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Ong Bak 2: The Beginning(2008)
Tien (Tony Jaa), the son of Lord Sihadecho -- a tragically murdered nobleman -- goes under the wing of Chernang (Sorapong Chatree), a renowned warrior and leader of the Pha Beek Krut who teaches Tien a variety of deadly fighting styles. Now a master of weapons and combat, Tien seeks out those who slayed his family. Jaa also directs and Sarunyu Wongkrachang co-stars in this martial arts thriller set in 15th-century Thailand.
For more about Ong Bak 2: The Beginning and the Ong Bak 2: The Beginning Blu-ray release, see the Ong Bak 2: The Beginning Blu-ray Review
Starring: Tony Jaa, Sorapong Chatree, Sarunyu Wongkrachang, Nirut Sirichanya, Dan Chupong, Santisuk Promsiri
Directors: Tony Jaa, Panna Rittikrai
» See full cast & crew
Ong Bak 2: The Beginning Blu-ray Review
Bigger budget, epic setting, still no plot.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, February 5, 2010
Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior introduced the world to martial arts mastermind Tony Jaa, and what an unexpected introduction it was. In a time when wire-fu acrobatics had become the norm—providing action sequences that were visually impressive but incredibly artificial—Jaa was the real deal, leaping over vats of boiling oil, doing double front flips, sliding under moving vehicles, and landing some bone-crushingly brutal aerial blows, all without the aid of wires or CGI. Gritty, raw, fresh, a return to form for martial arts movies, the praise lavished on Ong Bak was really praise for Tony Jaa and his physics-defying feats of agility. Because, in retrospect, the film itself is a slipshod affair that gets by on a threadbare plot and single-note performances. Since then, I've been waiting for a Jaa vehicle that manages a better balance between story and skull-busting action. His follow-up, Tom-Yum-Goong—often incorrectly called Ong Bak 2—is essentially a rehash of his first film with a marginally different plot and bigger stunts. It certainly feels more like a sequel than the real Ong Bak 2, which is a prequel set in medieval Thailand. You might call it the Thai equivalent of a Chinese wuxia epic, as it includes a clamoring amount of swordplay in addition to Jaa's usual foot and fist prowess. Yet, once again, the story gets short shrifted to give maximum time to the violent devastation that Jaa liberally doles out.
The year is 1974 according to the Buddhist calendar—okay, okay, that's 1421 A.D. if you're feeling Gregorian—and the backdrop is a violent political upheaval that leaves young prince Tien (played in adulthood by Jaa) an orphan after rebellious Lord Rajasena (Sarunyu Wongkrajang) murders the kid's kingly parents. Tien is captured by slave traders who know nothing of his royal identity, and they toss him in a crocodile pit for sport. The kid shows spunk, though, and he's rescued by Chernang (Sorapong Chatree), the curly-cue mustachioed leader of a band of outlaws, who takes Tien into his den of thieves and raises him like a son. Here, of course, we have the inevitable training montage, where Tien learns just about every martial art under the sun, fights a crazy witch in a cave—I half expected Darth Vader to show up—and transforms from feral boy to über-skilled warrior with vengeance on the brain.
In a kind of warm-up act for the retribution to come, Tien wreaks havoc on the slave traders' bazaar, launching a beefy brawler into a cauldron of turtle soup and showing no mercy as he cocks one dude's windpipe like a pump-action shotgun. (Yes, it looks as painful as it sounds.) From here, the standard-issue revenge plot takes hold, and the film's final act has Tien squaring off against wave upon wave of aggressors, including, inexplicably, a guy dressed up like a crow and another guy wearing a black wicker basket on his head. Actually, he doesn't get to fight Baskethead, who lords over the situation from a perch, watching as his foot soldiers do all the dirty work.
