Ong Bak 3:
Ong-Bak 3 is the final part of the world-renowned Ong-Bak trilogy starring Martial Arts sensation Tony Jaa. After the modern setting from the original, Ong-Bak: The Beginning (Ong-Bak 2) and Ong-Bak 3 form a two-part prequel set in rural Thailand in the 1400’s. Both films are known to have been troublesome productions, with rumours of Triad involvement, Tony Jaa having a near meltdown, and his old buddy Panna Rittikrai coming in to support the production.
The film had a relatively low key release in the UK reflecting the modest success of the second instalment Ong-Bak: The Beginning, which is understandable given the unprecedented profile achieved by the original. Ong Bak 3 had a poor domestic take in Thailand (US $1.3m) and was beaten to top spot by Iron Man 2. This return was considerably lower than both the first (US $2.5m) and second (US $2.9m) movies.
The third instalment picks up immediately from the previous film, with Tien (Tony Jaa) looking to avenge the murder of his family by the treacherous Lord Rajaseena (Sarunyoo Wongkrachang). However, given his capture at the end of Ong-Bak 2, the film opens with an extended captive torture scene where his body is ‘broken’ in various ways. Fortunately for him, he manages to escape and is slowly healed by the monastic Master Bua (Nirut Sirichanya) and reunited with his childhood love, Pim (Primrata Det-udom). Suddenly things are looking up, and Tony Jaa even starts indulging in some ‘tai-chi’ style training with his beau.
In case you have been living in cupboard for the last few years, you will know that Ong-Bak never ends in happiness and bliss. When out training one morning, he returns to find his village burnt and pillaged, with his loved one enslaved at the King’s disposal. The final question is whether he can defeat his nemesis from the original, the Crow (Dan Chupong), and free his people.
For those of you familiar with my reviews, I do not wait until the end of the review before declaring my hand. For Ong-Bak 3, the one work which describes my feeling after watching this is ‘disappointment’. If Ong-Bak 2 felt disjointed, then this is even worse! It feels more like a series of sketches loosely held together. The cinematography is the one element does come out with positives; there are a number of beautifully shot scenes, but with no content to accompany this.
The most frustrating element is Ong-Bak’s sudden ‘tai-chi’ vibe. This is an old-trick done repeatedly in martial arts cinema. This was done brilliantly in Jet Li’s Tai-Chi Master (aka Twin Warriors), but it feels like a lazy plot device here. It is particularly disappointing to see all the fire removed from Tien and replaced with stoicism normally done by Jet Li / Donne Yen (Once Upon a Time in China, Ip Man, Fist of Legend etc etc). Where is the blind anger, revenge, blood-rage?! It’s a bit like watching James Bond and finding out he’s teetotal and is interested in model railways rather than international espionage.
There are some top notch action scenes, but this time they are not enough to salvage the film. Highlights include The Crow killing off Lord Rajaseena’s guards and some elements of the final fight. What really shocked me, is how the climax of the final fight against the Crow (Dan Chupong), is completely underwhelming. I was surprised how lacklustre the one-on-one fighting felt. There was too much slow-motion and over-editing. Perhaps they were under a tight schedule, or perhaps one was carrying an injury? But what a terrible way to end such a promising series!
The disc was purchased as part of the three disc trilogy. It was acceptable without being anything special. There is the film presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio and DD5.1 but only offering a subtitled version. The extras include interview clips with Tony Jaa and the cast and crew, some behind the scenes footage and a trailer.
Not everyone will agree with me, but I found this a disappointing conclusion to the trilogy. It recycles a good amount of unused footage from Ong-Bak 2 and offers nothing to surpass either of the earlier Ong-Baks. The film was so poorly constructed that I found my finger regularly reaching towards the fast-forward button. There are also rumours that Tony Jaa may leave the movie industry, which I hope is just loose talk. He is the most promising martial arts action hero in modern cinema but he needs to focus on what he does best and I have no doubt he can turn things around. He needs to forget about writing / producing / directing but instead ensure he is the best on-screen action star he can be.