9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Giddying martial artistry,
This review is from: Warrior King [DVD] (DVD)
One of my favourite films from last year was Ong Bak. A welcome shot of wire free, no cgi martial arts that left me giddy with excitement during and after I'd seen it. Needless to say that the star, Tony Jaa, had been working on another film which I'd been keeping tabs on for when it would arrive over here. It was a film from Thailand and subtitled to boot and because of this was only available on limited release over here in the UK.
The movie started and in many ways it was quite poor. The acting from some people, the story, some of the dubbing and the way that things had been dreamt up that would look good in a set piece but no explanation given as to why they would be there. Some of the graininess on the film was so shocking, particularly in the fire/water fight scene, that it could have been filmed on a mobile phone. You could tell the film wanted to be a western one or at least appeal to the western audience and had it's share of flashy camera movements and quick editing which I did get a little concerned at. I don't mind some of the flashy stuff but I was worried that I might not be able to see some of the fight moves. The story didn't have a lot of cohesion or explanation and was shot on some of the grainiest stock I've ever seen but after a time you didn't really mind. What it had was imagination and energy. It spent a lot of time showcasing the elephants which then paid off near the end and explained why Tony reacted as he did.
It wasn't your staid Hollywood film that follows a series of tick boxes and although a little jumbled and chaotic, it was it's energy that dragged you along with it. When the fight scenes started you couldn't help but gasp out loud, maybe put together a little clap or even just quietly mouth obscenities. The fights in Ong Bak are excellent and I did wonder if they could be improved upon and amazingly they were. The first major fight in this bus/tram warehouse had some amazing stunts but still didn't catch fire for me. The next was this continuous four-five minute shot as Tony worked his way up this circular staircase dispatching goons at every opportunity. By the time he got to the top you could see his was completely knackered but it was still amazing.
The best fights though were the ones where he was upset. Then he was fighting angry and you could see the rage coming through in his fighting. There are so many martial arts films where the hero talks about his combat skills only being a form of defense and he seems to just parry blows and push others away. In this one though, and certainly at the end fight which seems to last for about 15 minutes, he fought annoyed and intent on causing some serious damage. This is the kind of fighting I've always wanted to see. A fighter who has had something taken from him and is so enraged he wants to take it out on everyone else. Tony goes through this troop of bad guys snapping arms, knees and any other bones he can think of in mind boggling, wonderful style. The moves are breathtaking and so inventive. I couldn't stop giggling in a mixture of shock and awe. He really gave the impression that he was dangerous and you felt like you wouldn't want to enter his body zone for fear of coming out with a dislocated shoulder and your arm broken in three places. The film even managed to inject some x-ray style footage of bones breaking and snapping.
You've got to hand it to the main lead. He researched the ancient art of Muay Thai for Ong Bak and in this film even went some way to invent a new style which related to the elephants (ie breaking, stomping etc). He is incredibly athletic, creative and does possess some emotional range. When he is torn apart by the death of those close to him you can really see it and the rage that the sorrow creates is unleashed in a wave of bone crunching fury. I hope he goes from strength to strength, getting more fame and bigger budgets. One can only hope that a Hollywood studio doesn't get hold of him and water down his style and impact to the insipid level that it did with Jet Li in Lethal Weapon 4. Considering this is only his second major film (take a look at Chan, Li and Van Damme's early films) I think he has a very promising future and one that he richly deserves.
Such an entertaining film. When I left the cinema I felt exactly like I had after Ong Bak. Tingling, breathless and light headed from what I'd seen. OK the makers might have chucked just about everything in the film to push it along but in a way I respect them for doing their utmost to entertain the audience. Like I said before in this age of sanitised films where studios are wary of taking chances and want to put everything into the trailer this was a really welcome blast of exuberant film-making that dazzled, enthralled and exhilarated me.