Ong Bak star Tony Jaa is now famous, with many calling for him to be the next Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, all on the basis of this movie. Unfortunately, Ong Bak is low on substance, in spite of exciting action and amazing stunts.
Like many, I was seduced by the trailer – “No wires” etc. – and went along to see Ong Bak after reading many positive reviews. Disappointingly, this film is almost purely martial arts, with barely any plot to hold the fight scenes together. I’m not sure if they just forgot to write a story, or they thought if we saw enough punches and kicks we’d forget there was nothing else going for it. With a rapid introduction, explaining Jaa’s hunt for the lost head of his villages sacred statue of Ong Bak, we quickly see him fighting for his life in gambling dens and the streets of Bangkok. From then on, it’s just one fight after another.
The fighting is great – although there seems to be quite a bit of repetition in the various moves he uses – and does entertain if you like watching martial arts. At times, it is hard to believe Jaa could be so good, and really beat up a man mountain who must weight twice as much as him, but I was prepared to accept that for the sake of the story. Reminiscent of Bruce Lee in all his glory, Jaa takes on inumerable bad guys and still comes out on top. With inventive use of his environment – something we are more used to seeing from Jackie Chan – Jaa dodges and avoids as much as he can, before unleashing a torrent of punches and kicks, as well as flying elbows. He is an unstoppable fighting machine, and it is a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, the lack of a plot means that at 101 minutes, the fighting gets tired after a while. In fact, it doesn’t take too long at all – there is only so much butt-kicking without a point I can accept, and Ong Bak exceeded my limit. Perhaps had I been in any way invested in Jaa or his comrades, I might have cared, but there is so little character information I couldn’t. This is the major failing of Ong Bak.
Jaa is amazing in fight scenes, and stilted and lost in the few moments of exposition. He may need a lot more coaching before he is ready to star in anything other than a plot-less fight film like this.
Whilst entertaining for a while, the lack of a story or characters I cared about left me unsatisfied. See this only if you have been pining for a new martial arts superstar, and don’t much care for storyline or depth.Rating: