Posts Tagged ‘ong bak movie’

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.





THAILAND 2010  Directed by: Pawat Panangkasiri  Written by: Koses Charittiporn, Nut Nualpang, Pawat Panangkasiri Produced by: Prachya Pinkaew, Bhandit Thongdee, Sukanya Vongsthapat  Cinematography: Teerawat Rujintham  Editing: Tawat Siripong  Music: Narinthon Na Bangchang  Cast: Intira Jaroenpura, Somchai Kemglad, Ray MacDonald, Pitisak Yaowananon

Shelved for three years (hence its real year of production is 2008) NAK PROK finally makes it into Thai cinemas and the headline news as the most discussed movie of 2010 so far. So what’s the fuzz all about?

Three criminals disguise as Monks and stay in a Buddhist temple to find the money they’ve robbed and buried somewhere on the temple ground. The yellow robes buy them some time to search for the stash while they are also safe from the police who are intensively looking for the trio. Very soon however they begin to run out of luck and patience: conflicts emerge, their cover may be exposed too soon and the money is nowhere to be seen. The search for the cash turns into a quest for right and wrong and some serious soul-searching.

Without any doubt are Buddhist-related topics in Thailand a hot potato, and a crime thriller set entirely in a temple with criminals posing as monks is kind of guarantee that every Buddhist organization in the country will call for banning the movie once and for all. Much has been said and written about NAK PROK, and many people and groups have spent a lot of time protesting against its showing. The fear the movie could taint the image of Buddhism has fumed a heated debate over NAK PROK. Funny though, Thai people have no problem enjoying THE DA VINCI CODE and the likes. Who cares about Catholicism, right?

But let’s face it: NAK PROK is just a cops-and-robbers story, set in a temple and with bad guys temporarily hiding among the monks. Neither are they really ordained, nor do they ever claim being Buddhists or practicing Buddhism. The difference between the world of the monks and the world of the criminals is always obvious, and it is huge. As mentioned before the idea of criminals disguising as monks is nothing but a set piece, a more or less clever trick to create conflict and drive the story. There is simply no intention whatsoever to discuss about religion, and that is why the critics are wrong about NAK PROK: its subject is not Buddhism, its subject is three thieves and their quest for the loot.

Does the film taint the image of Buddhism? Nope. Not the image, and not the religion. But real monks who drink and gamble do, as shown in newspapers and on TV all the time. Does the film even attempt to make a negative statement about Buddhism? Nope. Quite the opposite: Buddhism offers the criminals a chance to better themselves and find a new direction for their life, maybe even find forgiveness, and certainly offers them an opportunity to reconsider their values and morale. Buddhism is good and the bad guys are, well, bad. NAK PROK sums it up in one dialogue line that essentially says that it’s not religion that gets corrupted, it’s the people who do. So we all have to make our choices, but a religion can never be tainted by man ­– let alone movies ­– as it is a superior concept.

Let’s brush any further discussion on whether NAK PROK is touching on sensitive issues aside (let the press and lobbyists go on ranting) and let’s have a look at NAK PROK for what it is: entertainment. Bottom line is that NAK PROK by no means deserves wasting our time with fundamental discussions, simply because it’s a very average thriller with zero relevance for art, society or religion.

It is not all that bad though, but it has a pretty shitty script with enormous loopholes, sketchy direction and most of the time awful cinematography and lighting. The cast is good and the story is not uninteresting, but with so many illogical plot twists and very unbelievable character development as well as a crude ending that doesn’t make sense at all, NAK PROK suffers from so many shortcomings that it can’t be taken too seriously.

NAK PROK clearly lacks substance: it’s o.k. to watch it on a Sunday afternoon, but I cannot believe that anyone would bother watching it ever again. Down the road NAK PROK will be forgotten; if lucky it will be remembered for the discussion, but hardly for its artistic value. I have seen some fairly good reviews of the movie, but I honestly cannot understand what on earth is really noticeable about it. NAK PROK trails far behind the crème de la crème of Thai cinema.

Last time I checked, art imitates life and not the other way round. NAK PROK imitates life, but not too brilliantly. So life should be safe from any bad influence this work of average entertainment could possibly have.




