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Review: Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior

The film’s middle stretch is an unmistakable tour de brute force.

Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior
Photo: Magnolia Pictures

A monster hit in its native Thailand, if Ong-Bak makes any sort of dent at the American box office, expect an offensive, lily-white remake in a year’s time starring Hollywood’s favorite indentured Stepin Fetchit Jackie Chan. The story of a peasant, Ting (Phanom Yeerum), sent to Bangkok to retrieve the stolen head of his village’s Buddha statue, Ong-Bak suggests a cheesy Karate Kid knock-off but quickly reveals itself as a no-holds-barred pageantry of martial arts wizardry obviously indebted to Chan and his Drunken Master films. Despite the country-mouse/city-mouse ethics that underscore Ting’s rocky relationship to village refugee Dirty Balls (Petchtai Wongkamlao), the back-home politicking scarcely registers throughout the film, and considering the corniness of the events surrounding the theft of the Ong-Bak statue, that’s more or less a good thing. In the end, the rail-thin plot is simply an excuse to have Ting bust shit up, but the plight of little man is nonetheless evoked in Yeerum’s able performance and director Prachya Pinkaew’s awesome, wildly aestheticized fight sequences. From the tree-climbing event that opens the film to a dubiously hospitable Dirty Balls’s first encounter with Ting, Pinkaew pieces much of Ong-Bak together from a series of deceptive surfaces: Everything that happens in the film perpetuates a string of endless comic and/or action-packed diversions. The first and final reels are worthless, and if the film as a whole isn’t as consistently high-pitched as its amusing, moustache-twirling baddies, its middle stretch is an unmistakable tour de brute force. Beginning with a riveting chase sequence through Bangkok’s back alleys, transitioning into a three-round Muay Thai showdown inside a Street Fighter-style betting room amid blinking lights and crashing furniture, and ending with a ridiculous chase sequence aboard tourist carts that leads to a bounty of underwater Buddhas, Ong-Bak doesn’t let up for a good 40 minutes and subsequently sets up a standard for itself that its final moments can’t even begin to measure up to.

Cast: Phanom Yeerum, Petchtai Wongkamlao, Pumwaree Yodkamol, Suchao Pongwilai, David Ismalone, Erik Markus Schuetz, Chatthapong Pantanaunkul Director: Prachya Pinkaew Screenwriter: Prachya Pinkaew, Panna Rittikrai Distributor: Magnolia Pictures Running Time: 105 min Rating: NR Year: 2003 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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