The action here is Tony Jaa-packed. Praise Jaa! In Ong-Bak, we begin in rural Thailand with young village men playing “capture the flag” with a twist: the flag is in a tree and competitors, in their quest to grab it, roughly shoving each other off from pretty substantial heights.
This is what they do for kicks in this tiny village. Soon, such tranquility is shattered and villagers are despondent after the head of their beloved Buddha statue is stolen. So they entice the village’s toughest resident (the incomparable martial artist, stuntman and human special effect Tony Jaa as Ting) to head to the capital city to track it down.
He’s got a cousin in Bangkok “George”, who’s a grifter into the local underground gambling and pit fighting scene. Ting hopes to stay with him and get some leads in order to track down the thieves, but George cannot be trusted and steals the funds the villagers raised for Ting’s room and board/food etc.
As Ting tries to get his money back, he sees that George has run into trouble and is being shaken down for gambling debts, forcing Ting into kicking some butt on behalf of family, regardless of their petty criminality.
However, a LOT of henchmen are after George, leading to perhaps one of the most spectacular foot chases in cinema history, with Ting leaping over food stalls, through coiled barbed wire, over goons while using their shoulders for leverage and over parked cars in a single bound.
Since Ting can kick some major ass, he also ends up hunting for the Buddha statue thief in an underground cage fighting hang-out, run as it turns out, by a drug dealer who’s orchestrated the plot to steal the piece of art for resale on the black market.
He has a great fight with a big, curly haired Aussie, Big Bear (Nick Kara) and a protracted battle royale with “Pearl Harbor,” who doesn’t follow Marquess of Queensbury rules or its Thai equivalent, fighting with whatever weapon is at his disposal — broken bottles, tables, you name it in front of cheering throngs in this sleazy club.
The joint is run by a truly evil badguy who speaks through an artificial larynx (and smokes through the hole in his neck), and there are some balletic, monumental fight scenes, and for good measure, a large Buddha statue falls on one of his goons, crushing him.
If that’s not all there’s a splendid tuk-tuk (rickshaw) chase scene through Asia’s Sin City and enough elbows to the skull to justify a lifetime’s supply of Tylenol 3s.
A rip-roaring must-see.
**** (out of 5)
[CHECK OUT OUR DISCUSSION OF ONG BAK ON THE REALLY AWFUL MOVIES PODCAST]