Ong Bak

Dir: Prachya Pinkaew
Star: Tony Jaa, Petchthai Wongkamlao, Pumwaree Yodkamol, Sukhaaw Phongwilai

The grade reflects I can't help being somewhat disappointed by this, given the drooling reviews ("possibly the best martial arts movie ever"? I think not). Truth is, it's more throwback than great leap forward; while I can't deny Jaa's amazing grace, there's little here that wasn't done by Jackie Chan, two decades ago. And, while neither are Oscar-worthy actors, Chan had an endearing, "everyman" persona: Jaa lacks charisma and, worse yet, personality, in a way which makes you wish they could have replaced his acting, rather than action, with a CGI double. The plot is paper-thin: someone steals the head off a temple idol in a small, country village: Ting (Jaa) goes to the big city, meets George (Wongkamlao) and his girlfriend Muay (Yodkamol), who discover Ting's skills and use them in an underground fight den.

George = annoying, fat comedy sidekick, who needs lessons from Sammo Hung; Muay = irritatingly helpless, like Maggie Cheung in the Police Story films. Neither can act beyond mugging or shrieking, respectively, and we grind to a painful halt when either are on screen. About the only novel feature is a villain with a hole in his neck, who speaks with one of those vibrating gizmos. But the action is sound: in particular, a fluid chase through Bangkok where all the cliches - glass panes, fruit-cart, fences - show up. Yet whoever choreographed things seems lazy, and I can only wonder what Jaa could do with somebody like one of the Yuen family. But it's a relief to see action in middle-shot, without the vapid editing that destroys the rhythm of many Hollywood entries. Jaa certainly has potential, but could end up becoming Van Damme, unless he gets better scripts and acting lessons. Mind you, as I recall, Chan's first star vehicle wasn't all that hot either...

May 2006

Feet of fury
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