Thailand, 2010: Ong Bak 3
Ong Bak 3
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Tony Jaa returns as Tien, captured by the usurper king and must find his way through the darkness to set things right.
In what seems to be the final installment of the Ong Bak series that made him famous, Tony Jaa pulls out all the stops to leave behind his legacy on the martial arts world. Unfortunately, he ends up with something much closer to a black mark on his resume than anything to redeem Ong Bak 2. After all the setbacks and problems with the production of the prequel in 2008, attempting to fit everything back together in this new installment simply did not work. The confusing and bizarre plot tries its hardest to continue where the previous film ended while still linking the narrative back to Jaa’s first Ong Bak film. There’s also a strange side-plot/thematic elements about finding enlightenment through dance, something about the Buddhist light driving back the darkness of ignorance, and other pieces of things I’m sure sounded much better in the production room. Ong Bak 3 tries both to do too much and too little at the same time: too much trying to be a deep message on the benefits of Buddhist philosophy, and too little in trying to be a coherent or even entertaining film.
Jaa does get to flex his acting muscles more than his previous films, finally giving him a somewhat romantic interest to add emotional depth to his performance. However, Jaa’s acting range seems to only fluctuate between staring sternly into the distance and shouting vehemently at the top of his lungs. Frequent collaborator and comedian Petchtai Wongkamlao makes a handful of appearances to inject humor into the story, but it comes off as more awkward than actually funny. Dan Chupong and Sarunyu Wongkrajang make the most of their roles as the film’s villains, by far giving the most entertaining performances of the movie.
As with the last film, Tony Jaa once again shares writing, directing, and producing credit with his mentor Panna Rittikrai. For whatever flaws that the actual content of the movie had, the production is impressive to say the least. A strong score and sound design really complement the visuals, and although the CGI elements weren’t terribly strong, the actual photography was generally good enough to stand on its own. The costumes and historical elements all were immersive and looked genuine, if aesthetically heightened for style.
The biggest disappointment, as mentioned earlier, was the supreme lack of entertainment throughout the movie. Compared to Jaa’s first works, Ong Bak 3 is incredibly light on fight scenes. Jaa spends most of the narrative as an invalid, so most of the action is presented by the equally talented Chupong. Unfortunately, it’s still hardly enough to maintain interest through the full hundred minutes of screentime, most of which is taken up by amateur philosophizing and padding. When Jaa finally does get down to business, the fights are pretty intense and brutal, delivering exactly what we were all expecting when the sequel was announced. But it never seems to be enough, and the final straw was the absurdly anti-climactic showdown between Jaa and Chupong. The two greatest stuntmen and film fighters in the history of Thai action cinema, finally together on screen for what should have been a fight to end all fights. What should have been the last twenty minutes of this martial arts epic instead ends with a barely noticeable whimper. This was the greatest tragedy of the project, the sheer wasted potential of what could have been Jaa’s crowning achievement. Instead of watching and wishing what Ong Bak 3 could have been, you’re much better off just re-watching the original.
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