Alt Film Guide
Classic movies. Gay movies. International cinema. Socially conscious & political cinema.
Home Film ArticlesMovie Reviews Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (2003): Juvenile + Reactionary Actioner

Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (2003): Juvenile + Reactionary Actioner

Ong-Bak Muay Thai Warrior Tony JaaOng-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior movie with Tony Jaa: Charismatic athlete in subpar action flick.
  • Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (movie 2003) review: Notwithstanding its athletic and charismatic lead, martial arts fighter Tony Jaa, Prachya Pinkaew’s juvenile, cliché-ridden, and unabashedly reactionary actioner should please only die-hard fans of the genre.

Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (movie 2003) review: Puerile and reactionary martial arts actioner will please only die-hard fans of the genre

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Fans of the martial arts genre will likely enjoy Prachya Pinkaew’s Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior – a.k.a. Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior – the story of a young country bumpkin lost in the city jungle while hunting for ruthless art smugglers. But no matter which of the three titles is used to sell it, Pinkaew’s simplistic, reactionary movie will in all likelihood fail to win many converts to the genre.

Here’s a very brief synopsis: A naive but fearlessly determined hick (Tony Jaa) searches for the nefarious villains who have stolen the head of his Thai village’s titular Buddha statue. When not in hot pursuit of the statue-decapitating thieves – or in hot escape from them – our hero spends his time honing his fighting skills at some Bangkok dive or other.

Hoary clichés

The chief problem with Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior lies in Pinkaew and Panna Rittikrai’s screenplay, which consists of a pile of hoary clichés – e.g., country people = kindness, courage, honest labor, love, tree-climbing; city people = dishonesty, cowardice, easy money, sex, club-fighting. And all this in a movie that aims to be as slick as your average big-city-made music video and as violent as your average free-for-all urban brawl.

Compounding matters, Pinkaew’s movie drags quite a bit (a mortal sin for a mindless action flick), its humor is puerile (unless you find it hilarious watching people being hit in the head, stomach, crotch, and other body parts), and most of the performers just go along for the ride.

If that weren’t all, Ong-Bak could also be accused of espousing racism: Most of the fight-club fighters our pure-as-holy-water Southeast Asian hero tears to pieces are sleazy, cheating Caucasians.

Star in the making Tony Jaa?

On the positive side, co-screenwriter Panna Rittikrai’s stunt/martial arts choreography is admittedly impressive, while leading man Tony Jaa is not only an outstanding athlete-cum-fighter – he is supposed to have performed his own stunts without the help of wires or digital enhancements – but he is also what is often referred to as “star material.”

Could Jaa become another Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan? Or perhaps another Jean-Claude Van Damme?

Well, for that to happen he needs a (at least halfway) decent vehicle that will allow him to display both his astonishing athletic skills and his not inconsiderable charisma. And, of course, an effective PR apparatus to promote him.

For now, all one can say with some assurance is that Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior is not the international-star-making vehicle Tony Jaa needs.

Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (2003) cast & crew

Director: Prachya Pinkaew.

Screenplay: Suphachai Sittiaumponpan.
From a screen story by Prachya Pinkaew & Panna Rittikrai.

Tony Jaa … Ting
Phetthai Vongkumlao … Humlae / George (as Mum Jokemok)
Pumwaree Yodkamol … Muay Lek
Suchao Pongwilai … Komtuan
Chatthapong Phantana-Angkul … Saming
Wannakit Sirioput … Don
Cheathavuth Watcharakhun … Peng
Rungrawee Barijindakul … Ngek
Pornpimol Chookanthong … Mae Waan
Chumphorn Thepphithak … Uncle Mao
Boonsri Yindee … Yai Hom
David Ismalone … Mad Dog
Hans Eric … Pearl Harbor
Paul Gaius … Lee
Nick Kara … Big Bear
Nudhapol Asavabhakhin … Toshiro
Taweesin Visanuyothin … Doctor Sak

Cinematography: Nuttawut Kittikun.

Film Editing: Thanat Sunsin & Thanapat Taweesuk.

Music: Atomix Clubbing.

Producers: Prachya Pinkaew & Sukanya Vongsthapat.

Production Design: Arkadech Keawkotr.

Costume Design: Worathon Kritsanaklin.

Production Companies: EuropaCorp | Golden Network | Baa-Ram-Ewe | Sahamongkolfilm Co.

Distributors: EuropaCorp. Distribution (France, 2004) | Magnolia Pictures (United States, 2005).

Running Time: 108 min.

Country: Thailand | France | Hong Kong.

Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (2003): Juvenile + Reactionary Actioner” endnotes

Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior movie (2003) reviewed at the AFI FEST (website).

Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior movie credits via the British Film Institute (BFI) website.

Tony Jaa Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior movie image: Magnolia Pictures.

Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (2003): Juvenile + Reactionary Actioner” last updated in September 2023.

Recommended for You

Leave a Comment

*IMPORTANT*: By using this form you agree with Alt Film Guide's storage and handling of your data (e.g., your IP address). Make sure your comment adds something relevant to the discussion: Feel free to disagree with us and write your own movie commentaries, but *thoughtfulness* and *at least a modicum of sanity* are imperative. Abusive, inflammatory, spammy/self-promotional, baseless (spreading mis- or disinformation), and just plain deranged comments will be zapped. Lastly, links found in submitted comments will generally be deleted.

1 comment

Jason -

Well you can’t win em all. Tony Jaa is an amazing fighter and athlete. I’ve seen a few behind the scenes clips of him performing his own stunts and it’s quite amazing. I think he would’ve made it in Hollywood a long time ago if he had a better grasp of English.

It just seems like he needs better scripts with a bit more diverse story lines. It seems like he’s always searching for something.


This website uses cookies to improve your experience. If you continue browsing, that means you've accepted our Terms of Use/use of cookies. You may also click on the Accept button on the right to make this notice disappear. Accept Read More