Going into the early screening of Ong Bak: 3, I couldn't help but wonder how in the world Jaa and crew were going to outdo their previous entry which nary contained a scene without bone-snapping brutality. Hell, even its finale was a literal twenty minute bout between Jaa and a multitude of attackers. Where Ong Bak: 1 was an introduction to the powerhouse that was/is Tony Jaa, the second installment was the stylish pinnacle which took every aspect of his martial arts to new flair-filled heights. So it's understandable that expectations would (and should) be high for this concluding segment of the Ong Bak mythos. Sadly, this third and final addition to the series falls flat on its white-belt ass by avoiding what audiences are clamoring to see and instead, focuses (and fails) on what no one truly cared for in the first place.
The story (if you can call it that), is a continuation of the events of Ong Bak: 2. After the ridiculous ending of the second film, things pick up in the third as Tien (Jaa) is repeatedly beaten to a pulp by the evil emperor and his men. Practically dead, he's revived only to come back from the ethereal plain an emotionally and physically ruined individual. Frustrated and in pain, Tien must fight his own personal demons so that he may fight once more--for his people; for his lady-love. That's the simple explanation. If I were to go into more detail about the oh-so broken narrative I'd probably give myself an aneurism. On the storytelling front, this movie is a piece of garbage. Fifteen minutes in, it becomes such a convoluted tale of self-redemption, magic, seizure-inducing flashes, dreams, dancing, lightning bolts, crows, and elephants that there is practically no way to actually discern what the hell is going on. Herein lies the flick's biggest pitfall. In an attempt at sloppy narrative, Jaa (who again directed) compromises the best thing this series had going for it: the action. For the most part, this feels like a self-fulfilling flick--I'm talking M. Night Shyamalan fulfillment, people. Jaa would rather observe the inner trials and tribulations of Bak's central character than watch him kick ass. These segments are so over-dramatized that it appears as though Jaa was going for an Oscar for his performance, rather than a serious workout tossin' baddies left and right. Seriously, this film contains so many training montages that the entertainment factor is nearly killed halfway through. Instead of an onslaught of jump-kicks and knee slams we get dancing. Instead of a constant stream of palm-hits and punches, we get cheesy black smog that goes in and out of people's noses. Instead of truly unique and creative sequences of awesome, we get elephants which pull massive statues--through the air!!! Like a f*cking baseball!!! And don't even get me started on the cop out "rewind" scene, or Jaa's ability to toss lightning bolts from the sky and give sleep-inducing headaches to evil-doers. I'd greatly appreciate a thorough explanation if anyone's got one. Anybody? No?
And as for them action bits...
Well, when they do crop up, they somewhat entertain. The immediacy of the violence during the film's introduction is just groovy, but once over, is paced very poorly. Long stretches of nothing-in-particular cloud the film and cause viewer's eyes to be weighed down rather than drying out from how wide with surprise they should be. Some moments allowed a smile to crest my face while others elicited a brief man-giggle of excitement. But these were few and far between. When my favorite part was a five-second utilization of a bamboo shoot as a weapon--you know there's a problem. And I just have to say that the film's climax (aside from an issue already hinted at above), is just pathetic when considering what was again accomplished with the finale of Ong Bak: 2.
Apparently the filmmakers really wanted this denouement to crash and burn because the movie also falters horribly in the technical department. Poorly rendered effects are littered throughout, editing is disjointed, improper long-shots are chosen to depict scenes, blurred images, out of focus shots, and one of the most unintentionally hilarious repeated zooms in cinematic history make this film hard to appreciate even by die-hard, patronizing fans.
Taking into consideration that this was a market premiere, there is still time before a wide release for this film's issues to be smoothed out--mainly in that of the technical department. As for the version I witnessed, however, it was a complete and utter mess , whose audience couldn't stop laughing after the first thirty minutes. Here's holding out for a possible "Ong Bak 4: The Apology".