Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ong Bak...

Why yes... that IS a pint glass FILLED with Mai Tai!
Good day ladies and gentlemen. This week we are covering the ever popular, super amazing, always brutally devastating Tony Jaa in his debut feature film, "Ong Bak". Now... This isn't just any old viewing. See, spring has sprung up here in the otherwise entirely frozen north and thoughts of sun, warmth, summer, and vacation have invaded our brains. SO, with that having been said, we're watching Muay Thai while drinking Mai Tai's. So, buckle your belts and prepare for a high speed, fruit and rum induced ride through the awesomazing film that IS "Ong Bak".

But first, a few notable tidbits about this bone-crushing masterpiece. Ong Bak is the 3rd film by director/producer Prachya Pinkaew, who has since then developed an epic career, adding 29 films to his resume in the last 11 years, including our previously reviewed films, Chocolate and The Protector. This is also the first film starring the winning combination of Tony Jaa and Thai comedian Petchai Wongkamlao, making it an essential view for anyone who wants to say they know anything about martial arts films.

The film opens with a bunch of muddy Thai dudes staring at a Banyan tree with a flag on top. If this doesn't interest you in the slightest, then you have no imagination and should probably just stop watching now, because the rest of us are wondering what kind of crazy stunt could possibly have that many guys staring daggers at a tree. The covered in mud bit is STILL a mystery to our Western sensibilities.

Suddenly everyone rushes the tree and begins a mad dash to the top in an attempt to be the first to "capture the flag" and not die in the process. Ting (Tony Jaa) employs some mad climbing skills, grabs the flag, does some crazy spinny tree running and finally jumps out of the tree, sticking the landing with a sure score of 10.0... because he's Tony Jaa. But actually, for the sake of the film, because he is the pride of his village, Nong Pradu.

Yup... this is your face AFTER Muay Thai.

Now because Ting is just that impressive, a local monk has decided it may be worthwhile to teach him the art of Muay Thai. You've seen us discuss Muay Thai before... with the crunching and the squooshing and the no-nonsense business of rearranging your opponent like a Picasso. So YEAH...

...Upon demonstrating how well he has learned this fantastic method of kick-assery (including move "Meeting a Friend" which... I dunno who meets their friends with a flying knee/elbow combo to the face) the monk promptly instructs him not to use it, and there is a sobering story of unintentional death that explains why the village monk would make such a request of a naturally athletic, killing machine.

This is your cue to say "So who exactly is this Ong Bak fella anyway?" 
Well, we're glad you asked. 

Stupid, stupid, herp-derp, stupid.
In the village temple, there is a highly revered statue in the image of Buddha, and the name of this particular statue in Nong Pradu is Ong Bak. We jump into this story seven days before the Festival of Ong Bak, which is held only every 24 years and is a pretty freaking big deal. As everyone is getting all geared up with their preparations, a young man named Don (obviously NOT from the village) shows up saying he's come to see a man about an amulet. When he finds out the amulet isn't for sale, he's a little peeved, and doesn't want to go back to his boss empty handed, so what does he do? He steals Ong Bak's head in during the night. Yes, he really is that stupid.

Because this is, again, a movie starring Tony Jaa, Ting immediately volunteers to go to Bangkok to reclaim the head of the beloved Ong Bak, having seen how devastated the elders are at their plight. The villagers pool together all the money they can to send him on his way (punch in the emotional gut, this scene...), and his uncle gives him a letter to pass along to his cousin Humlae, who is to help Ting track Don down. Ha, say that five times fast... (Ting track Don down Ting track Don down Ting track Don down...)

Bad loser? Or just loser? You decide.

Suddenly we're in Bangkok, which we know because the music suddenly turns all club-like and there are motorcycles, drugs, girls, and that one guy in Blue Blockers and an Andy Gibb T-shirt... and as we all know, that's what Bangkok is all about.

Oh, yeah. And the subtitle told us so as well...

Ting finds his cousin Humlae (Petchai Wongkamlao), who for some reason is calling himself "George" and denying any knowledge of Nong Pradu. Humlae and his friend Muay have just tried to hustle a drug dealer (the guy sporting Andy Gibb), been caught, and are a little short on cash when Ting shows up. When Humlae realizes that Ting has a meager bit-o-cash, he invites Ting in, sends him off to take a shower, steals his cash, and disappears to a fight club, all while poor Ting is trying to explain the devestation of the theft of Ong Bak and the struggle of their village.


Now, pardon me as I pause for a moment, but what is with all these people who think they can just steal crap from Tony Jaa and get away with it?!?!  For reals, people, what is WRONG with you??? Study this picture. Can't you see those abs, and arms, and the sharpness of joints, with the... don't make me insert that Picasso painting here...

