Ong-Bak made its world premiere as the closing film of the 2003 Bangkok International Film Festival. Nation Weekend's Manond Apanich was there, and he wrote the following review, which was originally published on January 31, 2003 on Page 18 of Nation Weekend:
In the vein of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, Ong-Bak carries the tradition of action-stunt films very well, almost too well. So well that even the insignificant plot and story line of a wholesome hero surrounding himself in the evils of society is replicated to a tee.
The setting is set when the villagers of Nong Pradu find the town's most revered possession, their Buddha image, defaced. The head has been severed off bringing bad omens to the town and the villages respond by sending Ting (Tony Jaa), the town's best fighter, to get it back.
Ting is led to a mafia ring in Bangkok that's heading a nationwide Buddha image heist. Showing off his Muay Thai tactics, Ting fights his way through all the sex, drugs and thugs in big bad Bangkok to track down the head of his town's beloved Ong-Bak, which takes up about 90 per cent of the movie.
The stunts and action are a beautiful showcase of obscure and elaborate moves from the ancient art of Muay Thai. Director Prachya Pinkaew does a good job localising all the action by incorporating prominent Bangkok characteristics such as tuk-tuks and Khao San Road as a backdrop to all of the action.
The film uses lots of traditional Muay Thai moves that you don't get to see on TV very often. "Muay Thai is a national artform and to be able to bring it to the big screen is something to be taken seriously," Prachya told the audience before the movie's premier at the closing ceremony of the Bangkok International Film Festival on January 21, 2003.
The action is well executed enough to make even comic-relief character Petchtai Wongkamlao an action hero. With flying elbows and kicks to the face, this movie packs it all in with a distinctly Thai flavour.