Saturday, January 03, 2009

Ong Bak 2

Free For All

There's no doubt I've been a fan of movies starring Tony Jaa with the likes of Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong being showcases for the Muay Thai brand of martial arts, and I fondly remember those hard hitting action sequences that left me gaping, as well as the numerous replays just to drum it through to you that it's all Jaa and it's all as incredible as can be. And who can forget the latter film with that amazing single take where Jaa had to pound his way from the bottom of a building right to the top? Ong Bak 2 is a film fans like myself have been waiting for, despite it being marred by some really strange controversy, which also included Jaa walking off the set and disapperaring from production. But everything's been sorted I guess, for the film to be completed and finally released.

While it's rocking the box office in Thailand, I wonder whether it's because of the controversies that had piqued everyone's interest, or it's because the long break of 3 years had made everyone salivate at Jaa's long awaited return to the big screen. I wonder because while there are numerous moments in the film that I thoroughly enjoyed, I felt that it fell short too on other areas that had left me shifting in my seat, especially during the first hour.

And the biggest culprit of it all, would be the ending. Tony Jaa wrote this story, and credit to him too in trying to weave together some semblance of a worthy story instead of the more obvious and easier whack-fest end to end. But the ending was somewhat of a cop out, and a disappointment, as it leads potentially and very directly to a third movie to resolve the issues the storyline had left hanging. It could have easily stretched it to say, 20 minutes more to get everything settled, but I guess there were grander plans to the tale that needed another movie to tell. One only wishes that it does get made sooner rather than later, and without the production woes that plagued this one.

So Ong Bak 2 is actually half a movie, and given that it's a totally new story to begin with, I thought it would make better sense in retitling it, rather than to have a misnomer that it's a sequel. After all, the setting is now back in 15th century Thailand with totally new characters, with Jaa playing Tien, a man of royal lineage who's trying to avenge the death of his parents and entire household under the hands of rival warlords, and a masked man who delivered the killing blow to his dad. The first half of the movie had him learn from a band of bandits called the Garuda Wing Cliff, where a number of highly skilled exponents teach him all there is to know about their respective fields. I remembered having read somewhere that there's supposed to be some fusion of dance and martial arts, which didn't transpire in this film as far as I can tell (the dance/action sequence here doesn't make the cut), so it might be left for the next movie instead.

Compared to the other Tony Jaa movies, you can see that the production values here have been ramped up tremendously. Techniques have also matured, and gone are the repetitive playbacks. But that doesn't mean you're going to lose out, because like any self-respecting martial arts film, the camera stays still when it should be and at a sane distance away to capture all the action comfortably, and the editing doesn't cut in and mess up the sequence.

While the filmmaker in Tony Jaa would have matured with this outing (he co-directed this), his maturity as a martial artist on film is now without a doubt. We only get flashes of his Muay Thai when it calls for some close combat involving elbows and knees right smack in the kisser, otherwise we see Jaa as a more complete martial arts practitioner with the employment of a vast array of weapons, from swords to three-section-staffs, and a host of recognizable kung-fu moves, one which also pays homage to the Drunken Fists, and I applaud Jaa's rendition of it too. As for the revered elephant, you know it's never far behind, and there's one thrilling battle atop the large mammal, with Dan(ce) Chupong no less, albeit hidden behind a mask.

Ong Bak 2 picked up very slowly, and spent significant time developing the back story of Jaa's Tien. And unfortunately, I do admit unabashedly that I was waiting for action sequence one after another, and those in the same boat will have to be patient. For action junkies, your appetite will only be satiated in the last act of the film, where it's vintage Jaa as he dishes out punishment, and receives much of the same in return. I detested the ending which wrapped everything up so conveniently (I don't buy the Karma bit), or left subplots such as the romantic angle as something to be dwelled upon later (though I believe romance never really was an issue at all in Jaa's movies), leaving doors wide open for another film.

Perhaps I should reserve my judgement of it until the next movie completes the story? So at this moment, we can still enjoy what Tony Jaa has prepared for action fans worldwide – a showcase that he's not just all about Muay Thai, but a bona fide action hero who's the real deal, crafting a myriad of incredible fight sequences that would still leave your mouth gaping wide open.

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