Jaa the director should return to own beginnings
By Jan Stuart
Friday, Oct. 23, 2009
One of the more pleasant surprises of 2003 was "Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior," a jaunty martial-arts flick out of Thailand that made a star of stuntman Tony Jaa. Raggedy by Jackie Chan standards, it benefited from a footloose charm and a non-digitally enhanced integrity that spoke to action fans and dilettantes alike.
Jaa's breakout success made him vulnerable to a virus that often overtakes performers who hit pay dirt before age 30: the need for greater artistic control. Taking co-directorial reins with Panna Rittikrai, Jaa has erected a portentous platform for his high-flying athleticism, bearing none of the freewheeling spirit or humor that made his feature debut a guiltless pleasure.
Set in a slavery-ridden corridor of 15th-century Siam, "Ong Bak 2: The Beginning" is a 98-minute extravaganza of drum and head pounding that is occasionally interrupted to monitor the progress of peerless fighter Tien (Jaa), a soldier's son on a mission to avenge his parents' murder.
Ek Iemchuen's jigjag screenplay jumps between Tien's formative years (enacted by a scowling Natdanai Kongthong) and his young adulthood. As the film's martial-arts choreographer, Jaa has devised a hybrid of Eastern fighting styles whose dippy inflections of dance provide the film with its chief source of levity.
The star's anti-gravity antics, however, are pulled down by the murky environs and doom-laden air of earnestness that would seem to be de rigeur for action epics set amid brutal feudal servitude. The hatchet-happy editor, ever-attentive to the transient attention span of the film's target audience, barely allows the hero time out from one virtuosic battle before he is flung in the face of a new enemy.
Jan Stuart is a freelance reviewer.