Ong Bak: Head, Shoulders, Knees, and ‘Bows
That’s the number of bone fragmenting, marrow liquidating, joint severing elbow strikes thrown in this movie. Never before have I witnessed humeri, ulnae, and radii unified in such a brutal and exquisite fashion. Occasionally accompanied by a knee to the torso and many landing on the victim’s crown after being scaled like a mountain loaded with TNT quick to become a hill, this display touched me so deeply I was compelled to compile every single searing strike into a single gif overflowing with cartilage carnage.
Muay Thai is known as “The Art of Eight Weapons”, and two of these lethal weapons are the knees. Together the knee and elbow strikes (ti khoa and ti sok respectively) compliment each other perfectly joint based harmony resulting in devastation unlike any witnessed before. I don’t want to ruin a second of the amazing fight sequences, but more than once a knee strike begins on one floor and end at another, each one more majestic than the last. Like an eagle descending from a cloudless blue sky to bash someone’s face in with an accuracy unparalleled by any Patriot or Javelin missile strike, they will instill an overpowering sense that everything is right in the world and make you strive to be a better person for having the privilege of witnessing such beauty.
Although not officially one of the “Eight Weapons” of Muay Thai, our protagonist, Ting, seems to have trained extensively in the art of chasing and being chased. Over cars, under cars, with cars, without cars, through barbed wire, around scaffolding, and, in a rare occurrence, near huge glass panes, but not through them. Ting would give Houdini a run for title of Most Master Escape Artist. And despite spending his whole life in a rural village with no paved roads for miles, Ting also seems to be an experienced tuk-tuk driver, a three wheeled vehicle closely resembling the British Reliant Robin, as demonstrated in a chase that ends with the most spectacularly awkward explosion ever captured on film.
Sadly the plot does not compare to the action, containing quite possibly the least business savvy mob boss ever. But it’s a martial arts movie, where story is a necessary evil.
The tiny village of Ban Nong Pradu in northeastern Thailand is gearing up for the annual festival in honor of the village deity Ong-Bak in hopes that giving homage to the sacred Bhudda statue will end the crippling drought. Don, a former Ban Nong Praduian who has left home in search of drugs, women, and fast cars in Bangkok (and is basically the Thai Kevin Corrigan), has returned home to make another offer on an antique amulet. After being rejected again and not wanting to return empty handed, Don steals Ong-Bak’s head, an obvious substitute for a priceless amulet, to present his boss Komtuan, an aging, wheelchair ridden, electrolarynx dependent mob boss obsessed with Bhudda statues and zero idea how to properly run an evil business.
The village sends Ting, the most able-bodied young ‘un, to Bangkok with anything of value to recover the statue’s head. When Ting arrives in the city he finds his cousin Humlae, who has taken the moniker George, and his hustling partner Muay Lek, which makes her a Thai Muay. At first George denies any association with Ban Nong Pradu, but when he sees the villager’s “riches”, he feigns an interest and while Ting is distracted, he runs off with the money to a Bloodsport-esque club where he hopes to make a quick Baht betting on fights. Meanwhile Komtuan, who is also betting on fights from a press box, is furious when Don presents Ong-Bak’s head, a “worthless piece of stone” (quite ironic considering Komtuan’s master plan). When Ting finds George, he is tricked into the entering a fight, which he abruptly ends with one well placed knee resulting in a shattered trachea. Unbeknownst to Ting, this victory has just made him an enemy of Komtuan who just lost millions of Bhat on a cocky, idiotic bet.
The next day George’s debtors decides it’s time to collect from him, who doesn’t have any money and is ruthlessly beat, as debtors are want to do. Ting ignores George’s plea for help, but reluctantly jumps in when Muay is targeted. A foot chase follows through a bazaar where Ting systematically takes out henchmen, Muay hides in a corner, and George somehow doesn’t die. After successfully escaping, George agrees to track Don down in repayment of Ting’s Muay Thai aid.
Ting, George, and Muay track down Don and use him to reach the boss and reclaim Ong-Bok’s head, kicking henchmen ass along the way, including, but not limited to: Stereotypical Giant White Dude, Bruce Lee Wannabe, Guy Who Thinks Throwing Furniture Counts As Fighting, and Nega-Ting, Komtuan’s right hand man. Ting’s journey culminates into a spectacular 20 minute display of his weapon wielding prowess (containing a personal favorite face smasher, the police baton) and an ability to land spinning kicks exactly where they shouldn’t. Each kick seems certain to connect only for Ting to make one or two more rotations before arriving at its ultimate destination, Bad Guy Face.
Despite the rocky plot, the action sequences more than enough reason to watch this movie. I guarantee at least once you will jump at the screen and outcry in a primitive manner which roughly translates to “Holy shit. That was awesome.” Something like this. The combination of Tony Jaa’s resplendent Muay Thai skills and Panna Rittikrai’s tight and innovative choreography makes for fight sequences that will make you, dear reader, glad you’re watching a movie and not at the tip of Tony Jaa’s elbow.
A movie most deserving of two elbows up.