Ong-Bak [The Thai Warrior] (2003)

(In theaters, February 2005) Built around the acrobatic skills of Tony Jaa (billed, with good reason, as “the next Jackie Chan”), this movie is best appreciated as a dance exhibition involving plenty of kick-boxing. In the grand tradition of martial arts action films, Ong Bak features a plot just simple enough to lead from one eye-popping action scene to another. The camera work is substandard, the acting is primitive, the dialogue is ordinary and the image quality suffers from the Thailand-France-USA lineage of the film (Luc Besson’s efforts are the only reason why this import film made it to American cineplexes; a few French subtitles subsist on the print copy), but that’s not the point. The point is in showing Tony Jaa jumping, leaping, kicking, punching and neck-snapping his share of obstacles. Jaa’s on-screen personality is still a blank (he doesn’t have the goofy charm of Jackie Chan or the good-boy cool of Jet Li), but the physical talent is definitely there. Warning; this is a brutal skull-cracking film, far removed from the gentle ballet of what has recently come to be known as “kung-fu films” in the West. Probably best appreciated at home on a smaller screen, as the Xth-generation copy looks grainy and cheap on a big screen.

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