Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: PG-13 for extreme violence. In Thai with English subtitles
Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
The infectious energy of martial artist Tony Jaa turns lemons into lemonade in this low-budget sleeper that should launch the international career of cinema’s next Jet Li.
Ong-Bak’s fight choreography is the shining star; the plot an airy confection that serves as the foundation for a thrilling array of Muay Thai (attack and defense foot boxing) stunts and skills.
villager has stolen the precious head in order to curry favor with a ruthless
Off to the mean streets of Bangkok, where Ting attracts a pair of goofy sidekicks and encounters all forms of evil, from street gangs to Fight Club-style bet-and-brawl and the head kingpin himself, a vicious wheelchair-bound creep (Thai vet Sukhaaw Phongwilai) who communicates with the aid of a troubling tracheotomy voice amplifier.
Ting digs deep to resolve the mystery of the missing head, a narrative thread that’s fraught with small-town pride and too healthy a share of streetwise slapstick.
CGI and relying heavily on the thrill of the chase, Ong-Bak is pleasurably reminiscent of the dynamic
Jaa (aka Panom Yeerum) is the real deal; gently charismatic but gifted with a fierce passion for his sport and its balletic but brutal grace. His focused martial arts wizardry is unparalleled; frighteningly powerful and entertaining enough to overcome the film’s unmistakable (but harmless) shortcomings.