Saturday, November 5, 2005

Muay Thai Ascending

Finally saw Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior last night. I know I'm way behind the times here but I've got to rave about it anyways. If you're even just slightly disposed to like a good martial arts movie, you've got to check this one out. It's pretty much everything you look for in a movie that explores the complex themes of "guys kicking each other in the head" and "you stole my village's Buddha head and I'm going to get it back." What's nice is there's not a lot of b.s. around the secondary characters ... just enough dialogue and plot to connect the fight and chase sequences without getting mired down in the B-movie style acting.

Muay Thai has gotten kind of a bad rap ever since Bruce Lee busted up those Thai baddies in The Big Boss (Fists of Fury). When martial arts movie fans think of Muay Thai Boxing, I think we tend to see it as the second or third style used by one of the hero's opponents in a tournament, looks tough with all those knees and elbows, but the Thai Boxer always loses. Tony Jaa definitely restores some lustre to the Muay Thai style in this flick.

Lots of guys (Donnie Yen, Mark Dacascos, Van Damme) looked for a movie or two like they might pick up the mantle created by Bruce Lee then assumed by Jackie Chan and Jet Li -- a mantle which frankly needs some younger shoulders to rest upon; but, those other guys just continued to make B-movies that left people looking for something better. Ong Bak makes me think Tony Jaa's got the chops to be the next worldwide martial arts star.

CGI and wire-fu have their place but you can't fake the visceral thrill of watching a guy jump off the back of a pick up truck and bust the motorcycle helmet off an underpaid stuntman's head. There's a chase sequence in Ong Bak that would make Jackie proud: jumping through hoops, running over tables, sliding under trucks and jumping over cars. The only thing that works against the movie's energy is the woeful score: the lamest 'hip hop' and 'techno' I think I ever heard, both apparently produced on the same cheap synthesiser. Still, big thumbs up from me. If it's not already, move it to the top of your Netflix queue.

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