DVDs in Review - Film Edition: Ong Bak: The Beginning

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Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior bounced onto our screens back in 2003 as Tony Jaa's breakthrough movie, putting him firmly in place as a martial arts action star to watch; with his speed, charisma and accomplished grasp of Muay Thai he managed to make the rather plot thin Ong Bak into an enjoyable martial arts movie.

This was followed by Tom-Yung-Goong (The Protector) a film I know very little about at all beyond the fact that it was endorsed by Quentin Tarantino(but we all know QT is a bit of a movie slut, he'll endorse anything if he enjoys it) and that it is the most successful USA released Thai movie.

Ong Bak: The Beginning purports to return to the original movie as a prequel to it. Now I'm going to out and out admit right here that I couldn't find a single way that OB:TB links to OB:MTW at all, not even the least bit. It's set in a different time, with different characters and apart from Tony Jaa himself being in the lead role it doesn't seem to have a single thing in common with OB:MTW - even the fighting styles used weren't similar. That doesn't mean it's bad - just that the title seems a tad misleading.

So as such it's best to look as OB:TB as being it's own story; mixing a blend of history and fantasy, which is interwoven with fast paced fight sequences and a plot which exists to do little more than string the various set pieces together. OB:TB is about the orphaned son of a warlord who learns martial arts from outlaws and then proceeds to beat all the salt in the seven seas out of a range of people with a variety of weapons.

The fight scenes themselves are a delight to watch, beautifully shot and choreographed with pinpoint precision. Tony Jaa is an accomplished martial artist with a great deal of showmanship and talent with weaponry and the time he spends training shows in this film. (However, there is one scene where he uses a pan long gun [three-section staff] and it feels that choosing to use this was a little overambitious because it's clear he's struggling to keep it under control at times and that's a little distracting.)

The visuals of the film are also stunning, the camera work gives us beautiful landscapes and scenes which are breathtaking. The dance scene is an awesome piece of visual cinematography and many of the panoramic setting shots are enough to make you want to pack your bags and run off to the Thai countryside.

However, there are a few fundemental flaws in the movie though, the first is the plot - which is exceptionally ropey and poorly laid out even when judged by the traditionally light and loose standards of the martial arts movie. Compared to classics like Snake in the Eagles Shadow, Young Master, Kung Fu Hustle, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Once Upon a Time in China; OB:TB is hugely deficient. In truth even compared to Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior it's hugely deficient in the plot department and that's really saying something because OB:MTW had a plot so thin I can't even recall what it was about.

Secondly the dialog in the film is rather laughable at times, the film bills itself as a heroic fantasy epic

Finally the movie itself isn't a complete piece, it ends on a cliffhanger and it is due to be completed with Ong Bak 3 - this is quite frustrating, but it does explain why everything in the movie (and I do mean everything) seems hugely underdeveloped. It's better to look on this in the same way people looked at Kill Bill: Volume 1. It's the first part in a larger project and as such it might look better when the rest of the story is released.

Anyway, don't get me wrong. OB:TB is an enjoyable film, it's just not in any shape or form a classic of it's genre. You'll watch it, enjoy it and then forget about most of it apart from the action sequences and the more brutal moments in the fights. And that isn't a bad thing.


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