Judge David Johnson wants his money Bak.
And so it is, that Tony Jaa's film career goes out not with a bang, but with a whimper.
If this is indeed Tony Jaa's final action feature, it's a sad end. The man who electrified the industry with his debut in the original Ong Bak, gets caught up with convoluted mysticism and a not-so-subtle Buddhist didacticism, which wouldn't be a big deal if he opted not to make it boring.
Facts of the Case
When we last left Tien (Jaa), the hero of Ong Bak 2, he was in a world of hurt, captured by the evil king. The third film picks up with Tien getting smacked around a great deal and eventually beaten to death. His village pals retrieve the body and bring him to a powerful monk, who works his mojo and brings Tien back. From then on, it's Buddhist-training time, as Tien struggles to get his karma back in alignment.
Meanwhile, the evil Demon Crow (Dan Chupong, Dynamite Warrior) makes a play for the throne, taking out the king and his horde of flunkies. It will fall to a newly sedate Tien to counterbalance the violence and lunacy of the Demon Crow and defeat him in…the final battle.
That's the subtitle of Ong Bak 3: "The Final Battle." Which would lead someone to believe that there is a kick-ass finale lying in wait, that slogging through the saggy middle of meditation and praying and stretching in front of a waterfall would ultimately yield a rich and rewarding action pay-off.
Sorry. Ong Bak 3 isn't interested in amusing you with the Philistine fights and stunts of the original Ong Bak. No, Jaa and co-director Panna RittKrai are focused instead on telling an overly-complicated, mystical period drama that talks up the glory of Buddha while giving the shaft to what made Jaa's movies so bad-ass in the first place.
Now I don't have a problem with Buddhism in this movie. In fact, Tien's training/meditation sequences are pretty much the same you've seen in any other action movie where the hero goes to recuperate before departing, reenergized, to drop some fools. If he gets his energy from Buddhism, terrific. Unfortunately, it's the second part of the equation that completely deflates.
Slight spoiler alert here: the aforementioned "final battle" initially appears to deliver on the promise of fisticuff awesomeness. Jaa flies around elephant tusks, pounds on guys until their chests cave in and generally goes about his violence in the athletic, savage way Jaa fans have been used to. Until the camera rewinds and we realize that all that coolness had happened in his head and he foresaw himself dead as a result of that beatdown, forcing Tien to embark on a different, more peaceful path that involves a freak lightning storm wiping out his enemies instead. Well, sure, if a murderous cold front was a viable alternative to punching and kicking one's way through a horde of bad guys, that would be the preferred route. A believable set-piece, though, it does not make. Yes, we still got watch all that nifty fight choreography, though talk about a narrative buzzkill.
This leads to Tien's anticipated bout with Demon Crow, where Jaa opts to forgo the Muay Thai style he's renowned for and adopt a modified dance technique, which is new and graceful, but a total letdown when it comes to a satisfying Final Bad Guy fight.
At least the Blu-ray isn't as underachieving. The Thai jungle visuals can be stunning and the 2.35:1, 1080p transfer does them justice. There is much to look at in this film, especially the wacked-out ending where the Demon Crow summons darkness and his crow minions on the land and the picture quality is high-end enough to render this busyness with panache. Two 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks (Thai and English), both of which are clean and aggressive when there aren't extended meditation sequences going on. Extras: a short HDNet behind-the-scenes, featurettes on the making-of and the action scenes, B-reel footage and interviews with the cast and crew.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
That Dan Chupong has some moves. Perhaps he can take over for Jaa?
The straight dope: Tony Jaa's best movie was his first. From that point, it's been all downhill, culminating in this disappointment.
Guilty. You may have achieved Nirvana, but I'm pissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
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