Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Six Shooter: Ong Bak 2

Tony Jaa introduced the world to Muay Thai style kickboxing in the original Ong Bak, becoming an international superstar in the process. Now he returns, as the star and co-director of a prequel set years in the past during Thailand’s feudal era. While the relationship between Jaa’s characters Ting and Tien is not readily apparent, they still have the same fighting spirit. Fans will have to wait for the promised Ong Bak 3 to tie everything together, but they can soon enjoy the spectacular fight scenes of Jaa & Panna Rittikrai’s Ong Bak 2 (trailer here), the first film of the Ong Bak chronology and the second selection of Magnet’s ongoing Six-Shooter series of international genre films, when it opens this Friday in New York.

OB2 has all the hallmarks of the historical martial arts revenge epic—in spades. Young Tien is indeed noble-born, the spirited son of the wise Lord Sihadecho. Of course, his idyllic childhood will not last long. When the treacherous Lord Rajasena kills Tien’s parents, the young boy swears vengeance on the evil despot. Eventually adopted by Cher Nung, the leader of a band of brigands, Tien learns multiple styles of martial arts to put a serious hurting on his opponents.

Though Tien is happy with Cher Nung and his cutthroats, vengeance still burns in his heart. After completing a dark ritual of spiritual discovery, much like Luke Skywalker’s on the swamp planet Dagobah, the newly empowered Tien sets out to make things right. Despite the radically different settings, there are often odd structural parallels between OB2 and Star Wars, which both feature young powerful protagonists with father issues plagued by black-masked antagonists.

You have to love a martial arts film with elephants. In fact, Jaa inventively integrates the stately pachyderms into his incredibly staged fight sequences. Reportedly without the aid of CGI or wires, Jaa takes on wave after wave of Rajasena’s warriors, leaping around trees and elephants, using any possible weapon that comes to hand in some thoroughly impressive action scenes.

It is possible that OB2’s prequel structure will limit its breakout appeal. The abrupt cliff-hanger ending probably will not go over well with many audiences and its connections to OB1 remain obscure. However, there is no denying Jaa’s talent to kick butt and defy gravity. He’s clearly the real deal. While it will probably be necessary to see OB2 in the context of the entire projected trilogy to fully appreciate Jaa’s vision, it is still an enjoyable showcase for Jaa. It opens tomorrow (10/23) at the Village East.