Sunday, August 2, 2015

Movie Review: Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior

My best friend Tim used to pick up VCDs from Chinatown whenever he headed to Boston. I guess VCDs still exist, but they're even more niche than they already were. I don't think I ever watched my copy of Ong-Bak on VCD, because the format is, well, kind of garbage. I did catch it on Netflix recently, and really enjoyed it.

The plot is pretty simple. Tony Jaa plays a monk named Ting, who ventures into the wider world to recover the head of the Buddha statue (the Ong-Bak of the title) that has been stolen from his village. Before he goes, his mentor makes him promise that he will not fight.

Three things I really liked about this movie:

1.) Pumwaree Yodkamol was really super cute.

No clarification needed, I trust

2.) Ting really does only fight as a last resort:

I was listening to How Did This Get Made?'s podcast about the Glimmer Man where much is made of the fact that Steven Seagal's character, an ostensible pacifist, beats the shit out of a maĆ®tre d because the guy is slightly rude.

This chase scene was the highlight of the film for me.

He spends five minutes running from a goon squad he could beat up trivially. The sequences recalls Jackie Chan at his best.

3.) Technical Proficiency means something:

Game of Thrones is a pretty great show, but one thing that drives me crazy (other than the showrunners saying MOAR RAPE whenever they need some drama) is the recurring theme that professional instruction is absolutely worthless, that the only path to true proficiency is to be a self-taught street rat who specializes in dirty fighting. (The corollary to this is that no one with formal training will ever think to protect his groin, and will forever be fatally vulnerable to the Bonns of the world.)

Ugh, no. "Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig, es ist nicht einmal falsch!" as the apocryphal quote goes.

I think it's a genre thing as much as anything, but Ting has been training in Muay Boran his entire life. Turns out he's pretty good at it. Huh. Who woulda thunk it?

The plot of the movie was pretty spare, but it connected the set pieces and provided the right amount of melodrama, and that's all I was looking for.  It harkens back to the HK movies of 80s and 90s that they just don't make any more. The are two prequel sequels, but they're period pieces. I'm looking forward to more from Tony Jaa.


  1. added to netflix queue! Can't wait until laundry day comes around again

    1. If I knew somebody would actually be reading this post, I would have done a better job on it :)

      The movie has no pretensions to be anything other than what it is, and I found brilliant.

  2. Yeah, I have to agree about training vs. streets smarts. I think a reverence for classical training is more often seen in Asian action films than Western ones. I recall the low-budget debut Ang Lee film "Pushing Hands," in which an old man from China comes to the U.S. and brings his tai-chi moves with him. In one scene, we see that the full might of the NYC police force can't move him from his place of work if he doesn't want to go: