Two films in Thailand

Ong Bak 3
Ong Bak 3

I’ve got 3 days of spare time in Pattaya – moreso now that my diving day has been cancelled – and was quite happy to spot a cinema when I was walking around. Even happier when I realised that Wednesday was “discount day” at 80B per film – less than £2. So despite being flipping knackered, I caught two movies.

Ong Bak 3

Plot-in-a-nutshell: orphaned ass-kicker takes revenge on nasty man who made him an orphan. I think. Something like that.

Sorry for the vagueness, but OB3 continues the weirdness that kicked off about halfway through Ong Bak 2. Tony Jaa, as ever, stars – and directed, scriptwrites, produces… He’s like Peter Jackson was back in the day. Wouldn’t surprise me if he sings the theme song at the end a la Jackie Chan.

The films follows on directly from OB2 with Tien in chains and about to be executed. Ass-kicking ensues and he escapes. The girl/love interest from the first film makes a re-appearance as does the insane guy for comic relief. He’s got some good lines in this one, but his appearance is still jarring in an otherwise strait-laced movie.

We get to see the creation of the statue which is the centrepiece of the fist Ong Bak movie as well as more elephant-related fight sequences. As ever, it’s the fight scenes which stand out above all else although they’re interspersed a little too much with plot. At times, the film seems to stall as it crawls down the “arty” pathway.

Despite the excellent performance from Jaa, and the wonderful “look” of the film it’s still just a bit too weird for my liking. It’s good to see the series run full circle and hopefully come to an end. With luck this means we can expect something new and different with his next release.

The Losers

“That was supposed to be us.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Bad man tries to kill bunch of mercenaries who decide that, fair’s fair, they should try to kill him in return.

Despite being based on a DC Comic, this is a British creation being based (loosely) on the first six issues which were scripted by 2000AD‘s own Andy Diggle and drawn by “Jock“. Other than that, though, this is very much an American action movie.

The titular Losers are a bunch of mercenaries sent to do off-the-book dirty work. One jobin South America goes a little wrong and their boss attempts to kill them. This, surprisingly, doesn’t go down well so they set off to return the favour.

That’s about it for the plot as the film just careers through set piece after set piece. It harks back to it’s comic beginnings frequently with many shots frozen on screen or paced to look like frames on a drawn page. I liked that. It’s also big and brash in a way that comics often are, including one of the mist ridiculous finale scenes I think I’ve ever seen.

It’s a silly film, but it’s also funny, fast-paced and enjoyable. The dialogue is quite humorous in places and at no point will your brain be taxed by what happens. Despite this, one arsehole a few seats over kept telling his girlfriend what was about to happen just in case she was struggling to follow it.

If you like big guns, huge explosions and a plot you don’t need to think too hard about then this is well worth the trip to the cinema.

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Ong Bak: The Beginning

Ong-Bak 2
Ong Bak 2

Tony Jaa is back, and this time you can watch him on the big screen in the UK! Ong Bak: The Beginning is the prequel to the original Ong Bak but aside from the fact that it centres around martial combat it vastly different.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: a young boy sees his parents killed and is spirited away to safety, being raised by a band of renegades. He develops impressive weaponry and fighting skills, then goes to seek revenge for his parents’ deaths.

As well as starring in this film, Jaa also wrote, directed and produced it as well as choreographing all the stunt scenes. This shows in the attention to detail and brutality. However, there the similarity ends between the earlier Ong Bak movie and the last film he did, Tom Yum Goong.

While they were both given a contemporary setting, this third outing for Jaa is set back in the early days of Thailand when most people lived in jungles and territory was fought over by several self-styled “kings”. As such it’s all straw huts, mud and rain rather than skyscrapers and motorways.

The comedy element present in both previous films has also all but vanished. The fight scenes are far more brutal and hard-hitting (in more ways than one) with CGI blood splashes emphasising knife strokes and the like. We’re verging more into Bruce Lee territory than Police Story era Jackie Chan that we’re used to from Jaa.

This has its good sides and down sides. The film isn’t what some people would be expecting, but on the other hand it might surprise a few people who’ve not bothered with the likes of Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger due to its more folk-tale storyline.

With the way the story flows – or rather doesn’t as it jumps back and forth in time – it can be a little hard to follow at times. However, once the backstory kicks in, you do get more of a feel for the character. The “twist” ending has been done a million times before in Hollywood, but the action sequences are simply superb. And very brutal.

