When the head of Ong-Bak, the sacred Buddha of a poor village, is taken, the village is plunged into misery. Ong-Bak was the focal point of an anniversary vigil, that happens once every 24 years and is believed to bring rain to the drought-stricken area. Ting played by Tony Jaa, one of the younger members of the village, is selected by the people to travel to Bangkok and get the relic back in time for their ceremony. Taught muay thai by the elder monks, they also forbade him to use it in combat. This goes in direct conflict with modern world he is now entering.
This is one of the best movies in this genre I have ever seen. It is all very well acted, the stunts and special effects are top notch but beyond all that one really feels these characters are 3 dimensional. Especially Ting, George played by Petchai Wongjamlao and Don played by Wannakit Sirioput. With Ting representing good, Don representing evil and George sort of walking between those two realms, this film really gives you a sense of the culture it has come from.
The movie begins with a game that looks like something very similar to capture the flag. We see the village that Ting lives in and get a real sense for how embedded in his culture he is. Once he is forced to leave this place, and enter the seedy underworld searching for Don who has stolen Ong-Bak, this is when he comes into contact with George and learns that people engage in muay thai fighting as sport for money.
So many times the images we get of Asian culture from movies like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and others...show them to be very skilled, very noble type people. As of late, and in different types of genres you have Asian films like Better Luck Tomorrow and The Debut which shatter these stereotypes. In a good way. It makes these characters seem much more human, as opposed to just being virtuous butt kickers.
You take a film like Ong-Bak and it mixes the two worlds nicely because you have all three characters represented, yet Ting isn't 100% good. He disobeys the monks who have forbade him from using his muay thai skills. Yet he has to use them in order to achieve his end goal of returning Ong Bak to his people. Herein lies the problem, because he finds himself surrounded by people like George . So the film really becomes a character study of being in the midst of sense gratification but not getting swallowed up by it.
Another nice aspect of this movie was the middle ground that it walked between character and action. The action scenes are in no way overdone. Take for example the chase scene through Bangkok. It begins with Ting getting away from some people and then when the chase ensues it feels like the appropriate pay off. Shortly after this, there is a bar brawl where he takes on 3 people at different times and each opponent differs in their skill level. Again, it isn't overdone. It is somewhat comical, but not in the way that a Jackie Chan film like Rumble in the Bronx is.
All in all, this is a very well done film. When I first got the assignment, I wasn't too excited about it because I expected it to be told mostly within the milieu of the village. Then, to my surprise it took me out of that world, put me in another all while showing what a lush and truly beautiful place Bangkok is.
Normally, I would see a poster for this type of film in the theater and I wouldn't give it another look. Truthfully, anybody that has read my other reviews knows that Asian Action movies just aren't my thing. I went into this movie a blank page and I was glad that I did. Not only was this a rich viewing experience, it has opened my mind up to other titles that I may not be giving a fair shake to.
In the future, I look forward to exploring this genre more. It seems that if there are gems like Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior to be found, then there must surely be others.
This is a great new film to start 2005!