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The Scarlet & Black

Sword, throat, blood

“Ong Bak 2,” the latest American release from Thai martial artist and actor-director Tony Jaa (“Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior,” “The Protector”), is in Thai with English subtitles but might be best viewed with the subtitles off. After all, the only sounds that really matter are the swishing of swords and slitting of throats. There is a plot, sort of—Tien (Jaa), the heir of a rebel leader, escapes monarchical forces and is rescued by a band of outlaws. Their leader is impressed with Tien’s strength and trains him in martial arts. The rest is difficult to follow, even with subtitles, and very bloody. Jaa constructs each scene to show off his Muay Thai skills or to build toward a future face-off. And, to his credit, there are some dazzling fights—he takes on legions of scarred slaveholders, cloaked ninjas and, of course, elephants. Jaa is really more of a choreographer than a film director—he dances around and above his enemies, making frequent use of slow-motion and close-ups to show us every bend and twist.

Ong-bak 2

For fans of martial arts films, there’s plenty to like. For the rest of us, there’s not much that’s unexpected—people kick and punch, swords clash together, blood spills everywhere. Nonetheless, I felt a slight kick of adrenaline during the final scene—that is, before it replays itself three or four times. And even there, that was mostly due to a terrifying ninja-type guy wearing what looked like a straw basket on his head. I’m no connoisseur of martial arts films, but nothing in “Ong Bak 2” compared to the fight scenes in the “Kill Bill” movies—remember that schoolgirl twirling around that ball and chain while a Japanese punk rock band plays in the background?. Of course, Tarantino, for all his skill, is forever paying homage, with varying degrees of irony. There’s an earnestness to Jaa’s film that, despite all the senseless violence, makes it almost endearing. And have you ever seen someone run on top of a herd of elephants before?

Jaa, it turns out, has set his film career aside to become a Thai monk, and the final minutes of “Ong Bak 2” do get a little spiritual and heavy-handed. But, more than anything, they get us salivating for the next installment of the “Ong Bak” series—which, despite Jaa’s new career choice, is already in production.

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    BenSep 17, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Impeccably written! Only a former Highpoint ideological stronghold could produce such high-quality work.