Posts Tagged ‘thai martial arts 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 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.




Thailand 2009   Directed by: Manop Udomdej  Cast: Sopita Sribanchuen, Kesarin Ektawatkul, Pete Thongchua

After a super-secret mission in the south of Thailand, Gunja, a CIA operative, is becoming a target herself. Escaping an attempt to assassinate her she goes AWOL for 2 years, only to resurface in Bangkok in order to find out who wants her dead and to stop another crime from happening. Needless to say that she’ll meet a couple of old friends along the way.

SUAY SAMURAI (literally: Beautiful Samurai) is another one of those Thai B-Action movies that the country and possibly the world can’t get enough of. For whatever reason we can still see a large and continuous output of this kind of stuff coming out of the kingdom and surprisingly there’s an audience out there buying into these films. Even though movies like SUAY SAMURAI may still be screened in cinemas across Thailand they without a doubt wouldn’t see the light of the silver screen ever in a western market. So make no mistake, this kind of film must generally be considered direct-to-video fare.

SUAY SAMURAI is not the worst of its kind, has some sense of style and solid action sequences – plus the girls look good fighting in tight clothes –, overall however this cannot deviate from the fact that the script is lousy and the cinematic appeal overall lackluster. Don’t be fooled by the sexy artwork, this always looks far better than the actual movie. Also, the film is not exactly faithful to its subject: disregard the title we’d say that SUAY SAMURAI is mix-and-match as far as martial arts styles and weaponry are concerned. Many scenes/ outfits/ designs/ choreographies are clearly inspired by the good old days of cheap ninja movies than by the more classy samurai movies of contemporary Japanese cinema. Not to forget the girls-and-guns genre, the film also more than obviously descends from the lineage of Hong Kong films of the 80s and early 90s. Yeah, it also features some villains on motorcycles, that’s friggin’ original, ain’t it?

SUAY SAMURAI is a bastard of a movie, and not a glorious one. But it may serve its purpose and kick ass for 90 minutes – if you need a companion for TV dinner SUAY SAMURAI could be your choice. Everyone else will wish THE VANQUISHER is more like THE VANISHER.