I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Ong Bak 2

tn_ongbak2Usually I prefer to wait to see a movie on the big screen, but when I saw an import DVD of ONG BAK 2 I just couldn’t resist. What on earth is that guy gonna jump off of or over in this one? Who or what will find their bones crushed by his bones? And the thought of that little guy running around on top of elephants… I don’t know man. I wasn’t gonna sit around waiting if I didn’t have to.

I think we all agree that Tony Jaa is the closest thing we got to a New Jackie Chan. Not that his persona or humor is the same or anything. But he’s an inhumanly great martial artist and stuntman whose movies make our jaws drop with feats of physical prowess and death defiance. They don’t make too many of those these days so it’s a big deal. I don’t know about you but I really hadn’t  quite had a “holy shit, a guy really did that!?” reaction like that since the heyday of Jackie.

I’m sure Jaa has had chances to come to Hollywood and skip forward to the current TUXEDO era of Jackie’s career, and fortunately he’s resisted so far.  Now we know he’s following his own path, because Jackie’s never directed an APOCALYPSE NOW style out-of-control epic. In his directorial debut Jaa went over budget, over schedule, disappeared into the jungle, showed up on some TV show crying, even scared the Weinsteins into un-investing (man, more people should try that trick). Eventually his mentor and director of BORN TO FIGHT Panna Rittikrai took over directing to hep him finish it up in a professional, non-fleeing-into-jungle type manner. The result is a sometimes crazy, always impressive traditional martial arts fantasy, sort of like APOCALYPTO meets CONAN THE BARBARIAN as produced by the Shaw Brothers.

mp_ongbak2There’s one catch though: they figured an easy way to finish it up would be to, uh, not finish it up. It has a “cliffhanger ending” that’s really more of an abrupt stop. A narrator makes some questionable claims about the character’s “past deeds” putting him in this predicament and then asks us to save him like we did for Tinkerbell that one time when she was gonna die and the only cure was clapping. (that was before antibiotics I believe.)

But it’s a great movie until it ends.

If you haven’t heard, this isn’t really a sequel. It’s arguably a prequel. There are some parts where he looks at a statue which I assume is the same one from part 1, although I haven’t seen that movie in a long time. I remember it had the naive country boy in the big city, cheesy action movie criminals, underground fighting, the comic relief of Dirty Balls, lots of bone-breaking fights, impressive jumping, vehicle stunts. ONG BAK 2 takes place in 1421 so it has almost none of those things. But it does have a cameo by the guy who played Dirty Balls (he even makes a comment about “itchy balls”) and it does have fighting. Yes, I can definitely guarantee that it has fighting, I feel very confident in that statement. It has fighting on top of fighting beneath fighting wrapped in a thin layer of fighting, with fighting powder sprinkled around the edge of the plate.

The story is about a kid named Tien who wants to be a warrior but his dad makes him take dancing lessons instead. (Don’t worry kid, it’s like a football player taking ballet. It’ll help.) When their kingdom is under siege they get chased down on horseback, the dad gets sliced and shot full of arrows, but the kid sneaks away. He ends up captured by slave traders who find they are unsatisfied with the quality of his slavery and toss him in an alligator pit. Turns out the alligator pit was the right place at the right time for this guy because the leader of a notorious band of pirates sees the fight and is so impressed he helps him escape and takes him under his wing. You know, like “Hey man, I saw your alligator fight. I’m interested in representing you. Here’s my card.” One of those great “how he got discovered” stories you might see on a Coca-Cola trivia slide before a movie or on the IMDb.

These pirates are cool because they all have different costumes and specialties. They got a guy who looks like Lone Wolf and Cub, a guy who balances swords on his chin, a guy who shoots fire out of his hands, etc. I wish they went into their characters more, because this is a colorful ensemble here that they could do alot more with. But they teach him their techniques from all different schools. He learns different weapons, fighting styles, how to use explosives, magic tricks. And he grows up into Tony Jaa (SPOILER).

When Jaa comes into the movie it becomes all about testing. He has to fight different masters and prove his dexterity by running across a herd of elephants.He’s so badass he makes the elephants bow to him. And I guess the pirates must consider that a good endorsement because they appoint him their new leader.

Once he’s a super-warrior and pirate leader he figures he might as well take advantage of his new resources so he goes back to avenge the wrongs done to him earlier in the movie, tracking down the slavers and the assassins. Earlier it seemed like kind of a weird, free-flowing plot, but now all the pieces come together and the structure reveals itself, it was all setup for what he had to do and how he would do it.

The crazy stunts are what I love most about the Thai action movies, and if that’s you too then be warned that this has less emphasis on those. I guess you can’t exactly bounce off a moving truck in 1421. The most unique and impressive stunts involve the elphants – jumping or spinning off their tusks. There’s even a fight on top of an elephant. I don’t know if any of this is faked, but it looked real to me. You couldn’t do those scenes in the U.S., the Humane Society wouldn’t let you. In fact, the elephants wouldn’t let you, unless you were Tony Jaa. Tony Jaa has a huge following in the elephant community.

3sectionstaffSo I’m not sure this will be as impressive to the average joe on the street as part 1, but for people who like to watch martial arts on screen it’s an instant classic. The time and crazed dedication Jaa put into it really shows. He doesn’t just fight in his usual muay thai but also in different Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian forms. And best of all he uses a bunch of different exotic weapons, including the 3-section staff like Gordon Liu used in THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN. Now there’s a hell of a weapon! Nunchakas get alot of hype, and righfully so. But a guy who can use a 3-section staff is a guy worth putting in movies. Look I like Jason Statham, but let’s see him figure out what the hell to do with a big stick chained to two other big sticks. The guy would be lost. You’re not gonna see Statham with the 3-section staff, is my guess. Haven’t seen CRANK 2 yet though, I could be wrong.

I really like the other two Jaa movies and I actually thought the stories and filmatism were better than I had heard. But this is a big improvement. Before I thought Jaa’s girly looks and voice were holding him back a little, that maybe he came across a little bit too goodie two-shoes and country bumpkin to be a great action hero. Here he plays a character more in tune with the guy who smashes people’s faces with his knee caps. He looks crazed, sometimes possessed, almost evil. And the movie is courageously low on dialogue.

It’s also by far the best story of these movies. A good legend, not just an excuse to string fights together. A real well told story if you don’t count the part where it suddenly crashes into a wall at the end.

Get back to me after part 3, I guess. For now I love this one with only reservations about the ending.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Friday, May 1st, 2009 at 7:42 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

32 Responses to “Ong Bak 2”

  1. killer review vern. are people going to start doing “first” here?

  2. Really looking forward to seeing this – watched Chocolate a couple months back, and it’s mind-blowing how consistently amazing these Thai movies have been. Thanks for hyping them up.

    Also, I’m curious: What are your favorite Jackie Chan movies? I’ve seen a lot of his 90s output, since those were all given theatrical releases, but I finally saw Police Story recently and was kinda blown away. My girlfriend liked it, even. So what’s a good follow-up?

  3. I’m holding you to that ‘yet’, Vern, cos I’m looking forward to your Crank 2 review. Great review though, I didn’t realise Jaa did all that other stuff on top of disappearing into the jungle. Somehow knowing this film was so intense that it made him cry AND scare off the Weinsteins makes me think he is that much cooler.

    Also, I dunno if it’s out in the Americas yet, but are you gonna be watching Driven to Kill? I know it’s a stupid question, but I’m looking forward to that review too.

  4. The only disappointing one I’ve seen from the Ong Bak team is Mercury Man, I couldn’t get into that one. Born To Fight is probaly my favorite.

    Well to be honest I am not the most well versed in Jackie Chan. I’ve seen most of those ’90s ones too. Drunken Master 2 is great if you haven’t seen it. I also thought Who Am I? was surprisingly good although most people don’t seem to like that one.

    Yeah, I’ll see Crank 2, but not until the DVD I think. I should be clear, Tony Jaa didn’t intentionally scare the Weinsteins off, it was just him doing those other things that made them back out. Of course it would be cooler if he had hung them off a balcony or something.

    Did Driven To Kill already come out somewhere? I read it was coming out in May. He switched to Fox and I’ve been told they don’t make screeners, so I haven’t been able to get it early like the other ones. But of course I’ll be seeing it as soon as it’s available to me.

  5. Hey Vern, team. This new sight is fantastic. So great to be able to TB and interact with Vern nation.

    Me and the missus watched Chocolate just the other day.I’m pretty sure it was the first pure martial arts film (JCVD the week before probably doesn’t count, right?) – she loved it. It was fun seeing her discard all her usual reservations about story, acting and script and just getting carried along by the circus of violent mayhem.

    I totally recommend it as a perfect gateway drug to getting your women folk into fighting films – because the star is just so awesome, and so convincing at kicking ass – that the ladies can’t help but feel empowered.

    My point is – we are now dying to see this one. I think this’ll be a great next step, as it will allow me to introduce her to the rich history of period martial arts films.

    Speaking of which, Reno Dakota, I have always felt that the single greatest Jackie Chan movie is Project A – it’s just got everything. There is a great combination of all the elements that made him a megastar: Buster Keaton comedy mixed with genuinely exciting fight action. It’s really well made and has a great story (HK coast guard fighting/infiltrating piracy) – and also stars prime Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. He was on fire back then. Snake in the Eagles Shadow (more of a straight old school kid-learns-new-style-to-defeat-bad-guy tupe deal), Drunken Master (his first comedy/action mega-hit) and Wheels on Meals (has a bunch of different names, completely awesome) are total must sees from this period too.The first sequels to Police Story and Project A are good too.

    Worth Checking out Armor of God (JC does Indy Jones) and it’s sequel (where he does james Bond, sort of) – especially A of G, as it almost killed him.

    Right, off to track down Ong Bak 2.

  6. Not only is Driven to Kill NOT already out here (UK) but I can’t even find it online as anything but Blu-fucking-Ray, which is so dumb that it’s stupid.

    It’s hard being a fan of the guy over here. I don’t know how you’ll feel about this, but it’s a lot easier to buy your book than it is to find some of his films. I had to import On Deadly Ground from Holland!
    It was totally worth it, obviously. But still.

    You’re better off waiting for the DVD of Crank 2, btw. When I say I’m looking forward to your review it’s only because I remember how much you loved the first one.

  7. BlackFrankWhite

    May 1st, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    10 best Jackie Chan movies (Vern, you gotta review these fuckers):

    1) Snake and the Eagle’s Shadow (Yuen Wu Ping, 1978)

    2) Drunken Master (Yuen Wu Ping, 1978)

    3) Dragons Forever (Sammo Hung, 1988)

    4) Double Dragon (Ringo Lam + Tsui Hark, 1992)

    5-7) Police Story Trilogy (Jackie Chan, 1988-1993)

    8-9) Project A 1+2 (Jackie Chan, 1983, 1987)

    10) The Canton Godfather (Jackie Chan, 1989)

    Oh, and DM2 and many others form the 80’s are not bad either.

  8. Which movie was it that was shot by the director of SHAKEDOWN and EXTERMINATOR who told Jackie Chan point blank that Americans didn’t want to see his brand of fights and stunts.

    I enjoyed SHAKEDOWN and all, but that…..was a rather fucking stupid opinion to make, no?

  9. As regards the everyday Joe liking this film- there’s a small video store in the 42nd Street/Times Square subway station here in New York, where I got my (dubiously legal) copy of this film. They have a TV facing out into the concourse and, a few yards away from where crowds of people usually surround buskers, there is now a constant crowd of people watching ONG BAK 2 with no sound. I think people are just walking by, on their way home from work, and they pass by the screen and go JESUS, WHAT WAS THAT?

  10. RRA, that would be notorious schlock merchant James Glickenhaus. I actually think The Protector is really underrated. Sure, the fights are nowhere up to Jackie’s usual levels, but that’s because Glickenhaus wasn’t trying to make a Jackie Chan movie; he was just trying to make a sleazy American action movie that happened to have Jackie Chan in it. I like the movie because it forces Jackie to stop mugging shamelessly and actually act semi-badass for a change. Don’t get me wrong, as a physical performer Jackie is without equal, but his supposed comedic chops are a highly suspect. I’ve never once found him the slightest bit funny, which is a big problem when he spends all his time making stupid faces in a desperate bid for laughs. He’s like seeing Jim Carrey: better when he’s not trying so hard.

  11. hey man, jackie chan is funny. sometimes.

    i like in his old movies that he used to spell his name Jacky Chan. That was better methinks.

    HEY VERN. Where’d you pick up that import disc? I’ve been jonesing for OB2 for a while now but I didn’t know there were int. discs available already…share the wealth!

    Tell me and I’ll finally mail you those dvds I said I would like 6 months ago. I still have your addy.

  12. You can get the import DVD on eBay. That’s where I got mine. I agree with everything Vern says about it, by the way, although I’m surprised he didn’t bring up the part where Jaa fights a vampire.

  13. i’ve been putting off watching this, and i’m not sure why. definitely giving this a go on the weekend.
    good call vern.

  14. Good review, Vern. Can’t wait for this to get an R2 release. I totally agree with you about the 3-Section Staff. It’s an amazing looking weapon, and I loved seeing it get highlighted in Fearless.

  15. I can’t wait for this to arrive here in Italy.I’ve only seen Ong-bak and Tom yum goong (Ong-bak:Born to fight and Protector:Muay Thai Law here) but they’re fantastic , and I love the old Shaw Brothers movies with Liu and the Venom Crew , so this is looking particularly good.Man 2009 is shaping up to be a really good year for action movies , especially martial arts.This , Ninja Assassin and Florentine’s “Ninja” are at the top of my list.Speaking of “Ninja” anyone here knows a date of release? I’ve found only a single forum with pictures and posters , but the official site is just a tease , a single image.We need a ninja-renaissance right now!

  16. Alright, thanks alot Mr. Majestyk.

    I’m surprised Vern hasn’t yet reviewed SHAKEDOWN in all of its roller coasters-gone-wild glory.

    “No actually its….FUCK YOU ASSHOLE!”

    Sam Elliott, a legend.

  17. The one I saw was supposedly a Malaysian version from HKflix:

    http://www.hkflix.com/xq/asp/filmID.550457/qx/details.htm

    I don’t know what the deal is with that company, not sure if they really have the rights to put out the stuff they do, but picture-wise it looked legit and not like a bootleg. That version is NTSC so it won’t work for my European friends, but I’m sure there’s a PAL version somewhere since I believe Asia is PAL. Or then again you could watch that one on your computer because it’s not region coded.

    Mr. Majestyk: I thought that was a ghost, not a vampire. But then again I thought it was a lady but IMDb says the actor’s name is Dan something.

  18. How about we split the difference and just call it an Army of Darkness-style she-bitch?

    By the way, Vern, you may know me under my secret identity as “Marcel from Brooklyn.” I’m liking the new site. It’s cool that the comments allow some open communication between other defenders of the badass arts.

  19. “Now we know he’s following his own path, because Jackie’s never directed an APOCALYPSE NOW style out-of-control epic.” Dear Vern, please check out the history of filming Dragon Lord (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084266/) aka Young Master in Love. Jaa’s antics have NOTHING on Jackie’s post-triads troubles!
    By the way, the movie itself is one of his best.

  20. The alternative 10 best Jackie Chan movies (watch them after all the famous ones and be amazed, guys!):
    1. Dragon Lord (Quentin Tarantino’s favorite)
    2. The Young Master
    3. Supercop (Michelle Yeoh, a bike and a moving train)
    3. Mr. Canton and Lady Rose (aka Miracles)
    4. Thunderbolt (Sammo Hung’s Fast & Furious)
    5. City Hunter
    6. The Fearless Hyena (skip the sequel, though)
    7. Dragon Fist (the best “Jackie Chan as Bruce Lee” movie)
    8. Shaolin Wooden Men (very underrated)
    9. The Hand of Death (John Woo’s first movie!)
    10. New Fist of Fury (more three-section staff action!)
    Let me know if you need any tips in, ahem, aquiring the good widescreen copies of the said items.
    Cheers!

  21. Well, looks like theres already a dtv indonesian (reboot? quite possibly) sequel to ONG BAK called MERANTAU

    i’ve seen twitch hyping this up like the second coming. I know i can’t judge quite yet on just a trailer, but thats the vibe i’m getting so far.

  22. Oh and i thought the review was pretty spot on!

    Although some parts were disappointing, it was still a good movie to watch. I think the part that bugged me out the most though was “the birdman fight on elephants”. I was hoping the “born to fight” guy and tony jaa would’ve been more raw. It was actually one of the weirder fight scenes apart from the army of darkness/lion/demonorghost/dan bitch. Also apart from being a lackluster fight, it had some of the most noticeably wire-worked stunts i’ve ever seen jaa use in a movie. Not that it was a bad thing that he did. I mean i get it, it was a tribute movie to all those above and if you’re gonna riff on the chinese cinema you might as well throw some wires in there just in case we missed something. But it was like an endurance run to see how long this man would go on without them.

  23. BlackFrankWhite

    May 3rd, 2009 at 5:13 am

    Roachboy – that’s a very good alternative list.
    Dragon Lord should have been on my list too (btw, it’s QT’S favorite movie AFTER Snake and the Eagle’s Shadow). Super Cup (= Police Story 3) and Mr. Canton and Lady Rose (= The Canton Godfather) are already there.
    City Hunter? I don’t know, I expected more from a Jackie Chan-Wong Jing Collaboration. I think that’s the reason why I didn’t see Woo’s Hand of Death yet.

  24. NTSC isn’t a problem in Europe. All DVD players sold in Europe are required to be NTSC capable. I don’t think there even are any PAL only players. Now region coding is another issue, but shouldn’t be much of a problem these days…

    Anyhow, great review Vern and I’m really looking forward to checking out Ong Bak 2.

  25. BlackFrankWhite – Oh, I totally forgot that he showed Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, too! Yeah, it’s probably Jacky Chan’s best movie.
    And what do you think about Thunderbolt’s pachinko parlor fight?

  26. BlackFrankWhite

    May 3rd, 2009 at 8:59 am

    Roachboy – Didn’t see that one yet. I’ll put it on top of my list. bte, according to imdb Chan’s fight scenes in that movie were filmed with stunts because he was injured during filming Ramble in the Bronx.

  27. Roachboy – so what was the deal with the production of DRAGON LORD? All I could find was wikipedia says they did 2900 takes of a badminton scene. That sounds more like Kubrick-style perfectionism than APOCALYPSE NOW.

  28. Vern – oh, they filmed the whole thing in Korea (I think), then came back and the whole footage was unusable, and so began an epic Taiwan shoot. During it Chan broke up with his girlfriend, got depressed, almost broke his own Guinness world record for the most takes of a single scene (twice), went over budget, went behind schedule (I think all in all the movie took him two years or so), obsessively hired enormous numbers of stuntmen for giant stunts that where left on the cutting room floor (sounds familiar? At least there will be Ong Bak 3!), scrapped the whole script AGAIN, re-cut the whole thing, filmed some new scenes and finally returned to Golden Harvest with a weird little anti-kungfu movie with three or four VERY elaborate stunt sequences. The movie was about a year late and was hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget. I’ve read about this in a book called “I Am Jackie Chan”, but there are pieces of info on Net as well (just google “Dragon Lord stuntmen” or “Dragon Lord Taiwan”).

  29. Oh, and the film was a huge box office flop, too.

  30. Ong Bak 2 is cinematic perfection. Bring on Raging Phoenix (looks spectacular).
    In reference to Thunderbolts pachinko fight – Wires and stunt doubles do not a good Jackie Chan film make.

  31. The trailer for Ong Bak 3 is out now. Looks like the single most insane action movie since, well, since Ong Bak 2.

  32. It’s not though, it’s extremely tedious. That trailer actually contains most of the fighting. Probably less than ten minutes of action in the entire film.

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