edits.

In the cave sequence, taking it in a more realistic way, a quite mocking audience would ask how come there are no much guns used there for defense? It’s a contemporary setting, where are the guns aimed to kill? It’s obviously the usual fall ignored in the plot to control and contain the action through cinematic hand-to-hand combat scenes. It’s a movie, anyway. As some might say, just try to forgive that part for entertainment’s sake. Just enjoy watching Ting’s tremendous fight scenes for escapist fun.


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