XenForo Template Ong Bak 2: The Beginning Release Date: Available now Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment Packaging/Materials: Single-disc Blu-ray case Year: 2008 Rating: R Running Time: 1:38:00 MSRP: $29.98 THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES Video 1080p high definition 16x9 2.35:1 High definition and standard definition Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: Thai 5.1 and English 5.1 Stereo Subtitles English, English SDH, and Spanish No selectable track, but English subtitles are hardcoded into the image The Feature: 3.5/5 In 1431, when the kingdom of Ayothaya (in what is now Thailand) seizes the capital of the Sukhothai Territory, Lord Sihadecho (Santisuk Promsiri) sends his only son Tien to a rural dance school to protect him from the impending conflict. Young Tien (Natdanai Kongthong) of course prefers to become a warrior like his father. Though his wish eventually comes true, it's under the most tragic of developments as his family is murdered by assassins sent by the wicked Lord Rajasena (Sarunya Wongkrachang). Orphaned and on the run, Tien is ultimately captured by vile slave traders and forced to fight for his life, but his indomitable spirit, despite the lack of combat training, impresses Chernang (Sorapong Chatree), leader of a powerful gang of bandit-warriors. Rescuing Tien from his captors, Chernang adopts Tien as his son, has him trained in the martial arts disciplines of his warrior gang, and eventually makes him the heir apparent. But before Tien (Tony Jaa) can accept the mantle granted to him by his adopted father, he must settle old scores - first with the slave traders who abused him and ultimately with Lord Rajasena. Before 2003's "Ong Bak" introduced the world to the jaw-dropping athleticism of Thai martial artist and stunt man Tony Jaa, martial arts movies had become pretty predictable. Though veterans like Jackie Chan and Jet Li were reliably entertaining, it had been years since either man had done anything revolutionary. Then came Jaa, propelling his folded body through barbed wire loops, doing split-slides under parked cars, and kicking major ass with Muay Thai. The visceral thrill of his physical feats and sheer talent as a fighter harkened back to the martial arts movies of the '70s, which usually featured true martial arts masters performing true martial art forms, largely unaided by wires, obfuscating camera work, or crash courses in (movie) kung fu. With Jaa's fearless talent and skill, he was immediately heralded as the next martial arts superstar. And by all accounts and appearances, it was well-deserved praise. Though Jaa has yet to reach the same heights of stardom as Chan or Li - and the hype about him as cooled somewhat since 2003 - he continues to innovate and stretch with every project. In his immediate follow-up, "Tom-Yum-Goong" (aka "The Protector"), he incorporated elephants, a highly venerated animal in the Thai culture, into the fight choreography, essentially creating a new form of Muay Thai that includes grappling moves. In "Ong Bak 2" elephants once again make an appearance, but take a less central role in the character arc or fight sequences, giving their blessing at one point and lending a helping trunk at another, but otherwise staying out of the way to let Jaa's character exact his revenge. Though "Ong Bak 2" is not without its impressive action and martial arts set pieces (the best one being the finale's), where Jaa felt compelled to stretch this time was in the non-combat aspects of the role. Credited with co-writing and co-directing the feature, Jaa incorporated ancient Thai history into the story, and undertook acting lessons and traditional Thai dance training. Though his efforts to "class up" the movie deserves acknowledgment, the film still has so much martial arts fury that the dramatic and period elements feel like mere window dressing. In addition, the attempt to change up the familiar story of betrayal, personal trial, and retribution with a non-linear narrative is problematic as it places Tien's primary motivator - the heart-wrenching experience of seeing his parents murdered - well past the halfway point. That leaves a lot of seemingly senseless fight sequences to start and set the tone of the film, ultimately barring the audience from fully investing in Tien's emotional journey. The filmmakers certainly deserve credit for trying something different with a well-trod tale, but with an archetypal story such as this, it's best not to veer too far from formula. Though it's clear "Ong Bak 2" wanted to be more than just an entertaining martial arts movie, its missteps in the areas that would have made it so keep it firmly planted within its genre. It is, however, recommended viewing for martial arts movie enthusiasts and fans of Jaa's ongoing work. Video Quality: 2.5/5 The film is accurately framed at 2.35:1 and presented in 1080p with the VC-1 codec. The film gets off to a rocky start with some pretty horrendous image manipulation, giving the scenes an over-blue cast, flattened contrast, grayed-out blacks, and odd horizontal banding in its fade-to-black transitions. The picture improves after the prologue, but black level compression and general lack of depth continue to plague the image, problems that are less noticeable in full daylight scenes but become immediately obvious in any dark or nighttime settings. Other aspects of the transfer are less problematic. Colors, stylized toward the warmer end of the spectrum, show sufficient depth and fine object detail is generally decent, with no obvious signs of filtering or noise reduction (though in a handful of instances, it could have helped with some artifacts in fine pattern areas). Ultimately, I'm not certain how much of the image problems are inherent to the source or a result of the transfer. I don't recall "Ong Bak" being particularly pleasant to look at, but I admit I am a little surprised its higher production value sequel has made so few visual improvements, either in the cinematography or its transfer to home video. Audio Quality: 3.5/5 The DTS-HD Master Audio track features some strong directional effects and aggressive LFE, a lack of subtlety befitting its content. Dynamic range is limited however, most noticeable in the rather lifeless film score, which never seems fully integrated into the mix. Dialogue is reasonably clear, but since I don't speak or understand Thai I can't comment on its intelligibility. As with the video transfer, I suspect most of my misgivings with the audio quality lie with the source material. Special Features: 3/5 The set of extras offers plentiful behind-the-scenes material and interviews with the cast and crew, but the promotional undercurrent tends to wear thin after awhile. Still, it should satisfy anyone looking to learn more about the production. The Making of Ong Bak 2 (21:07, SD): Divided into three parts, the featurette touches on the film's story and characters, logistics of various stunt and fight sequences, and the underlying philosophy and motivation behind the martial arts choreography. Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes (17:50, SD): Divided into three parts, the collection of clips - presented with no narration or narrative structure - looks at fight sequences, locations and sets, and camaraderie amongst the cast and crew. Interviews with Cast and Crew (25:21, SD): Includes interviews with eight members of the cast and crew. Much of the interview material was used for the making-of featurette, so the material is largely redundant. HDNet: A Look at Ong Bak 2 (2:53, HD): Film critic Robert Wilonsky introduces the film for its broadcast on the high definition cable television network. International Trailer (3:50, SD) U.S. Trailer (1:39, HD) Ong Bak 3 - Exclusive Footage (1:34, SD): A glimpse at the upcoming sequel. Trailers (9:44, HD): Includes "Red Cliff," "District 13 Ultimatum," "Bronson," "Warlords," and a commercial for HDNet. Recap The Feature: 3.5/5 Video Quality: 2.5/5 Audio Quality: 3.5/5 Special Features: 3/5 Overall Score (not an average): 3.5/5 Magnolia Home Entertainment turns in an average presentation for a martial arts film that, while entertaining, never transcends its genre, something it clearly wanted to do. The package of extras is mostly perfunctory, but includes enough material to satisfy those who want to know more about the production. NOTE: The release consists of just one disc that contains both the feature and special features.