There are hardly any words to describe the visual flair of Ong-bak. Tony Jaa is as intense as anyone on screen, refusing assistance from wires or special effects. That’s something you need to be aware of before watching. Most of the stunts included here shouldn’t even be humanly possible without assistance, yet they’re here.
If you’re looking for some deep, involving, and thought provoking plot, this is not your movie. It’s a simple story of a man who simply wants to reclaim what was taken from his village. The only reason that story exists is to give Jaa’s character some motivation. For these extensive and simply amazing action set pieces, nothing occurring outside of them matters.
The fights use everything – from saws, to tables, to bottles, to various weapons, to the environment. It’s impossible not to be enthralled with the on screen action. There’s an oddity here, immediate replays of the more or less impossible shots, both to slow it down and appreciate it, plus to re-assure the viewer that what they saw did just happen. The slow motion use is annoying at times, and the impact of certain brutal hits might have worked better at full speed.
Whether or not this is film art is debatable. It’s more like Tony Jaa’s resume. That doesn’t mean this isn’t entertaining. It is, and for action fans, it’s a necessity. (**** out of *****)
The magnificent stunts are ruined by this region 1 DVD transfer. This is a depressing way to see the movie. There are sequences of gorgeous clarity, mostly a few daytime shots, and the rest is miserable. Compression is heavy, and it’s made worse by the film’s use of deep orange tones. Grain is noticeable throughout, and later scenes show some ugly edge enhancement. Colors bleed severely, and the opening moments are hard to watch. It all looks muddy and unclean. (**)
There are two audio options here, original Thai (in 5.1) and an American dub (2.0). The dub is simply awful, and it’s best that the selection is never chosen. The original language features brutal bass from the LFE channel. Any rear channel use is subtle, and unless you turn this one up higher from your normal settings, you’ll never notice it. Hits are felt with the proper sound equipment, and it makes the viewing experience that much more fulfilled. (****)
Extras are sparse for this release, and what’s here is meager. There’s some live performance footage from the French premiere, including stunt men in a mock brawl. Movement of Muay Thai is short, low quality video clips showcasing of the various moves shown in the film. These were obviously separate shows when they were used, and are then spliced together; the aggravating, repetitive soundtrack makes them unbearable to watch.
A French rap video uses Jaa to make it more exciting, and the separate making of the video shows some short footage on the process. There are three behind-the-scenes segments, which focus on some of the most thrilling moments from the film (including the scene where Jaa fights while on fire). A promotional video from Wu Tang Clan’s Rza runs a minute and offers nothing of value. Various trailers from different countries bring the disc to a close. (**)
Ong-bak managed to earn an R rating from the MPAA. That’s a little harsh, especially when other countries have assigned it their respective ratings for 12-13 year olds. There’s some spotty rough language, and the fight scenes are brutal, though not very bloody. This should have been PG-13. Unless you’re terribly concerned about the violence, this is fine for a teenager.