Ong Bak 2: The Beginning opens Friday
There is a mighty urge to give Ong Bak 2: The Beginning a pachyderm-sized pass. Thai martial arts filmmaker Tony Jaa's follow-up/ prequel to his original 2003 hit film largely accomplishes what it sets out to do: present a bigger, more audacious pageant of battles royal and muddy, bloody action showcasing its pliable, acrobatic star.
For fans looking for no more than highly stylized, choreographed martial artistry, you've come to right place. Jaa is an able keeper of the Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan flame, and it is hard not to admire Jaa's one-man-gang approach to making his films, even though financial and management problems with filming Ong Bak 2 led to Panna Rittikrai and Dan Chupong being brought in to assist Jaa with direction and choreography, respectively.
Jaa plays Tien, the orphan of a murdered Thai nobleman who, after a successful tangle with a crocodile, is adopted by Chernang (Sorapong Chatree), leader of a band of pirates/ guerrilla fighters roaming the countryside of ancient Thailand. Training montages ensue, and once Tien grows up, he embarks on the proverbial vengeance mission against slave traders and the warlord who slaughtered his family, a quest that's interspersed with slapdash flashbacks to Tien's childhood.
Jaa's typically adroit, non-CGI stunt work is in fine form. It is truly eye-popping to witness him leap from exploding buildings and do battle atop actual elephants. This film's larger budget shows up in its colorful photography and sumptuous set design.
Still, the story's tragic tableaux are not only old hat, they are slapped together merely to serve as a rickety artifice for Jaa's martial arts mélange. Without a sensible, cohesive plot, the increasingly extravagant fight scenes—with their hyper-editing and foley sound effects—begin to take on the appearance of an Xbox video game as the player advances from level to level.
On the strength of the box office success that Ong Bak 2 has already enjoyed overseas, production of Ong Bak 3 is already in the works. Here's hoping its story involves the Thai Warrior finding some ancient scrolls containing a decent script.