Monday, May 10, 2010

Review: Ong-Bak 3

  • Directed by Tony Jaa
  • Written by Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikrai
  • Starring Tony Jaa, Nirut Sirijanya, Chupong Changprung, Saranyu Wongkrajang, Primrata Dech-udom, Phettai Wongkumlao
  • Released in Thai cinemas on May 5, 2010; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Under duress two years ago to show his magnum-opus martial-arts epic, what Thatchakorn "Tony Jaa" Yeerum gave us with Ong-Bak 2 was an unfinished movie.

He's finally found an ending to his story of the ancient warrior Tien battling evil warlords as well as his inner demons.

Ong-Bak 3 (องค์บาก 3) picks right up from the cliffhanger ending of 2008’s film, with Tien held captive by the warlord Jom Rachan (Saranyu Wongkrajang). He's beaten, brutalized and tortured in Jom Rachan's 13 prescribed ways. Just don't try to count those ways.

Tien miraculously recovers but must fight two or three more battles before he can achieve inner peace. The action, which incorporates an elephant herd, is stupendous as always. However, it also feels perfunctory, rushed and -- sad to say this about the sight of a man swinging around on elephant tusks -- even routine. But at least there’s an ending.

Tony, who writes, directs, produces, action-choreographs and stars, does everything he probably wanted to achieve in the first movie but ran out of time and money.

There is more attention given to the martial-arts discipline of nattayuth, which combines meditation techniques and traditional khon dancing with mixed martial arts. This means more scenes of Tien meditating and practicing his dancing.

Supporting characters who only played small roles in Ong-Bak 2 have significantly expanded parts here.

In fact, it's "Dan" Chupong Changprung who pretty well steals the show playing the villain Bhuti Sangkha. The mysterious crow-like fighter only turned up for a little bit in Ong-Bak 2, but he's a major character here, and "Diew" Chupong shows that he has the range to play a bad guy. He's awesome. Draped in a black cloak and covered in tattoos that give him supernatural powers, he's much like the evil emperor in Star Wars, feeding on fear, anger and hate.

There has to be a Jedi master to counter that Sith lord and in Ong-Bak 3 it's Phra Bua. Portrayed by veteran actor Nirut Sirijanya, he has the demeanor of Alec Guinness' Obi-Wan Kenobi and the pointy ears and bald head of Yoda. Phra Bua was seen in Ong-Bak 2, mentoring the boy Tien, teaching the nobleman's son about dance and spiritual matters. Here, he's become a monk, transformed by deep meditations that put him in touch with the evil incantations of Bhuti Sangkha, which are causing much suffering in the realm.

Phettai "Mum Jokmok" Wongkumlao also has a bigger role, bringing comic relief to the otherwise heavy, melodramatic proceedings. Unshaven and unkempt, he's the village idiot Mhen, another figure from Tien's boyhood.

And there's a girl -- Tien's childhood sweetheart, the dancer Pim (Primrata Dech-udom) -- who helps nurse the nearly dead Tien back to health after a palace order saves him from the executioner's sword.

With the exception of Dan Chupong, all these supporting characters mean action fans are going find plenty to be bothered about in Ong-Bak 3. More meditation and dancing. They are things that are close to Tony's heart and nice to see if you are into Thai culture. But Westerner fanboys are going to hit fast forward.

And one bit the Westerner fanboys are going to hate is when the lovely Pim is trying to show the broken and battered Tien how to dance again, and she sings a shaky song enunciated by the word "noy". Noy, noy, noy, noy, noy. And it's an-noy-ing. And the two don't share any romantic chemistry -- better they just be friends and leave it at that.

As for the fighting, there's an opening piece when Tien fights valiantly as a couple dozen men hold him down and beat him with quarterstaffs (or are they buck and a quarter quarterstaffs?). Not much technique, just a bunch of guys gathered around whupping on Tony.

Another fight doesn't even involve Tien, because he's too beat up. This has the mysterious basket-head fighter and a couple other ninja-like guys in black clashing with anonymous warriors from the Ayutthaya palace.

Dan Chupong gets his licks in. Unfortunately, his first big fight scene -- him against a few hundred guys -- takes place in the dark and he's wearing a black cloak. Nothing to see here. Move along. A second fight is better, taking place in the daylight in the ruins of an ancient Khmer palace, with the wire-assisted Chupong smashing men through the meter-thick stone walls.

Tien's biggest fight it seems is with himself. He walks to the cliff edge, not to admire the magnificent day-for-night view of the Dangrek Mountain plateau, but to throw himself off because he's in so much pain. He's sad because he lost his stepfather (Sorapong Chatree) and is ashamed he lost the battle.

"Meditate," the monk Phra Bua advises. Yeah, thanks for that Phra Bua.

So cue the scenes of the bearded Tien meditating in caves, sitting cross-legged in babbling brooks and perfecting his new discipline of nattayuth. Cut to the Buddha image -- fans of 2003's Ong-Bak know which one -- then cut to Tien, back to the Buddha and back to Tien, the "chosen one". Notice any symbolism? He's Buddha, Jesus, Neo, Luke Skywalker and Bruce Lee all wrapped up into one.

He's ready to fight when it's I guess the "golden vest" warriors come calling. Even with the help of Mhen, Tien can't stop them from wiping out the village.

And so things are set up for one final confrontation between Tien and Bhuti Sangkha. This should be the knock-down-drag-out fight to end them all, but it doesn't feel that way. Even with the elephant herd. But though there is an ending, finally, Ong-Bak 3 is an anti-climax. It doesn't have the tour-de-force epic feel of Ong-Bak 2 and comes off as a promise unfulfilled. In short, Ong-Bak 3 is not as much fun as Ong-Bak 2.

Technically, it's accomplished. The cinematography is clear and vivid, the score and sound design are noteworthy.

Had there not been the rush to show Ong-Bak 2 two years ago, it and Ong-Bak 3 could have been combined into one solid two-hour film instead of two 90-minute ones, eliminating flashbacks, redundant dialog and repeated plotpoints.

But then there wouldn't be the two revenue streams from two movies.

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  1. too bad you didn't like the movie because I'll love this:)

    "In short, Ong-Bak 3 is not as much fun as Ong-Bak 2."
    how can you tell if this movie is not as good as Ong Bak 2, when your previous review for Ong Bak 2 says the movie was disappointing:/
    It means you don't know what you are talking about.

    I'm telling you, if you are a true martial artist fans, you'll love these movies despise their flaws.

    Pim is such a nice tasty looking woman.
    You mentioned Dew and Dan...are they the same person?

    You criticized the dancing a lot, I actually enjoy the dancing in Ong Bak 2.

  2. Nowhere in my review of Ong-Bak 2 did I say it was disappointing. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought Ong-Bak 2 was great!

    Personally, I think the dancing is fine. It's part of Tien's character and part of culture. I respect that.

    But I don't think all viewers of this movie will show that same respect or have as much tolerance for it as I do.

  3. so all in all, you feel that this movie wasn't that great like Ong Bak 2!?

    we'll see about that:)

    how is the fighting anyway? did Tony pull off some beastly moves? was the fighting as badass as Ong Bak 2? any 15 ninja moments in the movie?

  4. Tony has a cool move in the finale fight scene. I don't know how to describe it. It's like he's stomping on bad guys like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

  5. Tien, the "chosen one" LOL

    btw, very nice review, cant wait to see it, since i love the culture.

  6. I hope this makes it to Singapore, despite the general lukewarm response to Ong Bak 2 here

  7. >>if you are a true martial artist fans
    we are only asking for GOOD movies, not to be involved in some train martial training


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