Judge David Johnson named his goldfish Ong Bak. Do not mess with it.
Not what you think.
When Tony Jaa blasted onto the international martial arts film scene with Ong Bak, he brought with him an eye-popping athleticism, wire-free stunts, and an electrifying arsenal of badass Muay Thai moves. Unfortunately, his movies grew progressively more nonsensical. Does this sequel to his debut continue that unfortunate trend?
Facts of the Case
There's a "2" at the end of the title, but this is not a continuation of the events of Ong Bak. In fact, the story for Ong Bak 2 takes place hundreds of years in the past. Jaa stars as Tien, the lost prince of a kingdom on the brink of extinction. After his father is killed, Tien is captured by slave traders, but manages to escape and shack up with some awesome fighting woodspeople, where he learns the ins and outs of swordplay, martial arts, and basic leadership skills (e.g. murdering mentally unstable cave-dwelling hags).
From there, it's time to embark on his mission: avenge the death of his father. Along the way, he'll have to face off against a crocodile in hand-to-hand combat, infiltrate a royal dance party, smack down the very slaves who imprisoned him, and engage in some bodacious elephant surfing.
Tony Jaa is The Man; there is no question. Once you're able to accept this, you'll be able to move on with your life and enjoy it the way the Lord intended. Of course, Jaa's movies tend to either be laughably simplistic or utterly incoherent. Ong Bak was merely a string of amazing action scenes tied to together by the nuanced story of a hick kid looking for a statue. Jaa's follow-up, The Protector, also featured some fantastic mayhem, but the narrative was even flimsier.
Now there's Ong Bak 2, which is sort of like a prequel…in a karmic kind of way. The good news: the story makes sense. It's essentially a simple revenge saga, despite the film's scope and production values, impressive as they may be. The bad news: the action isn't memorable. Let's all be honest with each other for a moment; when you fire up a Tony Jaa movie, you expect to be flabbergasted. For all the hokum of The Protector, you had the staggering restaurant fight tracking shot and the bone-break-a-rama finale. Plus, the amount of noteworthy stunt porn that went on in the first Ong Bak is legion.
Unfortunately, save for a super cool elephant-assisted backflip kick, there aren't any defining segments like that in Ong Bak 2. There is action, though; gobs of it, highlighted by a twenty minute fight where Tien takes on an assortment of evil weirdos. It's good stuff—borderline great, even—meticulously choreographed, hard-R brutal, and totally grounded (aside from the bizarre appearance of a bird man). I'd be willing to listen to an argument that the sheer length of this sequence is memorable enough, but there just aren't those moments which have come to define Tony Jaa movies. And no way am I including the crocodile fight.
That being said, if you're just hankering for some righteous martial artistry, I doubt you'll be disappointed. Jaa and his co-director, Thai action legend Panna Rittikrai, throw all manner of fight style on the screen—kung fu, boxing, karate, weapon-based combat, and improvised-weapon-based combat. Some of it is bound to stick, for aficionados of theatrical fisticuffs.
Magnolia's Blu-ray is a mixed offering. There are times when the picture (2.35:1) is a stunner, specifically the sweeping jungle shots, yet the clarity in detail often dips below what we've come to expect from Day One releases. The colors are strong and there is much to soak up; I just wish the finer points benefited more from the HD treatment. The audio more than measures up, the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio (Thai and English) is engrossing, with effects well-mapped to the perimeter speakers. The score is disposable, generic action fluff, and for the love of all that is Holy, steer clear of the dubbed track, which sports one of the worst voiceover jobs I have ever heard. Top three easily.
Lots of extras, kicking off with a 20 minutes worth of making-of featurettes; followed by a series of behind-the-scenes "how they did that" segments; and, finally, interviews with the cast and crew. The HD Net look at the film is satisfying (and the only extra in HD), and the trailer to Ong Bak 3 (already?!) promises to pick up right where this film left off. Lastly, there is an alternate cut to the film, but it's actually shorter than the theatrical release.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The ending is a complete downer.
It has nil to do with the fist Ong Bak and lacks those Tony Jaa water cooler moments, but fans of insane beatdowns will nevertheless be well-served.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
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