The film “Ong-Bak: Thai Warrior” was an international success and launched Tony Jaa into superstardom. Sure, its plot was simple and perhaps even filled with holes, but it succeeded in bringing Muay Thai into the martial arts film circuit because it was filled with jaw-dropping stunts, excellent fight scenes and even a few amusing laughs. It paved the way for Tony Jaa to follow up its success with a more entertaining and incredible “Tom Yum Goong” (aka. The Protector as released by Tarantino, but I prefer the original Thai version) and it also became an international success. With back to back successes, Jaa attempted a writer/director role with “Ong-Bak 2” and was less than successful that it took his mentor’s hand to finally finish the project. It wasn’t related to the first film at all and became more of a period fantasy than an urban adventure. It also ended with an awkward cliffhanger that annoyed some viewers, and even if the American release was heavily edited, the original Asian version wasn’t that much better.
Ong-Bak 3 is a direct sequel to the 2nd film. It takes off after the events of “Ong-Bak 2” with Tien (Tony Jaa) captured and being brutalized under orders from Lord Rajasena (Sarunyu Wongkrajang). When Tien’s guerilla warriors attempt to free him, Bhuti (Dan Chupong) appears and stops them. Bhuti offers to remove a curse on Rajasena, but he also plans to usurp his throne. Tien is then pardoned by another king and much to Rajasena’s ire, he is spirited away to the Kana Khone villagers and there, he heals and learns the proper art of meditation with the aid of Master Bua (Nirutti Sirijanya). Now, to prevent the land from falling into darkness, Tien must face his own karma and fight his arch rival, Bhuti in a deadly duel….
Let’s get the positives out of the way first. “Ong-Bak 3” does still have amazing, jaw-dropping stunts, excellently choreographed fight sequences that made me say “whoa!” and ask “did you see that stunt?” as with the first two movies. Tony Jaa is still in his top form, the man can indeed pull off the moves like nobody’s business. Much of his attained impact have always been his wire-free, “do it yourself” martial arts and Jaa does not disappoint. As with the first sequel, Jaa somewhat departs the pure Muay Thai style that made him famous and instead, he uses mixed styles of Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Muay Thai and Capoeira to bring the action right into your face. The fights are gritty and quick, it keeps to a tone that has a lot of blood and bone-breaking fun. Yes, it isn’t as inventive or as impressive as the ones seen in “Tom Yum Goong” or the first “Ong-Bak” but Jaa knows the moves and certainly knows how to make them convincing.
I also have to give the film points for the costumes and set designs. It had good production values and honestly, I did feel like I was somewhat immersed in an forgotten time period in Thai fantasy. The film has numerous shots of Buddhist statues and even pays tribute to elephants, a respective creature in Thai culture. The film does wrap up all the questions and loose ends left in the first sequel, and writers/producers/directors Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikrai has crafted a tale based on several fantasy elements that then brings forth themes from Buddhist beliefs, pseudo-mystical elements, and even themes of enlightenment to bring the saga of the franchise to a conclusion. There is some thought to the screenplay and it certainly is violent (the first scene is filled with brutality), but the direction, editing and scripting have all been executed poorly. The plot is very messy and incoherent, viewers are left without any details as to its proceedings and left to simply buy into what they are watching. It s elements may indeed work, but the drama and inherent plot devices slows down its pace, and what could’ve been effective ended up rendering the full-length motion picture into a dragging adventure.
Visions, philosophies and even a training montage is all well and good, it aids with the story’s development and may encourage viewers to be involved in its plot and the stakes being fought. But it seems like the more it went into what it is presenting, and what was meant to be cool and dramatic, ended up draining all the excitement it could’ve achieved. In its attempts to reach audiences with solid dramatic content, the writing ends up limiting the film’s enjoyment.
“Ong-Bak 3” may be the worst film out of Jaa’s resume. The film is just so oddly epic in scale and yet it never does bring his full potential as an action star or even bring him success as a director. I’ve heard that this could possibly be Jaa’s last film since it had been reported somewhere that he left filmmaking to become a monk. It is sad that his legacy may be this final film that feels more like a B-movie romp rather than something that could be declared as a martial arts classic. Tony Jaa was all about pulling off outrageous, unbelievable stunts much like Jackie Chan in the 80’s, that made audiences gasp in awe and amazement. Too bad, Tony Jaa could amaze, but it seems like his star has flickered even before it even got a chance to truly shine brightly.