- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 10, 2005

“Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior” is designed to show off the physical prowess of 28-year-old Thai martial arts phenom Tony Jaa, who may or may not blossom into the latest refinement on Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.

Previously active as part of the movie stunt team that now collaborates with him as a headliner, Mr. Jaa is obviously ready for the showcase. Nothing as fresh can be discerned in the melodramatic edifice contrived to frame the martial arts production numbers.

Mr. Jaa is Ting, a nimble and virtuous village orphan whose dexterity is anticipated in a prologue observing him scaling a tree. After a village festival is blighted by the theft of a holy antiquity, a Buddha statue known as Ong-Bak, Ting is sent to Bangkok by his monk and mentor, Pra Kru (Woranard Tantipidok), to retrieve the relic.

Ting leaves a dynamic calling card at a fight club where louts have a way of running into his knockout blows, which may come by leg, arm or fist. The distinctive and amusing aspect of Mr. Jaa’s style is that it kind of glides through the opposition, a bit like the prow of a ship parting the waves.

In one sequence, all kinds of objects are hurled at Ting by crazed thugs, ranging from a neon sign to a refrigerator, but he keeps blunting their impact and plowing straight ahead toward a one-sided confrontation with the unlucky adversary.



It’s also fun when Mr. Jaa elects to beat a retreat, because he turns out to be an adept hurdler and scaler of objects. The shoulders and heads of other stuntmen serve as stepping stones for his getaways.

In fact, Mr. Jaa’s superiority at attack and escape is so evident that it becomes something of a conceptual problem to place fleet and indomitable Ting in persuasive jeopardy. Ultimately, the filmmakers have to resort to a ferocious psycho, who preps by self-administering injections of adrenaline into his sternum.

Although admired by several village maidens, Ting has no time for romance. The resident ingenue is a shrill nuisance called Muay Lek (Pumwaree Yodkamol), mascot to the movie’s second lead, a popular comedian named Petchthai Wongkamlao, cast as a village exile who has ended up as a Bangkok scam artist.

A little more sophistication at story construction and incidental comedy might relieve the stunt sequences from carrying so much of the entertainment load that they start to lose novelty and variety as the second hour ticks away. Nevertheless, Mr. Jaa has earned the benefit of the doubt from moviegoers who might welcome a boyish new image of a lean and accomplished fighting machine.

**

TITLE: “Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior”

RATING: R (Frequent violence in the context of a martial arts crime thriller; some gruesome illustrative details; allusions to prostitution and drug abuse).

CREDITS: Directed by Prachya Pinkaew. Screenplay by Suphachai Sithiamphan. Stunt choreography by Phanna Rithikrai. Cinematography by Natawut Kittikun. Production design by Akhadaet Kaewehote. Music by Atomix Clubbing. In Thai with English subtitles.

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

WEB SITE: www.ongbakmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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