Tony Jaa returns to our screens in another Ong Bak film, released here in Australia on DVD by Eastern Eye. And unlike Ong Bak 2, which shared nothing with its predecessor but the name and the lead actor, volume 3 picks up directly where the last one left off (so the rest of this review contains spoilers for that one — you can’t say I didn’t warn you!)
We begin the film with our hero Tien (Jaa) in chains, suffering through the 13 punishments prescribed by his captor, Jom Rachan (Sarunyu Wongkrachang). Tien’s beaten to within an inch of his life, and his first attempts at escape are foiled by the sudden appearance of Bhuti Sangkha (Dan Chupong), the “Crow” character from part two. The whole sequence is grim, gritty and brutal. Once he finally does manage to escape and return to his village, Tien is a broken figure of a man, barely able to move… and it’s up to his teacher Master Bua (Nirut Sirichanya), his childhood sweetheart Pim (Primorata Dejudom) and village madman Mhen (Petchtai Wongkamlao) to put him back on the right path.
Well, what can I say. I loved Ong Bak — a slight film in terms of story, you might say, but what an electrifying demonstration of just what a talented martial artist and crew can do on screen. And it was fun, in the same way that Jackie Chan’s work in the 80s and 90s was, a short film with a simple story packed full of unbelievably cool stunt work. Panna Rittikrai’s been doing action cinema for a long time, and everything came together to make Ong Bak punch above its weight both domestically and abroad.
Under Tony Jaa’s hand as director and choreographer, Ong Bak 2 had some great action sequences and some nice photography, but it didn’t have the simple, focused story and the pace that made its predecessor rocket along. Ong Bak 3 gives us more of the same, but is perhaps weaker still.Once again there are a few impressive action set-pieces, but they’re tied together by a thin, confusing story that makes it hard to relate to many of the characters. It reminded me of Tsui Hark’s Seven Swords in this respect, as if pieces of the story never made it into the finished film. Jaa’s much-publicised disappearance from the set during the production of Ong Bak 2 was apparently the reason that the cliffhanger ending was added and the film was split in two (with Panna Rittikrai brought on board as director to help complete the flicks). I can’t help but think that they would have made a far superior whole film.
I should briefly mention Dan Chupong (Dynamite Warrior), who steals the show in just about every scene he is in. He crouches atop parapets, tattooed and dressed in black feathers, twitching with malevolent glee every time he takes on a group of attackers. Very occasionally he’s rather obviously on wires, which stands out in a film where (for example) Tony is able to swing through a full 360 degrees by an elephant’s tusks, all the whole avoiding other people and (!) elephants. But Chupong’s Crow is a demonic character born of hatred and ill-will, so perhaps a touch of wirework shouldn’t be the limit of my suspension of disbelief.
It’s been rumoured for some time that this might be Tony Jaa’s last film; if true, this would be a great shame. These last two films may have not set the action film world alight like the first Ong Bak did, but they still show just how capable he is.