With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Monday, July 28, 2014

The ONG BAK TRILOGY available tomorrow in Blu-ray and DVD box sets

Magnolia Home Entertainment
and Magnet Releasing
Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior 
Ong Bak 2: The Beginning 
Ong Bal 3: The Final Battle

The ONG BAK TRILOGY will be available as either a 3-disc Blu-ray box set ($29.98) or a 5-disc DVD box set ((26.98) tomorrow, Tuesday, July 29th from Magnet Releasing, a division of Magnolia Home Entertainment. Both sets include all three movies and loads of great extra features. While I've seen all three films previously on DVD, I watched the Blu-ray versions for this review. (For a look at the DVD versions, see Neil Koch's article at hkfilm.net.)

The original Ong Bak brought worldwide recognition to the Thai action film industry and made a star of Tony Jaa. The following films in the trilogy form a two-part prequel of sorts to the original. All three films are available with either the original Thai or with English-dubbed soundtracks Each film also offers optional English or Spanish subtitles.

This release is especially timely in that Panna Rittikrai, who worked in the Thai film industry for three-and-a-half decades as actor, stuntman, action choreographer and director. He gained international recognition as Tony Jaa's mentor. He was stunt coordinator for Ong Bak, and co-rwrote and co-directed Ong Bak 2 and Ong Bak 3 with Jaa. Seeing him on the extras is heart-wrenching given his recent and untimely death at age 53.

Before providing brief synopsis and ratings for each of the film. let me first be clear that the whole package is greater than the sum of its parts. That is, my rating for the trilogy box set is slightly higher than the average of my ratings for the three individual films.

AsianCineFest Rating for the ONG BAK TRILOGY box set: 3.5 out of 4 stars; very highly recommended.

I also want to suggest that for those who already own some, or even all three, of the films on DVD, the pricing and quality of the Blu-ray package makes it worth considering an upgrade. For those who do not yet own any of these films, or only one of them, the Blu-ray set is a must have, unless you're still hung up on DVDs, in which case go with the DVD set. Give your duplicate discs to a needy friend.

Now, a few words about the individual films.

Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior 
Directed by Prachya Pinkaew
Thailand, 2003, 105 minutes

This is the film that started it all off. The title is somewhat misleading in that Ong Bak is not a Thai warrior at all. It is the name of the sacred Buddhist statue in the Thai village where Ting (Tony Jaa) lives. When the head of the statue is cut off and taken to Bangkok to be sold as a relic, Tien is selected to retrieve it. There he meets up with Humlae (Petchtai Wongkamiao) a fellow villager. Humlae is an incorrigible gambler who only answers to the name of George in his new life in the big city. The film is filled with incredible stunts and Muay Thai martial arts moves.

AsianCineFest Rating: 4 out of 4 stars; an absolute must-have.

Ong Bak 2: The Beginning
Directed by Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikrai
Thailand, 2008, 98 minutes

As I indicated earlier, this is the first of two films that provide a prequel to Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior. It is set nearly 600 years ago and tells the tale of how the Ong Bak statue came to be cast.

Tien (Natdanai Kongthong) is the young son of a military commander in what is now eastern Thailand or western Cambodia. He ends up living with a group of bandits led by Chernung (Sorapong Chatree) and is trained in a variety of martial arts, both unarmed and weapons-based. When he demonstrates mastery of all he has learned, Tien (now played by Jaa) becomes a leader of the bands raids. But trouble awaits him when he goes up against the man who killed his parents.

There are some incredible stunts involving elephants and, as one might expect given the preceding description, a great variety in the martial arts action scenes.

An alternate cut of Ong Bak 2 is also included, as well as the usually plethora of fine extras.

AsianCineFest Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars; highly recommended.

Ong Bak 3: The Final Battle
Directed by Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikrai
Thailand, 2010, 99 minutes

The final film in the trilogy picks right up from the end of Ong Bak 2, with Tien captured by his adversary and facing torture and death. But through a convenient intervention, he escapes this fate. However he is in bad shape and only slowly manages to regain his health.

Therein lies the main problem with the film. The middle section is devoted to a lengthy training session. Actually, two training sessions. The first involves Tien retraining his broken body to function once again. The second involves him delving deeply into Khon, traditional Thai dance. He will incorporate these dance moves into a new martial art for the film's final ultimate showdown.

AsianCineFest Rating 2.5 out of 4 stars; fairly good. Certainly of interest, but somewhat flawed in terms of pacing. While it does have some fine stunts and combat scenes, it's still  bit of a letdown in terms of the amount of action one would expect.