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Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (2003)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/2/2010

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/9/2010

There's an old chestnut which says, "Everything old is new again". (Wait a minute, does that mean that someone is going to come up with a new version of that saying?) This is certainly true in movies, as genres and ideas are recycled every few years, die out, and then somehow come back to life. This is certainly the case with Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, a martial arts film which eschews the flavor of hits such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero for a feel which is closer to the Hong Kong films of the 1970s.

Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior in a small village in Thailand, where we meet Ting (Tony Jaa), a local champion who is trained in the Muay Thai fighting style. However, Ting has vowed to never use his skills against another man. When Don (Wannakit Sirioput) steals the head of "Ong-Bak", a sacred statue, Ting is sent to the city to retrieve it. Once there, he seeks out a fellow villager named Humlae (Perttary Wongkamlao), who has changed his name and become a petty thief. Although Humlae promises to help Ting find Don, he actually leads him to a local fighting/gambling den, where Ting inadvertently enters a fight and becomes the champion, unaware that the mob bosses who have the statue head are watching. The greedy Humlae encourages Ting to enter more fights in order to win more money, but the noble Ting only wants to find the head. Once Ting has proven that he is a great fighter, he finds himself being chased by the mob. Ting must use his Muay Thai skills to get the head back and save his village.

Going into Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, I really didn't know much about the movie. I'd seen it mentioned numerous times in on-line discussions of foreign films, and I honestly thought that it was more of an art-house film. Boy, was I wrong. Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior is a straight-up, old-school, chop-socky fighter that is more concerned with elaborate stunts than with story. Tony Jaa isn't just the star of the film, he is the film.

From the outset, it becomes clear that Ong-Bak is an action film through-and-through, and it certainly delivers on the action. The movie features many dynamic fight scenes and chases, both on foot and with vehicles. The fight scenes are made up of the more traditional street-fighter type and also Thai rope fighting, where the fighters hands are wrapped with rope. (Unfortunately, because of Hot Shots Part Deux, I can't watch these scenes with a straight face.) Director Prachya Pinkaew has opted to give many of the action scenes an odd look, as many of Jaa's moves are shown multiple times from different angles, and often in slow-motion. This technique definitely reminded me of Jackie Chan's Hong Kong films, as the movie actually slows down in order for the audience to get a better look at the star's technique. And while many of Jaa's moves are very impressive, my favorite being when he slid under the car while doing a split (!), seeing them over and over is jarring at times.

Many recent action films have proven that it is possible to make an exciting movie which still has a deep story. Ong-Bak isn't concerned with this approach, and this really hurts the film. The story never goes any further than the idea that Ting must get the idol back and that he'll stop at nothing to get it. We learn basically nothing about Ting or Humlae. At the outset, Ting is told to never use his skills to fight. After his first fight, we fully expect the scene where he wrestles with this moral dilemma. Nope, he just keeps on fighting. I was really surprised by just how shallow this movie is. I often found myself tempted to fast-forward through the dialogue scenes to the next moment of action. Ong-Bak will certainly appeal to those who grew up watching poorly-dubbed kung-fu movies, as it will be a chance to see the new blood involved in this genre. Those looking for an action movie with a more intelligent side need not apply.

Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior leaps onto Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc features an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 16 Mbps. Let's be honest, we are getting spoiled by the clarity of Blu-ray Discs. So, when a sub-par one comes along, it's jolting. The image here is flat and lifeless, and it's obvious that despite the work which went into it, the HD transfer simply can't do much with the movie's low-budget origins. The colors are very drab and the image is somewhat dark. On the positive side, there isn't as much grain as one would expect, and I noted no significant defects from the source material. The Disc holds a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. (It should be noted that both the Thai and English tracks are offered in DTS-HD MA 5.1.) The track(s) provide clear dialogue and sound effects. I'm happy to say that the audio fares much better than the video. As one would hope, the audio is very good during the action scenes. We feel every punch being landed and we are surrounded by crowds or street sounds. The stereo effects are good, but it's the dynamic surround effects which make this track work.

The Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior Blu-ray Disc has a few meager extras. "Live Tony Jaa and Stuntmen Performance Before French Auditorium Audience" (2 1/2 minutes) is exactly what it sounds like, as Jaa does his stuff live. (It's interesting to note that the film was promoted by Luc Besson in France.) We get a brief look at many of Jaa's moves in "The Movements of Muay Thai" (2 minutes). The Disc offers a "Music Video" from French artist Tragedie featuring Reed the Weed for the song "I'm Still Ghetto". Tony Jaa is featured in the video (4 minutes) and in the "Making of Music Video" (7 minutes) which contains behind-the-scenes footage from the video shoot. "Selected B-Roll" shows alternate takes and angles for 3 action scenes. The final extra is a 1-minute promo for the film featuring The Rza.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long