Recently, I caved in and joined millions of other Americans in rejecting the tyranny of Blockbuster and DVD stores alike. I purchased a Netflix subscription, opting for the crystal angel who offers three discs at a time. For the record, I just made a reference exactly one other person in the entire world will get. You can thank me later.
(Courtesy of Johne Cook
, here's an article about Netflix warehouses
that makes the whole enterprise sound almost sinister, like a secret society)
Anyway, that's a lead-in to today's TOTALLY SW33T MOVIE REVIEW (TSMR), featuring ONG-BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR.
I enjoy kung-fu movies. The main appeal stems, not from the plot, the characters, or any such externalities, but from the charisma and skill of the lead man, his stunt doubles, and occasionally the cineamatographer or set designer. The story is a mere balsa-wood framework on which to drape action sequence upon action sequence before kung-fu chopping the whole assemblage to splinters. There are occasional exceptions--Jet Li's FEARLESS actually has a very cool story of personal redemption and the true purpose of martial arts. But by and large, the plot and characters are simply to provide the impetus for fists to fly and bones to break.
By that measuring rod, ONG BAK succeeds gloriously. Our star, known in the West as Tony Jaa, is a fairly recent star to emerge from Thailand cinema, specializing in Muay Thai and Tae Kwan Do. In ONG BAK he plays a naive country boy who hits the dark streets of the city (exactly which city I didn't catch) in his quest to recover the stolen head of his village's buddha. His rural innocence--and his honorable use of Muay Thai--are placed in contrast to the gangland hit men and pit brawlers who fight for money and animal satisfaction. So it actually scores a few thematic points.
The movie takes a while to build up to our hero unleashing his Muay Thai--he takes down his first opponent with a single quick move that involves him manuevering his knee to his opponent's head level in one graceful stroke. Then we get a fantastic acrobatic sequence where he evades a crew of petty street thugs by leaping over cars, compacting his body to dive through a ring of barbed while, and cartwheeling between sheets of plate glass--call it Thai-style parkour.
The full power of Muay Thai is only unleashed when, in three consecutive fights, our hero dispatches a series of thugs whose fighting styles couldn't be more different (and I now know what a mainland Asian stereotype of a Japanese looks like). His opponents include an Australian dude whose entire martial art seems to involve breaking tables over his adversary's head, tossing plates, and using refridgerators like battering rams.
To those used to the usual kung fu (as I was), this flick's Muay Thai is a cool novelty. I'm not martial arts scholar, but I was stuck particularly by the heavy use of knee and elbow strikes (including some very painful skull bashes). In addition, Tony Jaa eschews wires and stunt doubles--everything you see him do, he's actually doing, in the style of Jackie Chan's glory days.
As for the rest, the comic relief manages not to be overly obnoxious, Tony Jaa's hero is sufficiently likable to carry the film, and the martial arts are varied enough to ensure you won't be bored. Recommended to anyone who appreciates a good kung-fu battle. Watch it with friends, ooh and aah, laugh and cheer throughout.
(To Radical Cousin Matt: If I ever come out to Washington, we're watching this one together)