Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior made a splash in the indie movie and martial arts communities when Magnolia Pictures distributed it stateside in limited release. For those of you asking, “What the heck is Ong-Bak?” here’s your chance to discover the biggest import from the Thai film industry since … well, ever.

Now available on DVD from Fox Home Entertainment, Ong-Bak is a 90-minute demo reel for its leading man’s jaw-dropping, death-defying stunts. Consider this not so much a movie but a calling card to international fame for its star, stuntman-turned-actor Tony Jaa. Although built on some of the worst screenwriting ever and filmed with inconsistent camerawork, the movie is worth a viewing solely for its star’s physical talents. Quite simply, Tony Jaa is the second coming of Jackie Chan—at least in the pure, no-tricks stunt-work sense.

Like all memorable foreign B-movies, Ong-Bak features our hero, Ting, who learns everything his master has to offer only to inexplicably promise never to use his unparalleled martial talents. However, Ting defies his master’s wishes after his tiny village’s titular relic, the head of a Buddha statue, gets stolen by Bangkok gangsters, whose only motivation for keeping the icon is to give him a reason to beat them down.

The best part of Ong-Bak is the star’s stunt-filled fights. He borrows liberally from Jackie Chan and sprinkles the action sequences with various tributes, including throwing peppers in his enemies’ eyes, plummeting 20 feet to the ground without strings or padding, and vaulting over tables, bikes and cars. Tony Jaa even throws a spiraling roundhouse kick with his pants engulfed in flames, a scene that’s reminiscent of the climax in The Legend of Drunken Master. Without wires or computer-generated effects, he launches his body into the air and runs on the shoulders of thugs. In another scene, the director replays from multiple angles a shot of him sliding in a split under a moving sport-utility vehicle.

Tony Jaa truly is a physical specimen. His spinning aerial kicks put to shame the footwork of the best taekwondo champion. His set pieces rival Jackie Chan’s superhuman stunts from the late ’80s to early ’90s. He has the muay Thai background, the gymnastics and the looks to be a big star. Unfortunately, in Ong-Bak he lacks a consistent director, a decent script and a fight choreographer who won’t rely solely on the actor to carry the action.

Thankfully, the DVD extras focus on Tony Jaa. There are outtakes, featurettes and the French premiere, where he performed many of his breathtaking stunts for a live audience. Despite Ong-Bak’s flaws, the bonus material and Jaa’s star power make it worth watching.

Dr. Craig's Martial Arts Movie Lounge

When The Fast and the Furious (2001) sped into the psyche's of illegal street racing enthusiasts, with a penchant for danger and the psychotic insanity of arrant automotive adventure, the brusque bearish, quasi-hero rebel, Dominic "Dom" Toretto was caustic yet salvationally portrayed with the power of a train using a Vin Diesel engine.

Keep Reading Show less
ONE: Battleground III Tayfun "Turbine" Ozcan is out of his highly-anticipated bout against Sitthichai "Killer Kid" Sitsongpeenong at ONE: Battleground on Friday, July 30. ONE Championship made the announcement on Monday morning.
Keep Reading Show less

Warning: An analogy is about to be used for effect. But not merely for effect. It is chosen intentionally because of the life-threatening nature of the subject matter. The analogy and thesis being that weight-cutting in MMA is proving to be similar to what happens in situations of domestic abuse. As stated, this is not used or mentioned lightly and it is in the frontal lobe that many families (including the writer's) have had the loss and bruises, so that here it is very much taken extreme seriously. The comparison is used completely wittingly with the full respect to those who suffer. It is actually that respect and the constant sight of suffering that instigated this communication. When we say of both situations that someone might literally die unless something changes, it is not hyperbole and further it is tough to find more pointed language to give it the seriousness it deserves.

Keep Reading Show less