ONG BAK 3 [องค์บาก 3]

THAILAND 2010  Directed by: Tony Jaa, Panna Rittikrai Written by: Tony Jaa, Panna Rittikrai  Produced by: Tony Jaa, Panna Rittikrai, Somsak Techaratanaprasert Cast: Tony Jaa, Dan Chupong, Primrata Dech-Udom, Saranyu Wonggrajang, Primrata Dechudom, Petchai Wongkamlao, Nirutti Sirijanya, Supakorn ‘Tok’ Kijusuwan

ONG BAK 3 picks up where ONG BAK 2 had left off: Tien is captured, tortured and almost beaten to death by the Garuda King before he is rescued by royal decree and brought back to the Kana Khone villagers. There he receives extensive medical treatment as well as spiritual treatment: according to Phra Bua Tien was born with sin, and despite his body being almost dysfunctional now his spirit is still wandering around. In order to bring back and fully revive Tien the villagers create a golden Buddha image resembling Tien, and once back on his feet Tien is being taught meditation as well as he learns more about his Karma: his destiny is to bring peace to this world and fight sins and sinners. In the meantime, the Garuda King is killed by Bhuti Sangkha who declares himself successor to the throne. Soon after he kills or captures all Kana Khone villagers, including Tien’s love interest Pim. Once more Tien must fight dark powers and is heading for a final showdown with Bhuti Sangkha.

After leaving the audience with unfinished business in 2008, ONG BAK 3 aims to close the books and deliver a proper ending to the saga. ONG BAK 3 begins with Tien’s martyrdom in captivity and unfortunately takes this very seriously: they are trying too hard to transform Tony Jaa into a literal martyr figure here. A blind man could see the references to Jesus Christ, but you might also find a fair share of Lord Buddha and others in Jaa’s portrayal of Tien. ONG BAK 3 is anyway an amalgamation of Buddhism, black magic, western beliefs and other forms of spirituality, so it doesn’t really come as a surprise that also Christian motifs are used to dramatize Jaa’s role.

After the first thirty minutes or so I was close to write off ONG BAK 3, but luckily I sat through all the beating and healing and meditating and the script not making sense whatsoever. Not that the Phra advising Tien to meditate and to follow his destiny as do-gooder is in any way original, or that his recovery having more to do with his mental health than his physical (obviously strongly influenced by Jaa’s own beliefs and practices) would be a surprise. Neither do the various plot points make us wonder (if so then only in disbelief).

I do not share the opinion of some other writers that ONG BAK 3 is a technically accomplished film. It is most definitely not. The editing often doesn’t match, numerous times the visuals are lackluster, and the music more than once sounds like cheap library music. Aesthetically ONG BAK 2 is superior, but otherwise it’s the heavily fluctuating quality ONG BAK 3 has in common with the predecessors.

Some things do work out better though: a finer balance between story, character development and action, Tony Jaa’s improved acting skills, less wire-fu and a more back-to-the-roots bone-breaking fighting style with many grim sequences, some outstanding set pieces, most notably a fight among an elephant herd, more emotional involvement of the audience (this time we actually care) and a good dose of never before seen elegance, thanks to a game-changing idea: to see the combatants as dancing partners. The final training sequences and the following showdown are beautifully choreographed, and even though they might not receive a warm reception by all die-hard martial arts fans they are among the most outstanding moments of ONG BAK 3.

When the credits start rolling at the end of ONG BAK 3 a few thing come to mind instantly. First of all that enough is enough: ONG BAK so needs no fourth installment. Secondly, that without creating an artificial second part ONG BAK 2 and 3 combined would probably have made for a better, less redundant, more complete and final sequel to ONG BAK. Furthermore, that I found part 3 more enjoyable than part 2, although this is hard to qualify, and even harder to quantify. It’s a close call and fans will have a hard time to decide which of the two they prefer.

In addition it seemed to me that ONG BAK 3 focused on its story and hero in a more multidimensional way, with the “scarred Buddha image” (Ong Bak in Thai) shown in one scene symbolizing both Tien’s physical and spiritual battle, a point that was largely lost in ONG BAK 2. And finally that despite all the talking about values and sins and all the good intentions the killing of Bhuti Sangkha is a double-edged sword: his death is not intentional (he falls and unfortunately dies accidentally), but Tien who set out to “heal” Bhuti Sangkha from evil still had a hand in it. In dubio pro reo: to be fair, let’s just say ONG BAK 3 probably makes more sense than its predecessors. That’s not a lot of sense, but I’d consider ONG BAK 3 well-rounded by comparison.

It’s a pity that ONG BAK 2 and 3 are both fragments. ONG BAK 2 is a dark, gritty and unsatisfying medieval charade, a mixed bag of fighting styles, plot threads and sketchy direction, enjoyable only for about half of its running time and adding up to nothing. ONG BAK 3, albeit a thin script featuring only three major scenes, a very limited number of characters and a story that’s rushed and scenic in the first half finally is concentrating more on its hero and his motifs and, thank god, has a real ending. Also, Bhuti Sangkha is a great villain, I would have wished for more than one encounter with him.

If ONG BAK 3 is more of the same, or better, or worse, may not be that essential. ONG BAK is a unique action movie trilogy that has and will once more put Thai martial arts movies in the limelight. ONG BAK’s true accomplishment therefore is not its cinematic perfection, but its undisputed relevance for the genre.


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One Response to “ONG BAK 3 [องค์บาก 3]”


    […] WE HAVE JUST ADDED THE FULL REVIEW AS OF 2010-05-10. CHECK IT OUT. – – – – – – Expect more of the same from ONG BAK […]

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