Review: Ong Bak 2 (2008)

Back in 2003, a little film from Thailand introduced international audiences to a unique form of martial arts known as Muay Thai and a promising new action star called Tony Jaa. That film was of course Ong Bak. It became a blockbuster in its native country and went on to become an international hit. With no CGIs or wires, the movie simply relied on the amazing physical abilities and athleticism of its main actor – Tony Jaa. It made him a star, and many were impressed so much as to hail him as the world’s next major martial arts star. 5 years on, Tony Jaa has become the producer, co-director, co-writer and action choreographer of Ong Bak 2. More hard-hitting action is guaranteed, but is it as good as the original? Here’s what I think.

In the 15th century, Tien, a young man from a royal family in Thailand became a slave after his parents were murdered in the struggle for power. He was given a chance to survive if he could escape the jaws of a crocodile. Chernang, the king of bandits at Garuda Wing Cliff was impressed by Tien’s courage as he was seen wrestling the giant crocodile. So he saved Tien’s life and offered to train him in the art of weapons and martial arts. Chernang soon learned from a prophet that Tien was destined for world-conquering greatness, but Tien had something else on his mind — vengeance…

If you have seen the original Ong Bak, you would notice that the story of Ong Bak 2 bears no relation to the first movie whatsoever. It is set in a different era, and this time it is more an epic tale of betrayal and revenge. Unfortunately, it does not deliver as much emotional impact as it could have due to ordinary acting, poor editing and some major plot holes. At times, the less interesting scenes just seem to drag on.

The good news, though, is that Jaa remains in top physical form, and he handles even the most difficult action scenes with ease. Many scenes feature Jaa using different weapons, and elephants are used in some creative action sequences. While it is impressive that he could master the use of so many different weapons, the fights where he uses his bare fists, elbows and knees are still the best. The original film featured more of these hand-to-hand combats, as well as some very exciting chase scenes, which are sadly missing from this sequel. Ong Bak 2 does trump the first in terms of scale and production values though. Obviously benefiting from a much bigger budget, there are some massive set pieces featured here. The stuntmen involved in the fight scenes also deserve much praise, as time after time they were bearing the force of Jaa’s punches and kicks.

In the end, just like so many of today’s action films, Ong Bak 2 offers fantastic action but lacks good acting or story-telling. Despite these criticisms, I think Tony Jaa has done enough in this movie to satisfy his fans and most fans of the action genre. And if the ending happens to leave you wanting more, do not worry, as Ong Bak 3 is already in the making and will be hitting cinemas in Thailand (and probably the rest of the world) very soon.

7 wild elephants waiting to be tamed out of 10.
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