ONG BAK 2 Review (Mania.com)
By:Rob M. Worley
Review Date: Thursday, October 22, 2009
With certain of movie genres there's a simple baseline that has to be met in order for the movie to work. A comedy has to deliver laughs. A Michael Bay movie (yes, he's a genre unto himself) has to deliver great eye-candy. A martial arts movie has to deliver great fight sequences.
With Tony Jaa, I've grown to expect something more. Past movies like 'Ong Bak' and 'The Protector' have invited western viewers into the world of Thai culture and mythology, and it has been a beautiful world to discover.
With that in mind, 'Ong Bak 2' stands as Jaa's most ambitious effort to date, weaving an epic fantasy tale from Thai legend that promises to deliver on both standards: the stunning beauty of ancient Thailand and the spectacle of Tony Jaa in action. To a certain extent it succeeds.
Opening narration tells us that the film is set in the early 1400s, as a monarch is marching across the land and expanding his empire.
We then find Tien, a young boy being frantically carried on horseback by a mysterious guardian. As they flee some unknown threat they become separated and the guardian is struck down, presumably by the King's men. Tien (a spiritual predecessor to the original film's Ting, perhaps) is captured by slavers.
Filled with fire and fight he angers his captors who cast him into a pit of alligators where he fights for his life. He's saved by Chernang, the mysterious turbaned leader of a band of outlaws who takes the boy under his wing. The outlaws are a multi-cultural melting pot of kung-fu bad-asses with Japanese, Chinese and even African warriors among them.
Young Tien experiences a training montage and emerges as a fully-grown Tony Jaa, now heir-apparent to the band of outlaws.
Set in the lush Thai jungles and populated by a host of colorful characters, 'Ong Bak 2' succeeds in transporting us to a place we probably haven't seen before. It unfolds with a sense of scale and majesty that puts one in mind of epic movies like Jackson's 'Lord of the Rings'.
Only a Tony Jaa movie could have a scene where the warrior trains by running across the backs of a heard of stampeding elephants! That scene is followed by a series of martial arts duels which allow Jaa to flex his various fighting styles.
And the fighting is impressive. Jaa shows us everything from his trademark Muy Thai, to Samurai swordplay, Chinese Whusu and many others. Heck, he even goes for some 'Drunken Master' style brawling.
Where the movie falls apart is in its choppy storytelling. The entire first act of the film is devoted to the journey of young Tien from his escape to his ascension to the top of the outlaw heap as a tormented fighting man. It is only then that the film abruptly switches directions. Now we learn (though flashbacks) what exactly it was that Tien was fleeing from, and why he remains so embittered.
Too late do we learn the source of Tien's smoldering need for revenge. Too late do we meet the villain whom Tien's (and our) anger should be focused on.
Then, abruptly, Tien abandons his outlaw comrades and embarks on his third-act quest for revenge. This, as you would expect, leads to some fighting, and some more fighting. Lots and lots of fighting against a myriad of enemies we've barely met.
The intricately choreographed fights of the film's final stretch are spectacular to look at, sure. We'd expect no less from Jaa. But masked (and therefore literally faceless) villains that populate this part of the film are nothing more than cinematic punching bags. Without a strong dramatic flow to build up our own animosity towards these bad guys, the fighting mostly rings hollow for the audience.
Jaa is credited with directing much of the film. It was his first time behind the camera and a wildly ambitious effort for a new director. Last year it was widely reported that Jaa at one point became overwhelmed by the stressful project and abandoned it before it was completed. He later returned and writer/director Panna Rittikrai took over for the remainder of the shoot.
The chaos behind the camera, unfortunately, seems to compromise the overall film. As disjointed and bewildering as the finale becomes, one wonders if they just did the best they could to stitch together the footage they had, without the narrative connective tissue to hold it all together.
If you're watching Ong Bak 2 for the kung fu, you won't be disappointed. It delivers a world tour of ass-kicking that will please martial arts film fans. If you want want lushly-filmed depictions of an ancient Thailand, you'll get that too. But if you're hoping for Jaa and company to carry you all the way into into the realm of an epic hero's journey, the kind of mythic masterpiece that resonates for decades, you'll likely end up disappointed that they missed the mark after such a promising start.
Check out our latest Kung Fu love with our feature 10 Ass Kicking Kung Fu Battles. After this weekend's release, will Ong Bak 2 deserve a place? You decide!
Mania Grade: C
Movie: Ong Bak 2
Starring: Tony Jaa, Sorapong Chatree, Sarunyu Wongkrachang
Written By: Panna Rittikrai
Directed By: Tony Jaa, Panna Rittikrai
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures