Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (Blu-ray)
Directed by Prachya Pinkaew
Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 105 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Thai, English
Subtitles: English, SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 24.99
Release Date: February 2, 2010
Review Date: February 3, 2010
The combination of martial arts and gymnastics into the Muay Thai fighting style gets another showy treatment in Prachya Pinkaew’s Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior. Though the framing story which surrounds the string of fight and chase sequences is overly familiar and repetitive, there is no denying the real athletic skill and derring-do that these fights require, an amazing accomplishment that even camera tricks like undercranking don’t minimize. With a charismatic star and some inventiveness in staging, Ong-Bak The Thai Warrior can represent its genre with pride.
Don (Wannakit Siriput), a former native of a rural Thai village, has his men steal the head of the town’s Ong-Bak (Buddha statue) to win favor with ruthless Bangkok crime boss Khom Tuan (Sukhaaw Phongwilai). The locals regard the theft as a catastrophe and choose Ting (Tony Jaa) to return the head of their statue to the village. Ting travels to Bangkok, where, with the help of once-friend George (Petchthai Wongkamlao) and his sister Muay (Pumwaree Yodkamol), he’s forced to compete in illegal fights in underground fight clubs, taking on both local and foreign opponents to win back the head of Ong-Bak from the pitiless underworld kingpin. But the crime lord isn’t a good loser and double crosses Ting at every opportunity.
Yes, the series of fights will seem very familiar if you’ve seen a fair number of martial arts movies before, but to the credit of the cast and crew of the movie, the filmmakers have not relied on CGI to give the actor-athletes more high flying abilities than they normally possess. True, the camera is undercranked to give the action in some scenes more vivacity, and there is always that irritating repetition of the same great move two, three, even four times from different angles that is so familiar in martial arts films. But apart from breakaway furniture that had it been real would have killed anyone who endured the number of hits that star Tony Jaa takes with tables, chairs, electric signs, lumberjack saws, even a refrigerator, the high-flying action seems completely real and organic to the movie. Director Prachya Pinkaew stages one of the best foot chases through the alleys and back streets of Bangkok I’ve ever seen as Jaa jumps over, slides under, and oozes through a succession of sharp tools, knives, barbed wire, and panes of glass trying to elude capture. Also well mounted is the title sequence which finds a curious and involving tree climbing ceremony that features some astonishing falls for the stunt men that are quite breathtaking. The movie pushes its luck a bit with a running time that’s a quarter hour too long for the story it’s telling (the extended chase sequence in taxi carts may smack a bit of James Bond-like stunts, and it’s unnecessary), but the action is pretty non-stop throughout so there aren’t many chances to get bored.
Tony Jaa rightly earns top honors for his grace and power as Ting. Completely comfortable before the camera and moving through these choreographed routines with a panther’s grace and power, he’s an amazing performer. Petchthai Wongkamlao provides what comic relief the film possesses as the hustler George while Wannakit Siriput and Sukhaaw Phongwilai provide the expected one-dimensional villains movies like this typically require.
The film’s 1.85:1 has been delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. This is one of the most underwhelming high definition images you’re ever likely to see seemingly taken from a videotape master that is overly soft and smeared. The image is further hampered by a brown wash that robs the film of vibrancy and gives it the appearance of a much older film. There are swimming pixils in some shots and a digitized look occasionally to the image. In short, it’s a very disappointing transfer. The English subtitles are in white and are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is offered in the original Thai and in an English dub. I listened to the original Thai track, and while the thumping, insistent music is channeled through the fronts and into the rears, most of the sound mix is decidedly front and center. Very little use is made of the rears for ambient crowd noises or for city noises during the several excursions into the streets of Bangkok.
All of the bonus features are presented in 480i.
There is a live Tony Jaa performance in front of an audience at the premiere of the film in France. It lasts for 2 ½ minutes.
“Movements of Muay Thai” is a succession of face offs between two combatants showing off moves in this martial arts discipline. It runs for 1 ¾ minutes.
The Wu Tang Clan music video which is based on the film and features both film clips and some staged fighting for the music video runs for 4 minutes.
The making of the music video is the set’s longest bonus feature, 7 ¼ minutes of a behind-the-scenes look at putting the music video together. Unfortunately, the subtitles go somewhat awry, so unless someone’s French is above average, you may have trouble understanding much of what is said here.
Three sequences from the film get a B-Roll (behind-the-scenes) treatment. Each lasts from 1-2 minutes. The scenes involve the taxi chase, the blazing legs sequence, and the underground club fight sequence.
The promo video for the movie features RZA from Wu Tang Clan and runs for 1 minute.
There are six trailers for the film which must be watched individually (there is no “play all” feature). Most are international trailers with subtitles.
2.5/5 (not an average)
The spectacular Tony Jaa comes into his own with some astounding fighting and movement skills in Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior. The video quality is substandard (to put it mildly) but a lossless soundtrack and a fair selection of bonus material will offer fans some compensation.