Thailand 2009   Directed by: Rashene Limtrakul  Produced by: Prachya Pinkaew, Panna Rittikrai  Cinematography: Thanachart Boonla, Tiwa Moeithaisong, Teerawat Rujintham, Chalerm Wongpim  Music: Kanisorn Phuangjin  Cast: Yanin “Jeeja” Vismistananda, Kazu Patrick Tang, Nui Sandang, Boonprasert Salangam, David Bueno, Marc Nghi Hoang

I can’t be mad at her for doing this film. She’s so cute, isn’t she? Yanin’s CHOCOLATE successor is no surprise, let alone a revelation. Just as Tony Jaa before her she is gradually turned into a martial arts icon and marketed accordingly. Still she’s like a real person, not (yet) a spoiled actress. But despite her limited acting skills the producers certainly hope that she will be appealing enough to achieve something like Stathamism one day. But so far there’s only one guy who managed to create his own film category. Way to go, girl.

The ambitions there obvious: JEEJA DEU SUAY DOO is perhaps the first film that makes the name of the actress part of the title (in Thailand the film was often simply listed as “Jeeja“). Deu Suay Doo translates roughly as stubborn, beautiful, fierce, which makes the complete title feel like a “Jeeja” sequel. Like she’s her own brand already. Indeed the film would hardly be worth mentioning if it wasn’t for Yanin Vismistananda. The clumsy story about the Jaguar gang that kidnaps girls to turn their pheromones into perfume which is then sold to rich but ultimately sick dudes is certainly not the reason JEEJA DEU SUAY DOO will once again sell like hot cake on the international film markets.

The martial arts sequences unfortunately also fall short compared to CHOCOLATE and are shot with a special fan audience in mind. Instead of further increasing the tempo or the level of brutality the team around Rittikrai and Pinkaew opted for a unique fighting style – JEEJA features almost exclusively the good old Drunken Monkey Kung Fu style that’s back in fashion these days.

Jeeja is trained by a group of friendly fighters who are totally dedicated to this style. In addition, the filmmakers have added elements from Hip Hop and break dance. The result: the overall tempo is slowed down, everything becomes more playful and comical. Only the last fight cranks the action button up to 11 – once again this is a no-holds-barred action fest that stands out as one of the finest fight scenes of 2009. Fans should beware and adjust their expectations.

But maybe all that is not so wrong after all: films that solely aim for the next superlative will run out of steam sooner or later and will lose their audience just as the audience loses interest. ONG BAK 2 had also introduced new combat modes, but altogether didn’t change its recipe. JEEJA doesn’t seem to look for new extremes – or maybe they knew that Yanin had already reached her limits with CHOCOLATE.

Apart from Yanin’s style and new look formally many things stay the same though: it’s fight after fight, an irrelevant story, partly completely idiotic editing, and continuity is nowhere to be seen. Direction clearly means choreography here. The Thai version of JEEJA DEU SUAY DOO is talkative and feels clearly too long. As usual a shorter cut should be enough for the release in most foreign countries. Somewhat more speed would be good, especially since the substance of many dialogues and funny scenes tends to be zero.

Despite the flaws the film is charming nevertheless. And like always two or three scenes are filmed beautifully, taking us by surprise, making us wonder why these are exceptions and not the rule (maybe because of 4 DOPs?). The fights are solid, although until the showdown not necessarily spectacular (with the showdown unfortunately shot in the studio against green screen, later pasting a 3D background into the footage shot on different film stock or digitally; an awkward combination, I can tell you). And whoever wonders why they are drinking from multicolored bottles: that’s probably a result of the strict local laws and censorship requirements when it comes to depicting all sorts of “drug consumption“ in movies.

JEEJA is very daring nevertheless: alcohol is a highly controversial issue in Buddhist Thailand and the conservatives will certainly slam the film for showing extensive scenes of drinking for the sheer purpose of getting drunk. Any which way: Yanin compensates for many of the film’s shortcomings. Just watch the scene when she’s crawling through an ally in slow motion, surrounded by people running away, with a storm whirling newspapers and garbage all over the place. That’s awesome, and we feel like sixteen again.

With JEEJA DEU SUAY DOO Yanin confirms her position as possibly the world’s only commercial martial arts film heroine. For fans this one’s must. But otherwise it feels more like a stopover on the journey to something greater. Hopefully that’s true. Hopefully it comes true soon.