First things first: If you're a fan of action movies, martial arts movies, stunt work or just watching bodies get knocked around in general and you haven't seen a Tony Jaa movie, put down whatever you're doing and get a hold of these films. Jaa is doing some of the most exciting work in action cinema today. He's got an incredible eye for set pieces, melds different styles and approaches to action flawlessly, and continuously pushes himself to deliver something new and exciting with each production. The simultaneous release of Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior and Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning on Blu-ray showcases both his auspicious debut and his growth as an artist.
The first Ong-Bak, set in modern times, follows a trajectory familiar to anyone who has spent any time around Asian action cinema. Ting (Tony Jaa), a young man in a small village, is taught the ancient arts of combat, but is also told never to use them for violence. But, as tends to happen, someone comes along and steals the head of the ancient Ong Bak statue and the town becomes cursed without it. They have no recourse but to send Ting to the big, bad city to try and recover their precious statue head. Predictable hijinks and bone-smashing ensue.
People don't come to these movies for the story, and here that's particularly handy, as the story is pretty rote. The actual character of Ting is also pretty uninteresting. He has valor, he can kick things crazy good, you don't want to race him. That's about it. On the other hand, perhaps we should be grateful for this, as the specter of an action star trying really really hard to act with great depth and emotion can be a painful situation (see: Steven Seagal).
The personality of the film is shuffled off to Humlae (Petchtai Wongkamlao), a former resident of Ting's village who moved to the big city to become a hustler, and his partner in crime, Muay Lek (Pumwaree Yodkamol). Wongkamlao acquits himself well enough. He's not given enough antics, storylines or involvement in the fighting to make himself a particularly memorable sidekick, but he does bring some welcome levity to the film. Yodkamol's main role is to be plucky and adorable, a charge she manages handily.
The second film changes things up, to say the least. This sequel is set, unpredictably enough, about 600 years before the original. This time Jaa's character, Tien, is the son of a provincial ruler who is caught in the midst of great political upheaval. His father hides Tien away in a friend's dance academy, where poor young Tien is forced to learn dance instead of fulfilling his desire for weapons training. Tien's father is eventually, inevitably murdered. Tien is captured and sold into slavery, where he escapes thanks to a motley band of thieves, whose group he then joins.