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20th Century Fox presents
Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (2003)

"Muay Thai is dangerous."
- Uncle Mao (Chumphorn Thepphithak)

Review By: Jeff Wilson   
Published: August 29, 2005

Stars: Tony Jaa, Perttary Wongkamlao, Pumwaree Yodkamol
Other Stars: Suchao Pongwilai, Mum Jokmok
Director: Prachya Pinkaew

MPAA Rating: R for very strong violence, language, drug use, sexuality
Run Time: 01:45:07
Release Date: August 30, 2005
UPC: 024543204084
Genre: martial arts

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B-C+B C-

DVD Review

I'm somewhat embarrassed by my theatrical viewing experience of Ong-Bak; seeing it opening weekend with like-minded friends in a sold-out theater, I cackled with childish glee at each fight sequence, enough that some of the audience eventually seemed to be laughing at my own laughter on occasion. But then that's the kind of movie this is: a logic-defying, action-driven, brutal fighting flick, meant to appeal to our baser natures. Made with the boast of not using any wires or CG, as most typical martial arts extravaganzas do, one must admit that some of the stunt work borders on the demented, in terms of bodily risk. Or at least it looks that way, which is the general idea. Still, newcomer Tony Jaa's delivery of flying knees and elbows livens up a film with a standard storyline and unimaginative characterization. You come to this movie to see people beat the hell out of each other, and on that count, it succeeds very well.

The story is summed up very quickly: when a rural village's sacred statue, Ong-bak, has its head stolen by profiteers (one of whom is a former villager), monk-in-training Ting is enlisted to retrieve it. If the statue is not intact, the village will wither away, so everything is riding on Ting's success. He heads to Bangkok to begin the search, discovering that the highly evil Khom Tuan (Suchao Pongwilai) is wheelchair-bound, and isn't interested in giving back Ong-bak's head. A series of rumbles ensues, with Ting forced to use his skills in Muay Thai to defend himself and bust a few heads. The final showdown (inspired by the dungeon fight in Enter the Dragon) with Khom Tuan's henchman features an amusing variant of juicing up that Jose Canseco would probably envy.

Ting's support in Bangkok comes in the form of George (Perttary Wongkamlao), or Humlae, his real name. He has forsaken the ways of the old village for a life as a shallow hustler, working with Muay (Pumwaree Yodkamol), a squeaky-voiced fellow hustler who wants to go to college. George starts off as completely scornful of Ting's devotion to Ong-bak, but eventually comes around in the end. One of the movie's messages seems to be that those who don't follow a religious path end up as criminals and lowlifes; literally everyone Ting meets outside of his village is a hustler or crook of some kind. Nice message.

As noted though, the emphasis in Ong-Bak is on the action, and it is lovingly shot, with several scenes repeated from different angles, just to drive home how dangerous and cool they are. This gets a bit old after the first couple occasions, but it's an indulgence I can at least understand if not condone. The lack of characterization beyond stereotypes is more of a problem, as it forces the viewer to endure the boring bits between fights, essentially. With a little more care put into the script, this would have been helped enormously. Ting could have used some fleshing out; he's so obnoxiously pure of heart and deed that I wanted him to have a little temptation, a little bit of sinning to make him more human. Jaa's problem is that he lacks the natural charisma of a Bruce Lee or a Jackie Chan to go with his moves. If he had Lee's onscreen charisma, he'd be a monster action star. It's hard to tell how good or bad an actor he is based on the rudimentary script he has to work with here.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that this disc features the cut American edition of the film, omitting most of a subplot and some assorted violence. Music has apparently been changed, and at least one character name has been sanitized for your protection. The full-length version of the film is available in other regions, for those inclined to avoid edited releases. I have to admit I'm not a big enough fan to seek out another edition, but diehards will want to locate the full cut. While I would recommend the film to any fan of martial arts, the average quality of the DVD (and the fact that it's cut) keeps me from making this an out and out recommendation.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Video quality is okay, but nothing special, which is disappointing given the recent vintage of the film. A color palette leaning toward browns and earth tones results in a less than lovely picture. There is a softness to the picture, and scenes in low light are very grainy and details difficult to discern. I haven't seen any other release of the film, so I'm not sure where this stacks up, but it's decidedly mediocre.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Two choices here, the original Thai soundtrack in Dolby 5.1, and a so-so English dub in Dolby Surround. The English dub is best avoided, as is usually the case in these situations. The Thai mix is fairly lively, though the surrounds seem to be used for music more than anything else.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
3 TV Spots/Teasers
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. The 8 Movements of Muay Thai, a brief look at each movement as peformed by costumed fighters
  2. Live Tony Jaa stage performance in France
  3. French rap video featuring Tony Jaa and footage from Ong-Bak
Extras Review: A few things of note here; first up is a live performance by Jaa and his cohorts in front of a French audience (02m:33s). Just in case you thought people couldn't jump that high, here's the proof. Movements of Muay Thai (01m:41s) is a series of quick displays of a given move that look like they might have been used on the Web or other advertising venue. A video by some French rapper named Reed the Weed (04m:02s), featuring footage from the film and newly shot footage with Jaa is next. It's instantly forgettable, song and video. As if that weren't enough of a waste of space, there is a making-of the video (07m:12s). Really, who cares? It features behind-the-scenes footage of the shoot with Jaa. Most interesting is the selected B-roll footage, which allows us a look behind three of the scenes. The first is the taxi-chase sequence (02m:32s). Next is the "Legs Ablaze Fight Sequence," (02m:05s), and finally, the Arena fight sequence (01m:18s). All three show the cast and crew putting the scene together, but the "legs ablaze" segment is most interesting, as it involves fire and kicking people while on fire. Watching it calls to mind how odd it is to think people do this sort of thing to entertain others. Given the studios' assumption that martial arts films are frequented by rap lovers, they serve up a promo video, this time from rapper the RZA (0m:59s). If you watch it once, you've already watched it too many times, unless you happen to be a fan of the RZA. Lastly, a gallery of trailers completes the extras, with US, Thai, and French teasers and full-length trailers included. The trailers are nonanamorphic. Given the materials that have been listed on some of the overseas editions of the film, this collection of materials is a real letdown.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Probably the benchmark martial arts film of the last few years, Ong-Bak will never be lauded for its deeper meanings, but for (literally) hard-hitting action, you really can't do much better than this. The DVD is okay, and will suffice for the casual viewer, though diehards will want to pursue one of the overseas editions with the uncut version and more extras.


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