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A new hero for the martial arts genre

Brian Doxtader | Friday, April 8, 2005

“Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior” essentially introduces Thai action cinema to the world. The film, which is a wildly entertaining showcase for newcomer Tony Jaa, succeeds as a stylish and engaging martial arts film.When the head of the sacred statue Ong-Bak is stolen from the temple in a rural Thailand village, Ting (Tony Jaa) is chosen to go to the city and try to recover it. When he arrives, he gets inexplicably caught up in the antics of his misanthropic cousin George (Petchthai Wongkamlao), who has fallen in with the local gangster. While Ting is initially reluctant to fight, he eventually becomes entangled with the gangsters in his single-minded quest.The plot is about as thin as they come, but the real reason to see this film is for Tony Jaa, who has the potential to become a great star. The film really becomes a showcase for his physical abilities and his perfection of Muay Thai, a style of martial arts. Jaa’s athleticism recalls the tradition of Hong Kong predecessors like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li. He even raises the bar for martial arts through his vertical jumps and remarkable speed; there is not a single or CGI effect used in the entire film. The scene in which Ting, chased through a street by a gang, leaps over tables, people, fences and cars is pure cinematic magic. Muay Thai, a fighting style which is all elbows and knees, is also well displayed and paired off against other techniques, such as kickboxing and American street fighting. The most stunning moments are re-shown multiple times consecutively from different angles. This demonstrates that no wires or gimmicks were used and also shows off the elaborate stunts.Prachya Pinkaew’s directing is mostly perfunctory, but is also largely unobtrusive. There are some interesting cinematic flourishes throughout – a single man is flanked by an entire gang in seconds through clever editing and hand-held cameras increase the sense of urgency in key sequences. The fight scenes are well shot, but eschew the fancy editing of Hollywood cinema in favor of giving a clearer perspective on what is happening. The film is cleanly edited so that nothing obscures the verisimilitude of the choreography and it can again be seen that no tricks are being used.”Ong-Bak” isn’t a great film thematically, but it isn’t meant to be. It’s meant to be a showcase for the action and for the abilities of Tony Jaa. By realizing its own limitations, it actually manages to transcend them and become a minor miracle, a cinematic marvel that is inherently watch-able and undoubtedly entertaining.