Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior
(2003), released as Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior
in the U.S., is the first Thai martial arts movie your humble blogkeeper has watched following a host of movies from Hong Kong and South Korea
I mention this because the fighting style is so noticeably different: more compact, close-in, with much greater use of elbows and forearms. And, when the combatants fly through the air, as combatants always do in such movies, they often do so horizontally, parallel to the ground. A fighter is apt to move in close to his opponent, looking about to fly past him, before reaching almost backward to strike with an elbow.
Here's a primer on the muay Thai fighting style
that helped me understand why this movie looks different from Chinese and Korean martial arts movies. The movie also is free, for the most part, of Hong Kong-style wire fu
Many Asian martial arts movies send a hero from a rural village to a big city to get his job done. Here, young Ting (Tony Jaa), from a village in the northeastern region of Isan (ภาคอีสาน
). volunteers to recover the head of the village's Buddha, stolen by a crime lord's henchman and taken to Bangkok. The evil big-city trope is an old one, and I wonder when it became a part of Southeast Asian popular culture. In any case, this movie's first shots of Bangkok are among the most visually effective I can remember at conveying the frightening cacophony any big city, much less Bangkok, might seem to a newly arrived country boy.
The movie includes graphic scenes of the use and effects of yaba
, which Wikipedia calls "a mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine." At least, that's what Wiki says the drug in question is. The fighters here smoke or inject the drug, though the Wiki article on yaba
says it is not commonly injected. In any case, yaba
's effects are unpleasant, and the scenes in which it appears constitute a strong anti-message.
Finally, the Buddha. I have only a passing acquaintance with East and Southeast Asian art, but I always had the idea that Southeast Asian Buddhas tended to be more heavy-lidded than their Chinese counterparts, with facial attitudes of pleasantly relaxed, drowsy contemplation (right). The huge head of one such figure forms striking background to the movie's climactic fight.
OK, enough with the sociological and aesthetic blather. I hope I've convinced you that there is much of interest in Ong-Bak
even if your movie viewing does not normally include heroes who face down crowds of stick- and knife-wielding thugs and somersault over their heads while kicking the crap out of them. Recommended.
© Peter Rozovsky 2013
Labels: Asia, martial arts movies, movies, muay Thai, Thailand, Tony Jaa