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The Thai That Spellbinds

MOVIE REVIEW
Ong Bak 2/Ong-Bak: The Beginning (2008)

8
Magnet Releasing

In “Ong Bak 2,” Thai martial artist Tony Jaa flips above, kicks, punches and places choke holds on his many opponents, all when he’s not leaping across and taming a herd of elephants. Mr. Jaa, the star and co-director (with Panna Rittikrai), sends the camera on frenzied fits of pans, zooms and swoops, with shock cuts taken from all sorts of angles. Frequently, the film stock is sped up or slowed down, while the actors enthusiastically enter the heightened world of extreme battles and betrayals.

It is, in other words, a perfect and perfectly goofy B-grade martial-arts picture. Making sense of the narrative constitutes an exercise in futility, but who cares about story or character development when the star can furiously pummel his way out of even the most hopeless of situations? It doesn’t matter whether he’s facing 10 men or 10,000; every one of them will be doubled over in pain when he’s finished. The fight choreography has an appropriately balletic quality, recalling a sort of interpretive dance with each meticulous move during the exchanges between Mr. Jaa and whoever is unlucky enough to stand in his way.

The film has the requisite epic feel and fast pacing, while it maintains an appropriately moderated tongue-in-cheek sensibility. It never takes itself too seriously, but it’s not winking at you incessantly with an unrestrained postmodern glee. Mr. Jaa shows himself (as he did in the original “Ong Bak”) to not only be a gifted martial artist but a talented physical comedian, with a definite knack for playing to the camera. He never lets up his intensity, even in the most comically absurd sequences. The actor commands the screen effectively in the extreme close-ups that require him to convincingly look really, really mad and in the wide shots in which he nimbly pounds people to a pulp. His commitment gives the picture the credibility it needs to work on its own terms and to align it as a worthy continuation of the Bruce Lee-Jackie Chan tradition.

ONG BAK 2/ONG-BAK: THE BEGINNING

Opens on Oct. 23 in New York and Los Angeles and on Oct. 16 in Britain.

Directed by Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikrai; written by Ake Eamchuen, based on a story by Mr. Jaa and Mr. Rittikrai; director of photography, Nattawut Kittkhun; edited by Sarawut Nakajud and Nontakorn Taweesuk; music by Banana Record; production designer, Suprasit Putakham; produced by Sahamongkolfilm International; released by Magnet Releasing (United States) and Revolver Entertainment (Britain). In Thai, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Tony Jaa (Tien), Primrata Dej-Udom (Pim), Santisuk Promsiri (Lord Sihadecho), Pattama Panthong (Lady Plai), Saranyu Wongkrajang (Lord Rajasena), Sorapong Chatree (Chernung), Natdanai Kongthong (Young Tien), Nirut Sirijunya (Master Bua) and Petchtai Wongkamlao (Mhen).

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