Now, Ting may be from the country, but he's not stupid. He follows Humlae to a local fight club to get the villagers' money back, all of which Humlae has bet on the fighter Ali, no relation to Muhammed. Now remember Don, the dude who tried to buy the ancient Buddha amulet in Nong Pradu and instead made the biggest mistake of his life? Yeah, that guy. Turns out he works for the larynxless guy who operates the fight club, Komtuan, and in one of those moments of perfectly ironic timing, he just so happens to be delivering the head of Ong Bak to his boss as epic fighting commences. Now, according to the reaction of Komtuan, stealing the head of a statue instead of an amulet you were supposed to get is the equivalent of buying your wife a vacuum for her birthday, instead of jewelry. All will end badly if you don't get it out of my sight right now and never mention your misdeeds again. Stupid decision-making surprise??? Not really.

Meanwhile, Komtuan's guy (Pearl Harbor) beats the living BaJEEZuz outta Ali, and Humlae loses his bet, aka the villagers money. ENTIRELY pissed off, yet entirely in control, Ting storms across the ring to go reclaim the money. Unfortunately he finds that he has volunteered himself for a match. He tries to get out of the fight and then...


Ting takes down his opponent with one kick, becomes the new champ of the fight club, loses Komtuan a whooooooole lot of money, turns down the cash prize and recollects the exact money the villagers gave him... hanky and all, and then storms out of the club with Humlae and Muay running behind to try to hustle some more cash out of him.

The next morning, Peng (the Andy Gibb, Blue Blockers, drug dealer) shows up to teach Humlae and Muay a lesson. Ting stumbles upon the encounter and starts to walk away, but doubles back when he sees Peng hit Muay. In other words, you can take your anger out my greedy dirt-bag cousin, but if you touch a girl, I'll snap you in half. Or more accurately,  

I will snap your limbs into pieces of varying size, which I will then sprinkle over my Pad Thai like crushed peanuts!!!

Having been saved for the moment, Humlae tries to convince Ting to fight for him again at the club to make some extra cash, resorting to insulting Ong Bak's headlessness when Ting refuses. Completely justified, Ting hauls off and wails on Humlae's head just as Peng shows up again with an even bigger crowd of lackeys.

A crowd of 30 bud guys versus 3 good ones in a Tony Jaa film can mean only one thing...


The resulting chase scene has Jaa leaping over, under and through racks of hats and various gardening tools, sheets of glass, 4 cars, barbed wire (it's the amazing folding Jaa!) and countless other items, while Humlae does his best with a cleaver and some chili paste. The stunts are so fantastic that even the director thinks they are worth a second look, including no less than 5 instant replays of different stunts from various angles. So very, very full of win.

NOTE: @ 4:25 a little old lady walks by. The translation is "knives for sale"... which is ENTIRELY hilarious!!!

The good news is, we enjoy a fantastic fight scene and our heroes escape, with Humlae promising to help Ting find Don if he'll save his sorry butt. Don't forget, there is still a head missing here and that REALLY is what this movie is all about.

This  is what we're looking for.
The pair head back to the fight club where we are truly rewarded with a supremely impressive fight scene. Upon arrival, Big Bear, an Australian fighter, is beating the living daylights out of a skinny, young Thai man. When his girlfriend steps in to shield his body, Big Bear hits her, and as we've already learned, you never hit a woman, especially in front of Tony Jaa. Unless you want to wear you ass as a hat. Then in that case... be my guest and punch away.

Insert the haunting Thai style oboe to signal that it's about to get ugly up in this club and you end up with a 10 minute epic trail of decimation. Because we here at PiTN love to count things, we are here to report to you exactly how many things Tony Jaa and his opponents break in this fight scene. Are you ready for:


1 Bottle (To the head)
4 Tables
6 Chairs
2 Vases
2 Signs
The building's entire electrical system
Mad Dog's teeth, nose, ribs, wrist and spleen
1 Refrigerator
1 Wall
1 Crate
1 Door
1 Window
7 Plates

Do we really have to tell you who wins? Didn't think so. 
However, we've put the movie clip here though... for your enjoyment.
 NOTE: Try not to get distracted by the weird, anti-climactic English overdub.

So, Humlae is celebrating all the money he just won, Komtuan is sounding as pissed off as he possibly can talking through an electrolarynx while planning his retribution, and everyone else in this club in the middle of Bangkok is somehow finding enough American quarters to shower Ting with change. Then the mess of blood, glass and quarters somehow segues into a dance party. Ting spots Don and tries to catch him, but Don runs out the back of the club and escapes in a giant, maroon, 80's conversion van. The ultimate getaway vehicle.