He's more like the "boss" in this "level," because if there's one thing you could equate to Ong Bak 2, it's a videogame, a third-person brawler that spawns endless amounts of enemies for our nearly mute hero to dispatch. In each stage, Jaa takes on a steady stream of personality-free baddies before encountering some colossal foe—with some definable physical trait—who's not quite as easy to take down. Wash, rinse, repeat. The only thing saving the film from being a rote exercise in monotonous violence is Tony Jaa, who's simply transfixing when he's in motion. (His dramatic beats falter, as he still hasn't learned to make more than one expression.) It's unfounded hyperbole to call him the savior of martial arts movies, as some critics have claimed—he has yet to make a real classic—but he's the best in the business right now, at least in terms of sheer physical ability. The film's most spectacular stunt has Jaa leaping across the backs of a herd of stampeding elephants. A fall would mean certain trampling, but there are no safety cables, no clever cutaways or image manipulations. What you see is what you get. And while the original Ong Bak was all about Muay Thai kickbocking, Jaa expands his martial arts repertoire here to include a variety of pan-Asian styles that I admittedly know nothing about but look pretty damn impressive. I don't know how anyone can combine stop-on-a-dime movements with almost frictionless fluidity, but Jaa does it.
Equally impressive is the film's production level, which easily outdoes the grimy low-budget feel of 2003's Ong Bak. (Though it was precisely Ong Bak's indie martial arts spirit that helped to make it a breakout success.) Tony Jaa co-directs this time around, and he's clearly going for the look and feel of a big Chinese epic. He certainly gets the details right—the period clothing, the lived-in look of antiquity, the dreamy, borderline fantasy cinematography—but the story is both mindlessly archetypal and head-scratchingly convoluted. If you'll allow me one piece of advice, don't get too caught up trying to piece together who's who, what they want, and which side is which. Half of the time I had no clue where the film was going beyond the obvious quest for revenge, and I found that I was reading way too much into the film. By the time we get to the inevitable twist, it becomes clear that the plot is blindingly simple, and not really worth dissecting. The film ends on a massive cliffhanger, making everything we've seen previously feel like nothing more than a set-up for Ong Bak 3, which is set to release later this year. There's little resolution, and many sub-plots—like a relationship with a court dancer that Tien knew in childhood—drift off into nothingness, presumably to return in the sequel. I hope, anyway. The story may eventually have an overarching coherency once part three rolls around, but the only satisfaction to be found in Ong Bak 2 is in watching Tony Jaa do his thing, which he does marvelously.
Ong Bak 2: The Beginning Blu-ray, Video Quality
Those disappointed in Fox's muddy, bleary, frankly ugly transfer of Ong Bak—which was, admittedly, not sourced from the greatest material to begin with—will be pleased by Magnolia's 1080p/VC-1 encode of Ong Bak 2. With a bigger budget comes a more luscious visual look that seems heavily inspired by modern Chinese martial arts epics like House of Flying Daggers and Hero. The worst I can say about the film's aesthetic is that it looks patently artificial at times, using a lot of post-production color timing boosts and extremely pushed contrast. It works for the film, though, and aside from a few technical quibbles—two or three instances of negligible banding and some sporadic artifacts—this transfer has no trouble keeping pace with its source material. Most of the film has a clean, sharp, stylized look, with a great and even occasionally wowing sense of clarity. Elephant hide, weather-beaten faces, jungle foliage, and intricate clothing all show fine texture and detail, and even background objects seem crisply resolved when they're in focus. During a number of action scenes, I noticed an uncharacteristic softness toward the edges of the frame, but this appears to an intentional effect. Colors are selectively desaturated or overpumped—see the ultra-vivid greens, reds, and golds, or the pulled-back neutral tones—and aside from a few wishy-washy nighttime scenes, black levels are adequately deep. The only real downside to all the post-production tweaking is that the image seems somewhat dimensionless. Overall, though, I was more than pleased with this transfer.
