Every once in a while, a film comes out that changes the game. It happens in every genre, but most impressive to me, may be when it happens in martial arts films. Not unlike the introduction of the masterpiece of a movie, The Raid, and its sequel (which I still have yet to see), Prachya Pinkaew, Panna Rittikrai, and star Tony Jaa brought audiences a new and exciting experience with 2003’s Ong Bak. Spawning two sequels, the Ong Bak trilogy is known amongst fans and filmmakers alike as a true inspiration in martial arts and action films.
The first film in the series is a tale of Ting (Jaa), a ‘hillbilly’ who is sent to the city to retrieve the stolen head of his town’s revered Ong-bak statue. He is joined by another town native, now turned city slicker, Humlae aka George (Petchtai Wongkamlao), and the young Muay (Pumwaree Yodkamol). Ting is thrown into a world of underground boxing, in order to win Humlae money that he owes the local gangs and also to get himself closer to finding Don (Wannakit Sirioput) and the lost Ong-bak statue.
I remember seeing Ong-bak for the first time years ago and being immediately impressed. Before then, I had only seen a handful of martial arts films, starring Jet Li, which I also greatly enjoyed, but seemed rather different from what I was watching Jaa and company do now on-screen. With various camera angles for all of the fight scenes, repeating certain sequences, viewers are able to catch all of the action without missing a single punch, kick, elbow, or leaping knee. This type of excitement is shown throughout the entire film and there is very little time with no action at all.
The acting is great throughout the entire film; Each actor does an awesome job bringing their own touch to each character. Jaa is the super serious, straight-to-the-point country boy, fighter, while the actors portraying Humlae and Muay are humorous and entertaining city kids, who compliment Ting’s character perfectly. There are a slew of different fighters seen in Ong-bak, each having their own unique characteristics.
Having never seen the sequels until now, I was wondering exactly how the following films would continue the story of Ting and his Nong Pradu village. It turns out, the sequels are really prequels and are executed on a much larger scale than the first entry.
Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning takes place many years before the series’ first film. More of a wartime epic than a modern-day martial arts film, everything about this first sequel is much grander than its predecessor. Instead of straight hand-to-hand combat, there is much more weapon use, providing way more variety to each scene and adding a new dynamic to the overall feel of the film. The fights almost seem quicker and certainly last much longer than in the 2003 film.
Tony Jaa even steps up his acting game a notch for this sequel, displaying more emotion and feeling through each scene. His character, Tien, has much more depth than his previous portrayal of Ting, giving the character more motivation and drive to seek revenge for past events. In Ong-Bak, Ting is helping his town get a precious item back, but in Ong-Bak 2, Tien’s journey is much more personal.
It is quite evident that in the five years between the first and second films, expectations for what a great epic Thai film looks like increased greatly. With a much higher budget, Panna Rittikrai and Tony Jaa, this time in the co-director’s seat, as well, were able to make a much better product with larger set pieces, more performers, top-notch Thai A-list actors, and a much better product overall.
Do not take your eyes off of the screen for the last 30 minutes of the film because if you do, you will miss some truly amazing action. With one of the longest, continuous fight scenes I’ve ever seen, Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning ends with an awesome climax and will certainly have you looking forward to watching Ong-Bak 3: The Final Battle.
The final film in this series starts off right where Ong-Bak 2 left off. Tien is captured and tries fighting his way out of captivity from what seems like 100’s of warriors. Because the story is already established, it doesn’t take long at all for the action to begin. Fists, knees, feet, and various weapons begin to whip around the screen within the first few minutes of the movie.
As the story progresses, it is made rather obvious that Jaa and Rittikrai did not want to make a carbon copy of their previous film. Ong-Bak 3 is much different from both of the previous entries and has a much darker tone to it. There are even some underlying subjects that would be seen in the horror genre, such as supernatural spirits and evil curses. The Crow Demon or Crow Ghost is a character that is introduced briefly in the second film, but is re-introduced as Tien’s main adversary in this third installment, leading to the film’s inevitable final battle between the two.
The action is just as good, if not better, than in the second film, keeping the excitement of the trilogy fresh. If you enjoyed The Raid, then give the Ong-Bak trilogy a sit through. It has tons to offer, covering comedy, action, and horror, so you will have plenty to keep you entertained. Pick up the boxset today from Magnet Releasing.
I give the entire trilogy an overall rating of 4.5 knees to the head out of 5.