The original ‘Ong Bak’ released in 2003 was a masterpiece of modern martial arts cinema, unleashing the talented Tony Jaa with his own brand of Muay Thai and the mantra “No stunt doubles, no wire-work and no CGI”. While Jaa lacks the charisma of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, he more than matches them in his ability to construct an impressive and inventive fight sequence.
The original ‘Ong Bak’ was set in present day Thailand focussing on Jaa as he travels to Bangkok to recover the head of the sacred idol, Ong Bak, stolen from his small, rural village temple. In addition to arena fight contests, Jaa faces gun toting, motorcycle riding opponents in a contemporary action adventure. For the first sequel, ‘Ong Bak: The Beginning’, the film takes place 400 years prior and bears very little resemblance to the first film. As a result the sequel is a disappointment and despite some truly awe-inspiring fight scenes fails to live up to the phenomenal original.
‘Ong Bak 3’, released today on Blu-ray from Optimum Home Entertainment, directly follows events from the conclusion of the second film.
Tony Jaa’s righteous warrior Tien, finds himself trapped in the middle of a swarm of rival warriors and dragged away to be beaten and brutalised by his raging opponents. Soon after, he is saved from execution and nursed back to health by a group of villagers which leads him on a journey of spiritual and physical healing. The process is short lived when the deadly Crow Demon, who he previously faced in the second film, reappears and enslaves the villagers as part of a plan to take the kingdom’s throne. With his saviours facing certain death, Tien is forced into an epic confrontation with the Crow Demon and his army to decide the fate of the land.
As with ‘Ong Bak: The Beginning’, this second sequel has many flaws and fails to reach the high standard set by the original. The film is basically split into three distinct acts, the first of which opens with a re-cap of key moments from the previous film leading straight into Jaa enduring a ‘The Passion Of The Christ’ style beating. For the first time in the ‘Ong Bak’ trilogy, Jaa reveals a previously unseen vulnerability as he is beaten, whipped and generally abused by his captors. This shows a different side to his character as in the previous films he has seemed almost indestructible.
As he begins the healing process following his time in captivity the second act of the film becomes a series of lengthy spiritual training montages where Jaa shows off his abilities against dramatic backgrounds and landscapes. From practicing yoga and tai-chi to learning to dance he develops and incorporates these disciplines into his fighting style.
The final act of the film sees Jaa entering into a 20 minute climactic battle where he faces the Crow Demon and his army of several hundred soldiers. Taking on foes one by one Jaa fights his way through the army with some prowess although the invention of his earlier films is slightly lacking. The Crow Demon clearly uses wire-work to perform some of his moves which goes against everything I had come to expect from the ‘Ong Bak’ films. The film has five, fairly epic fight sequences involving the usual Muay Thai and sword play but even the inclusion of a herd of elephants, providing a twist to Jaa’s martial arts can’t quite save the film from being nothing more than mediocre.
Tony Jaa is credited as co-director, producer, screen writer, action director/ choreographer and star for ‘Ong Bak III’. To be honest, I think he should go back to simply starring and directing the martial arts as he did in the original ‘Ong Bak’ and his impressive follow up film, ‘Warrior King’. On the evidence of the two ‘Ong Bak’ sequels, he seems much better suited to the contemporary, modern day style films than attempting epic, old school historical dramas.
Generally the Blu-ray picture quality is very good, as you would expect. A scene set inside a temple uses vibrant gold and green colours and looks incredible, comparable to scenes from ‘Hero’ and ‘House Of Flying Daggers’. However in some of the darker scenes it is not always easy to see much detail. The film is presented in its original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 with the original Thai audio in 5.1 DTS HD as well as stereo 2.0 LPCM and good, easy to read English subtitles.
Not a great deal in terms of special features, 30 minutes of standard interviews with the cast and crew featuring very little of any interest. The disc also includes almost 15 minutes of B-roll footage showing some of the fight sequence rehearsals and action set-ups. The only other additional feature is the trailer for the film.
‘Ong Bak 3’, released today on Blu-ray from Optimum Home Entertainment.
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