In the wake of action genre has-beens like Steven Seagal, Jean Claude Van Damme and…err… Lorenzo Lamas comes Tony Jaa, a Thai martial artist out to make his mark in cinema as a "no strings attached" stunt actor. Taking a similar approach as (early) Jackie Chan, Jaa utilizes his skills to perform all stunts without the aid of stand-ins, CG work or harnesses. What this means is that every painful move that is performed in Ong-Bak had to be perfectly choreographed, as many of the feats presented could have easily maimed Jaa and his supporting cast. Prior knowledge of Jaa's commitment to his stunt work aside, the shit that gets pulled off in Ong-Bak would have left jaws dropping anyways. Folks, this is a serious ass-kicking film!
The village where Ting (Jaa) lives is situated far from the corrupt lifestyles of the inhabitants of Bangkok, Thailand. His community is a peaceful one, where religion not only molds but unifies its people. The symbol of luck for the village's people is Ong-Bak, a golden statue that is under the care and guard of resident monks, one of which (who is still in training) is Ting. When the statue is stolen from the village, Ting is sent to find its captors in Bangkok. He is the village's only chance at regaining their precious relic. However, at first glance, Ting looks like a major pushover, and the viewer can easily see that he'll fall prey to Bangkok's hustling ways.
Once Ting reaches Bangkok, he is advised to seek the help of a fellow villager that migrated to the big city. Turns out that Humlae (although named Dirty Balls in the foreign version) is now a street hustler and is reluctant to help Ting, or even recognize his own roots in the village. After a great deal of persistence and saving Humlae's skin, Ting convinces him to help locate the thieves of the Ong-Bak. Finding the criminals in Bangkok is easy, however retrieving the Ong-Bak from Bangkok's most feared crime lord is a bit more difficult, as Ting is forced to become a pit fighter to win back the statue.
The story behind Ong-Bak is paper thin, with the dialogue being a far cry from anything above a high school education. However, we're not looking to purchase this film because of its encompassing theme, rather it's brutal series of ass whoopings and insane stunt work. If I were an action star from the 90's, I would be embarrassed after seeing Jaa perform in Ong-Bak. Granted, it's all acting, but the amount of physical demand that Jaa puts on his body is ridiculous. The man can leap 10 feet across a room to deliver a knee to somebody's face! People like Van Damme and Seagal would have needed to call in Ringling Bros. to set up an elaborate trapeze session to complete that act.
Now that we've established what drives the film for the audience, we get to the extras. I've seen a fair share of creativity in extras before, but Ong-Bak's Special Features were some of the best marketed I have ever witnessed. Fully aware that the focal point of the film is fighting, 20th Century and Magnolia Pictures load the disc with features on Muay Thai and Tony Jaa. Included is a breakdown of the 8 fundamental movements of Muay Thai Kickboxing, behind the scenes stunt footage, a really lame French rap video featuring Tony Jaa, and a wicked live performance of Jaa and his stuntmen from the film.
Ong-Bak gives new appreciation to the martial arts genre - one that transcends image, accent and muscular booty shots. Tony Jaa is for real, and his films will most certainly leave a bruise on the egos of action has-beens.