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With: Tony Jaa, Petchai Wongkamlao, Pumwaree Yodkamol
Written by: Suphachai Sithiamphan, Prachya Pinkaew, Phanna Rithikrai
Directed by: Prachya Pinkaew
MPAA Rating: R for sequences of strong violence, language, some drug use and sexuality
Language: Thai with English subtitles
Running Time: 105
Date: 03/19/2013

Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (2005)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Getting a Head

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The PR surrounding Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior sells martial artist Tony Jaa as the next in line to the legacy of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li. And he's very impressive. He has amazing charisma, an attractive humility, and all kinds of spectacular new moves that none of those previous legends have ever demonstrated. Yet, this film is a poor vehicle for his American debut (previously he was a stunt double in Mortal Kombat). Skittishly directed and haphazardly written, Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior is a bundle of old action movie chestnuts brought briefly to life only by Jaa's presence. He plays Ting, a na�ve small town hayseed chosen to travel into Bangkok to retrieve the stolen head of his village's Buddha statue (named Ong-Bak). His master has told him not to fight, and so when he reluctantly begins kicking behind, we're on his side. Yet director Prachya Pinkaew continually overshoots the action by using all of his camera angles -- one after the other -- instead of choosing the best one. He reverts to slow motion at seemingly random spots without adding anything to the scene. But as in many of Jet Li and Jackie Chan's American films, real fans can pick out Jaa's skillful moves from among the messy filmmaking; certainly Li's Kiss of the Dragon was worse than this one. The clueless American distributors have further loused things up with the title, making it sound as if the hero's name is Ong-Bak. Consider this a primer for future, and hopefully much better, Jaa efforts.

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