Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Review: Ong-Bak 2

  • Directed by Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikrai
  • Starring Tony Jaa, Sorapong Chatree, Saranyu Wongkrajang, Santisuk Promsiri, Natdanai Kongthong
  • Released in Thai cinemas on December 5, 2008
  • Rating: 4/5

Dark and foreboding, non-stop action from Tony Jaa is the bright spot in Ong-Bak 2. And, somehow, through the veil of exotic mysticism, a cavalcade of martial-arts styles and almost constant bloodletting, there's something called a story.

Jaa stars as Tien. He's the gifted but impetuous son of a nobleman in the Ayutthaya Kingdom who is spirited away after his parents are killed. He is abducted by slave traders, rescued by an eclectic group of bandits, magicians and warriors, taught various styles of martial arts and then embarks on a deadly path of vengeful carnage.

Originally set to be Jaa's solo debut as a writer, producer, director and martial-arts coordinator, as well as star, the movie's production was halted earlier this year when a frustrated, diva-like Jaa walked off the set in a dispute over money with producers at Sahamongkol Film International. Long-time mentor Panna Rittikrai, who had been kept at arm's length by Jaa during much of the production, came in as a co-director to get the show back on the road. He also co-wrote the story with Jaa. Veteran production designer Ek Iemcheun, who created a massive Khmer-style castle for the film, also co-wrote the screenplay with writer Nantakorn Taveesuk. And Prachya Pinkaew, who directed Jaa in his first two major-studio efforts, Ong-Bak and Tom Yum Goong, and had been reportedly estranged from Jaa over creative differences on Ong-Bak 2, is listed among the producers. Through all the behind-the-scenes drama, the movie went three times over budget, costing 300 million baht.

None of it is wasted. The end result is a surprisingly coherent film, even with its labyrinthine path that encompasses Suriyothai-style palace intrigue (as well as period-costumed opulence). The narrative doubles back on itself through childhood flashbacks and, ultimately, betrayal, in a story about a young man who is all too easily swayed by the power of the dark side as he sets about to exact revenge for the deaths of his parents.

The framework allows Jaa explore many styles of martial arts. To pass his test to become bandit leader, he shows he's the best with a Japanese sword, in kung fu and muay Thai. He singlehandedly conquers a bull elephant with his fists and makes an entire herd of pachyderms bow down to him. He gurgles a jug of wine and lays waste to the slave traders with some drunken boxing a la Jackie Chan in Drunken Master. Shirtless and bleeding, he does his best Bruce Lee impression while wielding a three-sectional staff.

But first and foremost, Jaa's character is a classically schooled khon masked dancer, and in preparation for Ong-Bak 2, Jaa trained under internationally acclaimed contemporary dancer Pichet Klunchuen, whose influence is apparent in the masculine yet graceful dance routine that combines all of Jaa's power and balletic acrobatics. Tien perfoms that piece for an evil warlord in the movie's final buildup.

While there's enough heroic bloodshed to fuel two or three of Chang Cheh's Shaw Bros epics, there's that niggling problem of fighters standing around in a circle just waiting to have a go at the bruised and battered hero. If the bad guys are really all that, they'd dive in and cut Tien to ribbons instead of just hanging about, spinning their swords, spears and sickles.

In the last 20 or 30 minutes, there is non-stop fighting as Tien faces off a never-ending parade of masked warriors.

Jaa's demeanor is perfect for his character of a sombre, embittered, brooding and fierce warrior, who takes perhaps too much enjoyment in robbing, looting and killing. He's a great anti-hero.

In flashbacks, playing the boy Tien is Natdanai Kongthong -- an expressive young actor who shoulders most of the dramatic weight of the story.

Among the featured fighters is the big bruiser Somdet Kaew-ler (The Thief from Dynamite Warrior), who plays the chief enforcer of the slave traders. And, toward the end, Tien meets his match in a mysterious, crow-like fighter -- a barely recognizable Dan Chupong, playing E-ka Dum, the black dove.

And there's a ton of other prominent names as supporting players. Sorapong Chatree, the leading man of dozens of Thai cinema classics, has a meaty and crucial role as Chernang, the turban-clad, bearded leader of the bandits who rescue Tien from slave traders. Saranyu Wongkrajang is the despotic Lord Rajasena who kills Tien's parents. Leading man of the '80s and '90s Santisuk Promsiri plays Tien's nobleman father while veteran actress Patthama Panthong is Tien's mother. Songs-for-life pioneer Nga Caravan appears as an explosives expert in the bandit camp. Smooth soap-opera heartthrob Nirut Sirijanya is Tien's dance instructor. Towering comedian Yokyek Chernyim plays the blind, white-haired sage of the bandits. And the cast wouldn't be complete without Jaa's comic-relief cohort from Ong-Bak and Tom Yum Goong - Mum Jokmok plays a mentally challenged, disheveled resident of the dance academy.

New-face actress "Jajaa" Primrata Dech-Udom portrays a dancer who was the childhood friend of Tien's, and is now the primera ballerina of Lord Rajasena's palace troupe. But as the movie rushes to an abrupt ending, clipping the epic off at around the 90-minute mark, there's not much for her to do.

Instead, there's a message about Tien's karma, and how his abuse of power sealed his fate. But, if the audience wants it bad enough, Tien will come back for more. With a bit of Lucasian revisionism, the familiar visage from the first Ong-Bak appears, making this a prequel to the 2003 film. And judging from the packed auditorium at a suburban Bangkok shopping mall during opening weekend, there's enough approval from the public to ensure Tien will be back in Ong-Bak 3.

See also:

Related posts:


  1. I haven't watched it yet, was planning to go over the weekend. But after reading your review I think I'll go watch it tomorrow.

    I think the movie cost 300 million Baht, did you forget the zeros?

    And how was your journey back to Thailand? Did you take a detour or landed at Suvarnabhumi?

  2. Sunny, I did indeed drop a couple of zeroes. Thanks for pointing that out.

    I took a detour to Singapore and Phuket, and by the time I was ready to come to Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi was open, so I got to land there.

    I hope you enjoy the movie.

  3. Nice review. Bur "sombre"? Man you've been living in the UK English zone for too long. Come back to the light!

  4. Man, i'm so psyched up to see this! Singapore's gotta wait until New Year's Day though!! :(

  5. i wanna watch the 3rd one!


Please, no questions or comments about where to download movies or subtitle files.

Please read the FAQ about Thai films on DVD before asking about where to find a Thai movie on DVD with English subtitles.

Make your comments pertinent to the post you are commenting on. For off-topic comments, general observations or news tips, consider sending an e-mail to me at wisekwai [ a t ] g m a i l [d o t ] c o m.

All comments are moderated. Spam comments will be deleted.