Even though he’d been in and out of movies since the mid-90’s, Tony Jaa burst onto the international screen in 2003 with Ong bak: Thai Warrior and immediately became an international star, drawing comparisons with Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li. He has made a handful of movies in the last few years, but with Ong bak 2, he graduated to both starring as well as directing.
Apparently, Jaa’s directing debut was a mess. Rumors of too much stress led to him walking off the set and disappearing for several weeks only to be located and forced to finish not only Ong bak 2, but to write, star and direct Ong bak 3. Ong bak 3, released only in Thailand, by all accounts was a total flop and Jaa himself has reportedly quit the movie business altogether and joined a Buddhist monastery. This is a shame because I’ve seen three of his films and he really was a talented martial artist and certainly could have claimed the crown of Martial Artist Movie Hero if he so desired.
Ong bak 2 has received mixed reviews, but in my opinion is not only a worthy successor to the original, but may be even better. My only quibble is that the story is a bit convoluted and in places it was a little hard to follow the events, but since this is an action epic and the real star here is the martial arts fight scenes, I can forgive the plot a little bit.
The story really is epic. Instead of taking place on the streets of modern Bangkok, the film attempts to trace the beginnings of Muay Thai and link Jaa’s original modern-day character with his ancient roots. The film has the feel of Schwarzenegger’s original Conan film. A royal family is attacked by evil warriors. The young prince witnesses his family get slaughtered only to be captured and sold into slavery. But the young prince is feisty and after taking a bite out of the leader of the criminal gang who runs the slave ring, he is summarily tossed into the crocodile pit for everyone’s enjoyment. However, he succeeds in fending off the crocodile which impresses the criminal leader so much that he rescues the boy from slavery and sends him to be trained in the secrets of the martial arts.
But the young prince never forgets what happened to his family and once he is released from his martial arts school, he immediately seeks revenge on those who murdered his family. Featuring a fairly predictable plot twist towards the end, we discover just who actually killed his family. But I’m a sucker for historical epics and this one has plenty of action and drama plus some stunning and eye-popping martial arts stunts, including some cool stuff using an elephant.
There is an attempt at the very end to (loosely) tie the second film to the first one, which I caught, but even if you don’t make the connection, the second film can stand entirely on its own as a spectacular, if a bit confusing, martial arts flick. Personally, I really enjoyed the film. It is nearly non-stop action and is quite a bit more bloody and violent than the first film (although it’s not overly gory at all).
If you liked the original Ong bak or you like Tony Jaa’s films, I would recommend this one to you. Plus, since it looks like Jaa is taking a (potentially) long break from film, this might be your last Muay Thai fix for a while.