Ong Bak 2 – The Beginning Review: Kung Poo
Tony Jaa made a big impact with his first film Ong Bak in 2003.
It featured Muay Thai kickboxing on a level never before seen on the big screen, bringing it to a mainstream Western audience for the first time. In addition to this Tony Jaa did all of his own stunts and used no wires or supports in his performances. The result was a blisteringly fast, brutal and exciting martial arts romp which revitalised a rather flagging genre.
Ong Bak: The Beginning tries to go even further by incorporating other martial arts into the mix. Set in 15th Century Thailand, it tells the story of Tien, the son of an influential provincial lord, who is adopted by guerrilla fighters after his father is killed by rebel troops, Here he learns how to fight and grows into a formidable martial arts master before deciding to exact revenge against his father’s killers.
It’s an ambitious project which attempts to create a true martial arts epic by portraying many martial arts disciplines, bone-breaking action and pulse-pounding fight scenes.
Unfortunately it aimed a bit higher than it has managed to achieve. This is partly because of Tony Jaa, whose involvement in the project was all-consuming; he’s the writer, director, fight choreographer and action director; it wouldn’t be surprising if he was listed as the caterer. This heavy workload took its toll and caused him to leave the production for two months, forcing his mentor Panna Rittikrai to take over the directorial helm. Unfortunately it shows.
The plot doesn’t make any sense at all; it’s fractured, sloppy, cuts around things for no reason, refuses to tie up any loose ends and is generally extremely frustrating.
Credit must be given where credit is due though, and the martial arts scenes are spectacular; Jaa leaping, diving and using props that would make even Jackie Chan raise an eyebrow. He also makes it all look simultaneously effortless and brutally effective. As a martial arts practitioner myself, I can see many styles have been used; everything from Jaa’s trademark background in Muay Thai, to Jiu Jitsu, various styles of Kung Fu, and even Harimau Silat (a real rarity on screen). But without a cohesive plot to hold it all together, you rapidly lose interest.
Tony Jaa enters and beats up a load of guys. Why? Who knows? Then he moves to another location and beats up some more guys for no discernible reason. It doesn’t become any more penetrable than that and it’s this lack of any coherent narrative which makes it frustrating. It would be unfair not to praise Jaa’s athleticism; he’s a superb action star but in the future it would be better if he stuck to what he was good at (ie elbowing people in the head) and let someone else take the reins for plot and story.
It’s a great shame, because Jaa has the ability to be a true martial arts superstar for the modern age, but this is a muddled and broken film that would work better as a series of Youtube clips.