Later at Don's place, in a rather complicated turn of events, we find that Muay's sister Ngek has been pushing drugs for Don. When she expressed her desire to quit with the whoring and the dealing, he shoves "the powder" in her face, forcing it into her mouth and causing her to overdose. While this is happening, Muay, Ting and Humlae show up to confront Don. Don escapes and Muay stays behind with her sister waiting for an ambulance to arrive while Ting and Humlae chase him down.

Now here the writers thought... 'Wow. That was pretty intense, all that drug and death stuff. How can we lighten the mood here? Oh! We know!

A tuk-tuk chase scene!
 MJ & I are currently seeking out Tuk-Tuk's so that we can drag race.

And so it was that Tony Jaa made film history in a chase involving about 20 Thai taxis and various construction sites, set to the head-bobbingest Thai electronica you've ever heard, and ending with Don and Ting driving headlong into a river.

Take that, you head stealing hoodlum!

In an amazing and serendipitous alignment of circumstances, Ting finds a stash of valuable antique statues of Buddha hiding underwater in what appears to be a fish hatchery. These naturally belong to the ever-so-clever Komtuan!!! Ting immediately notifies that authorities and the mass illegal export of ancient artifacts is stopped.

Now, with his recent financial losses at the fight club, and now the loss of his stolen artifacts, Komtuan is entirely NOT thrilled with the idea of a good-looking dude (Ting) running around causing a commotion and messin' with his profits. When Don informs him that all of the trouble is over the head he wasn't even supposed to steal, Komtuan has Muay and Humlae kidnapped to convince Ting to fight one more time and lose so Komtuan can recoup some of his losses. Ting agrees to a rope fistfight against Komtuan's juiced-up Burmese boxer bodyguard. Win or lose, Ting will get Muay, Humlae, AND the head of Ong Bak. While the fight is still a good one, we the audience are forced to watch as Tony Jaa actually loses a fight. But with the fight lost, Ting and Humlae go to collect Ong Bak, only to find that they have been duped and Komtuan orders them to be killed.

There are two lessons to be learned from this part of the film: 1) A gun (or two or three) is no match for Tony Jaa. 2) If threatened and given the opportunity, Tony Jaa will bounce your head off the most readily available piece of furniture. Well, ok, there are far more than two lessons... a few more we can think of off the cuff? How not to use your car door as a shield... what not to do when attacked by fiery flaming Tony Jaa... motorcycle helmet brands/styles to avoid when planning to be involved in a Muay Thai death match... when running away from death by Muay Thai it is not helpful to run toward your attacker... and so on.

So obviously our heroes escape. But they still don't have Ong Bak. Humlae decides in a moment of serious clarity that he's been kind of a jerk for most of the film and that he needs to help retreive the head, so he and Ting hop on a motorbike and ride off to find Komtuan hiding in a cave. Ting launches a surprise attack on the four guards outside the cave (there was much chuckling here about a stunt stocking cap in a harness and wires... pretty sure that had to do with the super sized Mai Tais...) then runs inside to unleash a mighty helping of death and burning.


1) Awesome with the Tonfa style arm thingies!!!

2) Bad idea to make his one brutal staff of doom into two bone crushing sticks of death.

3) Owie with the saw thing and the blood gooshing!

2) WHOA! He totally elbowed a hole in that dude's skull!!!!

3) Revenge of massive, mightily ticked off stone deity.... Humlae dies :(

4) Ong Bak is returned to the village, Ting is ordained in lieu of Humlae, all is safe and well and happy.

Things we like about this film? Well, there's Tony Jaa, the fantastic choreography, the elbows of death, Tony Jaa, the never-ending supply of creative items to jump over/destroy/bounce enemies off of, the fantastic use of slow motion and instant replay, the catchy Thai electronica... and of course Tony Jaa.

Oh, and Ting's grandmother is just the cutest, darn, toothless thing you ever saw.

Did we mention that Tony Jaa is in this film?

(thanks for the photo reference MuayThaiFighting.com)

Ong Bak is currently available for instant viewing on Netflix, but is also widely available for purchase if you trust us enough to add it to your collection. AAAaand, if you're local brick & mortar doesn't carry it, we suggest a boycott because no self respecting video store WOULDN'T carry this film!!

At any rate, find it, enjoy it, and please if you have too many Mai Tais try to remember that you are not a Muay Thai master. You could get hurt.

Je Reste Ghetto,

~The Mavens

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