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Ong Bak 2&3

April 10, 2011

The Ong-Bak Trilogy: My, how far the mighty may fall.

 By John Leavengood

MY CALL:      I feel like Mark really had the right idea.  His comment: “First one is great, Second is ok (if you fast forward through story), Third is soul crushing.”  They really do run the gamut from greatness to wretched.  Absolutely see the first one, about which I raved (, maybe skip part 2 even if you loved the first, and outright blacklist part 3.  No joke.  Not even on a rainy afternoon.

FOLLOW-UP:            After seeing the first, and only the first, Ong-Bak, please continue your Thai action-cinemacation with The Protector (2005) and Chocolate (2008) (, then move on to District B-13, which is a French action movie.  Oh, yeah.  French action movies are a thing now.

        I don’t know where to start.  I enjoyed transcribing my chicken-scratch notes about the original, but these sequels really just unloaded a shotgun in the kneecap of my soul.  If Ong-Bak is “the fleck of gold you pray to find amid weather-worn pebbles and sand in your sifting pan”, then part 3 is the unexpected baby birthed in  Wal-Mart by a woman who had no idea she was pregnant.  I’m just going to give you the bad news in chronological (i.e., worsening) order starting with Ong-Bak 2

            This movie was way different from part one.  Although I was considerably less entertained by this sequel, some aspects of it were in fact superior to the original.  The cinematography was, well, considered.  In the original, only the opening scene seemed to receive any artistic perspective.  In part 2, this was clearly a priority and was well-complemented by set design.  Part 2 also must have left its “how to look like a Hollywood movie” checklist at home, because there was no terribly-executed taxicab chase scene (perhaps the only bad part of part 1).  No sir, this sequel was authentic, gritty, primal, and dated.  Yes dated.  Because this sequel is a prequel in which Tony Jaa plays Tien.

Tien, a would-be prince, was stripped of his nobility when his parents were murdered and he lived on the streets where he was trained in dirty combat and thievery.  When his parents’ killer, the current monarch, holds a competition for his servants to prove who serves him most efficiently, Tien takes the opportunity to enter so that he can win, get close, and have his revenge.

This is where you’re probably wondering what happened to Ting, Jaa’s character from part 1.  Good question.  Perhaps Tien is a past-life Ting or an ancient ancestor who was one of the first defenders of Ong-Bak.  This isn’t really explained for us.  Why?  No clue!  Also somewhat confusing is how much culture is shoved down our throats while we watch this.  Architecture, fine.  Elaborate wardrobe, okay sure.  But long dance scenes?  That’s going too far.  I grabbed a movie which no one can deny would be in the sub-genre of “martial arts movies”.  The presence of authentic culture tactfully woven into set design and the like is good movie-making.  Adding this long dance scene made me think I was seeing footage from the Travel Channel.

But why is this happening to us?  What changed since part 1?  The answer: Tony Jaa co-directed the sequels.  Love Jaa for his physical prowess, but damn him for loving his home country’s culture and history so much.  [SIDEBAR:  Check out my review of Devil.  It’s the same scenario reversed.  Take away Shyamalan’s right to direct, but still let him come up with the story idea, and you have a decent movie.  Let Jaa knee and elbow people into smithereens, but keep him away from the damned script!]

Part two had very entertaining combat.  Some people might even argue that it is more different than inferior to part 1.  While I respect the opinions of others, that doesn’t mean they’re any less wrong.  The flashy moves were fun, with a streetfighting dirtiness at times, but I miss Jaa’s roots—back before he made you sit through sluggishly-paced courtship rituals.  If you’re going to watch this, watch it before part 1.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *         

            Dare we move on to Ong-Bak 3?  Okay then.

The movie opens with an imprisoned Tien.  He’s about to endure his public execution, which I’m sure is 100% historically accurate for that era: a 12-man bo-staff beatdown squad.  This initial action sequence is good, yet somehow the choreography and pace of combat continues to change from the first movie, to the second, to this one.  Why is he changing things?  You know the old saying?  If it ain’t broke…keep your $%&@ing hands off!!!

Part two had some lengthy lulls without combat (but oooooh, the culture).  I hope you’re ready for more downtime.  After the nifty chain-fighting action sequence in the opening scene, Tien needs to heal.  Set your cooking timers for about 20 minutes.  Okay, now that he’s healed, set your timers for another 10-20 minutes while he continues to do stuff other than kicking ass.  If you stayed awake through all that, then you now know that way too much effort was spent on a really lame plot.  Maybe the plot wouldn’t be lame if this was a proper period piece.  But it’s not.  It’s an action movie!  If Jaa wanted to direct a cultural saga, then the first two words of the movie title damn-well shouldn’t have been Ong-Bak!

I think Jaa needs to stop thinking of his childhood and start thinking of Van Damme before he gets involved in another action movie with a “plot”.  He needs a little less dance and meditation, and a little more Kickboxer (which also takes place in Thailand but doesn’t have a slow-paced plot that makes me want to eat the smoking end of an assault rifle).  Van Damme danced and meditated in Kickboxer.  But when he danced, he did it drunk at bar and then got into a bar fight.  When he meditated, he was under water or did some mad-crazy flexing Tai Chi.  Here is all of the text the script needs before it goes to a screenwriter:  Brother trains other brother.  Other brother fights, loses, gets paralyzed.  Trainer brother is sad, sits by hospital bed, then finds trainer for himself.  “Training montage”.  Awesome revenge fight.  That’s 28 words and no plotty intermissions between fights.

Okay, back to Ong-Bak 3.  After the opening fight and an eternity of uneventful healing and training, we have a long combat finale which is ignited when Tien sees the bad guys piling dead slaves three-high and mistreating elephants.  To a Thai warrior this must be as bad as when a small animal-abusing teenager has premarital sex while recreationally abusing drugs when Jason Voorhees or Freddy is in town.  This is Jaa’s chance to redeem himself!  Unfortunately, for the grandiose number of opponents Tien faces, the choreography is rather uninspired—like the rest of this movie was.

 I’m a bit of a wine snob, so here’s a themed final analogy comparing Ong-Bak to Ong-Bak 3.  If these movies were both wine bouquets, then Ong-Bak would be a rich, spicy, black and boysenberry fruit-bomb, with notes of plum and chocolate, and an overtone of lingering smoky mesquite.  Ong-Bak 3 would be like someone dumped five-day old Chinese food in the bottom of a birdcage.

Don’t watch this.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. kamau nguru peter permalink
    February 11, 2012 12:38 am

    These movies are great! You cannot imagine how I enjoy viewing them each time as if it was the first. I must agree that it is fine work,that which leaves you asking, why should it end? Kudos to our warrior star!


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