Director: Prachya Pinkaew
This was on SBS2 after Crouching Tiger, and it made for a fairly instructive double bill; if Lee’s film inspired the making of a lot of bigger, more expensive wu xia, the Thai film seems blithely unconcerned by such competition, clearly convinced there was still a market for unsophisticated but jaw-dropping B-grade mass destruction of people and things. Ong-Bak is so enamoured of star Tony Jaa and his frankly implausible athleticism that we get to see most of his stunts from at least two angles; mind you, the phenomenal how-the-fuck-is-that-even-possible skill with which he goes about his work means you’d probably do the same thing if you were the director to get your value out of him. The action scenes are pretty much on a “fucking hell” level throughout—not least the bit where Jaa’s pants are literally on fire—as is the general ludicrousness of the whole thing… The plot revolves around the theft of the head of Ong-Bak, the ancient Buddha statue belonging to a rather nondescript little rural village in Thailand; Ong-Bak’s head has forcibly parted company with his body courtesy of a Bangkok drug dealer looking to sell it for cash from a local crime boss with a taste for old Buddhas. Little did either of them count on the village’s favourite kickass son, Ting, coming after it. What follows is, as I’ve indicated, overkill. There’s something oddly old-fashioned about the plot, however dressed up in modern camera and editing tricks, to the point where the modern-day setting of the story is almost a bit incongruous; it’s the sort of thing that might’ve been made in Hong Kong (probably with a period setting though) three decades earlier. Given the film seems to have been made to try and sell Tony Jaa as a modern-day successor to Bruce Lee—the same sort of damn near invincible warrior, albeit without Lee’s charisma—I’m sure that feeling of throwback was intentional. Ong-Bak is certainly relatively primitive compared to the Ang Lee film we saw earlier tonight, but there’s something appealing about its sheer brutal vigour and it’s rarely dull as such; terrific late night viewing.