- Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (2003) movie 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.
Puerile + reactionary martial arts actioner Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior will satisfy only fans of the genre
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, or simply Ong-Bak – 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.
The chief problem with Ong-Bak 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: Muay Thai Warrior 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.
Tony Jaa: Star in the making?
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.”
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)
Director: Prachya Pinkaew.
Screenplay: Suphachai Sittiaumponpan.
From a story by Prachya Pinkaew & Panna Rittikrai.
Cast: Tony Jaa. Petchtai Wongkamlao. Pumwaree Yodkamol. Suchao Pongwilai. Chumphorn Thepphithak. Cheathavuth Watcharakhun. David Ismalone. Hans Eric. Paul Gaius. Nick Kara. Nudhapol Asavabhakhin.
Stunt Fighting Choreography: Panna Rittikrai. Cinematography: Nattawut Kittikhun. Film Editing: Thanat Sunsin, Nontakorn Taweesuk, and Thanapat Taweesuk. Music: Romaric Laurence & Richard Wells. Production Design: Arkadech Keawkotr. Producers: Prachya Pinkaew, Sukanya Vongsthapat, and Tech Akarapol (as Akarapol Techaratanaprasert).
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Reviewed at the AFI FEST.
Movie cast and crew info via the IMDb.
Tony Jaa Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior image: Magnolia Pictures.
“Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (2003): Fierce Martial Arts Star in Reactionary Actioner” last updated in December 2020.