Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How To Fight On An Elephant In 3 Easy Steps

Today, I’ll be continuing my longstanding tradition of reviewing sequels without reviewing the first film in the series with a film that I haven’t actually seen yet. But I have seen the first in the series, and 10 minutes of the 3rd. It’s a film that is probably more famous for the issues surrounding the filming, though. In addition to multiple funding problems that threatened to shut down the shoot, most famously, star and director (and now Buddhist monk) Tony Jaa had a serious mental breakdown and disappeared for several months, causing the Western distributors to pull out which caused an almost $10M AU legal fee. Today’s film is Ong Bak 2.

Originally slated to be a sequel to Coal Miner’s Dau err, Ong Bak, Ong Bak 2 was quickly refitted to be a prequel, taking place in the 15th century and really has nothing to do with the first film outside of the name and the star (and, no doubt, many people being kicked in many new and exciting ways). Opening with a voiceover provided by someone who could accurately be described as the Thai Christopher Lee (or it could actually BE Mr Lee, since he shows up in more films than Michael Caine and Gene Hackman combined) letting us know of the strife that has befallen the city, we are quickly introduced to the strife in question by way of the Ayutthaya kingdom beating the holy bejeezus out of the Suhkothai kingdom and taking them over.

Cut to some time later, where Lord Sihadecho and his son Tien (eventually played by Jaa himself) are provincial rulers, and directly in the sights of the evil Rajasena plots to take over their city and eventually all of Asia. So, of course Rajasena does what any evil dictator would do in the same position – murders the hell out of the ruling family, but accidentally leaves Tien alive, who is left with nothing but a newfound sense of vengeance. Found by slave traders who try to kill him, Tien is saved when they are attacked by a group of freedom fighters, Pha Beek Krut, and he is taken under the wing of the leader, Chernang who helps to train young Tien in a number of different martial arts, basically turning him into a combination of the Thai Batman and Sabu, The Elephant Boy.

Several years and a series of quite long training montages designed only to show off Jaa’s skill at killing us all 100 different ways later, Tien (now officially played by Jaa) is not only so far beyond being Batman, but is “the greatest warrior to ever live”, because Tony Jaa has no problems curtailing his ego at all. And, as such heroes often do, he finds the slave traders who bullied him as a child and murders the holy crap out of them.  Now, if I asked you what happened before this and you replied “a lengthy and ultimately pointless flashback scene designed only to show off someone who could only be described as the Thai Beiber”, then I would offer you a pick of the prizeboard, because you would be right. And if you asked me why I am pointlessly padding this review, then I would say “because that is how long this flashback scene has gone.” It seems that pointlessly padding out the film was Jaa’s main tactic, so why shouldn’t this review do the same.

Upon finding out that the flashbacks actually show Rajasena killing off Tien’s family (taking approximately 10 times longer than they really needed to), he then quickly dispatches of Rajasena before being set up by a whole mess of glorified ninjas (or possibly The Hand) who he quickly recognise, thus realising that he has been betrayed. Eventually having a showdown with the not actually dead at all Rajasena, Chernang and rest of the Pha Beek Krut, Tien gains his revenge. Alas, the film leaves itself open for a sequel as he soon finds himself surrounded by even more crazy ninja folk and taken prisoner.

Yes, as you have probably guessed, this film was padded so much that I could have comfortably slept on it and woken up refreshed. Granted, all of Jaa’s films tend to end up being nothing but vanity projects designed to show off his quite considerable martial arts skills (dude does know what he is doing there, I won’t take that away from him), but his plotting tends to come down to “how can I get this set piece into play?” and this entire film was glaring in that respect – to the point where it was kind of making me angry. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the pieces we got were as impressive as the chase or “hey, my legs are on fire” from the original Ong Bak; nor the padding so ultimately pointless. By the time it got to any action worth noting, I was alternating between being angry at and bored by the film – again, I won’t take away from his skill, because the man has that in buckets, but he took so long to get there, and took the journey so substandardly that all I can really say positively was, at least it was shot well (no hyper ADD editing here).

All in all, this is a film that is pretty but ultimately empty. I know the Ong Bak series, and Tony Jaa himself have a lot of diehard fans – I don’t think I can count myself amongst them though.


  1. I blame the fact that the first movie was set in the present. And then boom, the sequel goes, "Hey let's fill the backstory." No me gusta when film franchises do that.

    How do you think he'd fare in the world of mixed martial arts?

  2. Honestly, against anyone with any real skill, I'd say he would get his ass handed to him. Look at his movies, he doesn't seem to work on a really close range. Plus, you pull any of that jumpy crap in any MMA fight and Kimbo Slice will eat you like a baked ham.