Ong-bak represents a return to traditional martial arts films: no wires, no stuntmen, and elaborately choreographed fight sequences. Owing more to the films of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan (his early work), the film has some of the most amazing physical action sequences I’ve ever seen. However, due to a few weaknesses, Ong-bak falls just short of being a new classic in the genre.
Actor Tony Jaa is unbelievable; his strength and agility is truly impressive. His moves are incredibly fluid and balanced. Most of the amazing stunts he performs look effortless. The strongest sequences of the film are the fights, unsurprisingly. Unfortunately, the non-fight sequences seem forced and boring.
The story of Ong-bak is a little strange. It’s as if the writer/director Prachya Pinkaew couldn’t decide what type of film to make, a straight, traditional martial arts story or a complex, grim-and-gritty modern crime film (several story elements and sequences seemed like desperate attempts to channel John Woo or Takashi Miike). Ultimately, Ong-bak seems more than a little confused.
The film is also hampered by many technical problems like lighting and editing. The film itself looks cheaply made, but clearly has a moderate budget. Some of the action sequences are poorly framed and lighting shifts far too much from scene to scene. Perhaps some of these issues will be addressed on the DVD.
In the end, Ong-bak is an exciting return to old-school martial arts films, though with too much padding around the incredible action sequences.