Lots of bass-heavy thuds as torsos are pummelled and crunching sounds when arms are twisted. It’s not “gross” in its depiction of violence – certainly not compared to the likes of The Punisher – but you can almost feel each punch landing when the speakers in the cinema sound with the report.

There are a couple of fantasy elements with some very bizarre female (I think) combatants who seem to be half-animal. This really steps the film apart from its forebear which was definitely more real-world. If you can class two dozen tuk-tuks falling off a half-completed highway as “real-world”.

Overall, I enjoyed it. I did prefer the first film, mainly due to the humour, but there’s no denying that this is a great piece of martial arts movie-making. Apparently there’s a third Ong Bak due out which will somehow tie the first two together. I think I can see where they’re going after the speech at the end of this one, but I guess we’ll see.

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Tom yum goong


For those with a knowledge of Thai, “Tom yum goong” translates as “prawn soup”. Something I’d normally find rather repulsive, but when it’s the title of a Tony Jaa film I’m prepared to give it some leeway. It’s Western title was The Protector which isn’t quite so classy. if you can, get hold of the Thai version (subtitles help) as it’s almost 15 minutes longer than the international release.

First off, this is not the sequel to the superb Ong Bak – that’s still being worked on and is due out later this year. Tom yum goong is a completely separate film and, though not as good as Ong Bak, certainly has its moments.

It can be a little hard to follow as times as the action jumps from Thailand to Australia about half an hour in. At the beginning, it’s all in Thai. Once we reach Oz, the film features Australians, Thai and Vietnamese. In many instances – and sometimes for no apparent reason – characters interact in badly-accented English. Not too hard to understand, but I think it would have made more sense for the Asian characters to converse in Thai and leave the subtitles for us slow Westerners to follow!

The editing early on is also a little over-zealous. Often things happen far too quickly or appear disjointed. Whoever story-boarded the boat chase has some great ideas, but the director could do with studying the Bond films a little more before his next outing. Regardless, it’s pretty spectacular for something coming from a country not (yet) famous for its cinematic output.

Productions values can seem a little low, and the sound effects in particular hark back to ye olde days of Bruce Lee with over-loud smacks, cracks, crunches and pops as various acts of violence are done upon fleshy bits. This isn’t too bad, but in the earlier sequences it does seem out of place. The scenery in the gangsters’ den, for instance, is very 70’s and makes it look almost like a film from that period.

Then we jump to Australia, as I said. And one of the best martial arts action sequences I’ve seen since Jackie Chan was in his prime. In fact, this sequence in my eyes puts Tony Jaa up there as the only actor in modern Asian cinema worthy of taking Jackie Chan’s crown. Let’s be honest – Chan was a master. Now he’s sunk to using wire-work and simpler films with big budgets from American studios. Fair enough – he’s 54 for crying out loud. He’s earned the right to take it easy after the huge archive of classic films he’s created.

The scene I’m talking about takes place in a warehouse as Jaa is attacked by around 20 extreme sports enthusiasts on rollerblade, BMXs, moto-x bikes and a quad-bike. The camerawork is sublime and as there are virtually no cut scenes – it’s almost all just one, continuous take.

The thing is, this feat is partially topped later in the same feature as a fight sequence coming in around the 4-minute mark is completed with no cuts whatsoever. Just some amazing choreography, superb editing and bloody hard work from those involved. When watching it, I did think that Jaa looked dead on his feet – and rather sluggish – by the end. This is why. He’s filmed it six times, on the trot, being treated with smelling salts between each as they re-set all the breakables.

OK, he’s not broken most of the bones in his body, and you can’t see his pulse via a hole in his skull like you can with Chan. But this is the kind of work ethos that makes a man a star. He deserves is a hell of a lot more than most of those Hollywood lot.

Tom yum goong (or however it’s spelt – even Jaa’s official page has two or three variations) is no classic plotwise. Which is why I’ve not bothered going into that. OK, if you insist. Boy grows up with elephant. Bad man kidnaps elephant. Grown boy goes in search of elephant and kicks ass. Happy now? Thing is, the “plot” is just something to hang some outstanding fight sequences off. And there aree some cool elephants in it as a bonus. Oh, and a pretty cool CGI animation segment.

If you like this kind of stuff, then make sure you don’t miss this film. It really does rock. I can’t wait for Ong Bak 2 to come out. Hell, I’m crossing my fingers that the release date is when I’m in Thailand. Where better to go and watch it?