Ong Bak 2: The Beginning Blu-ray, Audio Quality
In my review for Ong Bak, I noted that the soundfield during the action scenes seemed oddly limited to punches and music, with little ambience to fill out the space. Ong Bak 2's Thai-language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track mostly remedies that problem, and the film's bigger budget equals more dynamic sound, better effects, and more vibrant clarity. The surround channels get much more action this time around, and you'll hear horses galloping through the rears, arrows zipping directionally, whipping wind, pouring rain, and rolling thunder, amongst other place-establishing sounds like market chatter and the clashing of training ground swords. There are a few missed opportunities for discrete effects, but generally, this mix is active and engaging. Aside, that is, from the forgettable score, which mixes orchestral elements and more driving rock numbers to ill effect. So, don't expect the sweeping Chinese violin grandiosity of, say, Crouching Tiger. Dialogue reproduction seems okay—granted, I don't speak Thai, so I can't tell how easily it comes through—but I did notice that some of the lower, more full-bodied voices seem slightly muffled at times. If at all possible, stay away from the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 dub, which is ridiculously laughable and robs the film of what little dramatic heft it has.
Ong Bak 2: The Beginning Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Alternate Cut (1080p, 1:28:27)
As with the first Ong Bak, Luc Besson's production company did a re-edit of Ong Bak 2, cutting out about 10 minutes of material to tighten up the already-tight pace. Not much has changed—there really are no drastic differences—so I'd probably just stick with the longer theatrical cut.
The Making of Ong Bak 2 Featurettes (SD, 21:07 total)
The Story and Characters of an Epic doesn't really tell you anything new if you've seen the film—it's a brief dissection of a few of the characters—but I did find it interesting that Tony Jaa essentially admits his dramatic performances weren't the greatest in his previous films. Revealing the Majesty focuses on the visual action, with a look at the "surfing on elephants" scene, and The Art of War is all about the film's hodgepodge of martial arts.
Behind the Scenes Featurettes (SD, 17:50 total)
This is raw B-roll material—no interviews, no commentary, just the footage. Capturing a Warrior shows various fight sequences being filmed, The Kingdom hopscotches between various elements of production, and The Community shows the cast and crew hard at work and having fun.
Interviews with Cast and Crew (SD, 25:21 total)
Includes interviews with Tony Jaa (Co-director/Tien), Prachya Pinkaew (Producer), Panna Rittikrai (Co-director/Producer), Sorapong Chatree (Chernang), Santisuk Phromsiri (Lord Sihadecho), Sarunyu Wongkrajang (Lord Rajasena), Niruth Sirijunya (Master Bua), and Primrata Det-Udom (Pim).
HDNet: A Look at Ong Bak 2 (1080i, 2:53)
Village Voice film critic and Anton LeVey look-alike Robert Wilonsky shills Ong Bak 2 for HDNet's on-demand video service.
Includes the international trailer (SD, 3:50) and the U.S. trailer (1080p, 1:39).
Ong Bak 3 - Exclusive Footage (SD, 1:34)
An early look at Ong Bak 3, which is a direct sequel to part two but promises to somehow tie-in to the first film as well.
Also From Magnolia Home Entertainment Blu-ray (1080p, 8:42 total)
Includes trailers for Red Cliff, District 13 Ultimatum, Bronson, and Warlords, as well as a promo for HDNet.
Ong Bak 2: The Beginning Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I'm still waiting for Tony Jaa to 1.) get some acting lessons, and 2.) release a film with an equal measure of richly textured story and frenetic action. Ong Bak 2 is a fun diversion that will entertain would-be martial artists with its non-stop whirlwind of feet, fists, and blades, but there's much else to it. Tony Jaa fans will want this one sitting proudly on their shelves next to Ong Bak, but for everyone else, this is probably a try-before-you-buy scenario.
Ong Bak 2: The Beginning Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Ong Bak Blu-ray Announced - January 21, 2010
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has announced the Blu-ray release of the Thai martial arts movie 'Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior' on February 2, thus tying in with the release of its prequel, 'Ong Bak 2: The Beginning', by Magnolia Home Entertainment. Audio ...
• Ong Bak 2 Blu-ray Announced for February - November 23, 2009
Magnolia Home Entertainment has officially announced 'Ong Bak 2: The Beginning' for Blu-ray release on February 2, 2010. 'Ong Bak 2' is a prequel to 'Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior' and is an "epic tale of revenge set hundreds of years in the past." The BD will include ...
Ong Bak 2: The Beginning Blu-ray Screenshots
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