Ong Bak 2: The Beginning

A fighting scene from "Ong Bak 2: The Beginning,"a martial-arts film set in 15th-century Thailand.
A fighting scene from "Ong Bak 2: The Beginning,"a martial-arts film set in 15th-century Thailand.
Posted: October 23, 2009

Directed by Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikrai, starring Tony Jaa, Sorapong Chatree, and Sarunyu Wongkrachang. Rated R (violence, mild gore, adult themes). Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse.

It's a joy to see Tony Jaa back on screen after an unbearable (for this fan, at least) four-year absence. Sadly, the Thai action star's new film, Ong Bak 2: The Beginning, doesn't measure up to his two previous starring vehicles, the 2003 breakout hit Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior and 2005's The Protector.

Set in 15th-century Thailand, the film is a dazzling, spectacle-heavy, big-budget historical epic about a 10-year-old boy named Tien who sees his aristocratic parents murdered by a political rival.

Tien is taken in by a gang of merry, forest-dwelling bandits whose Robin Hood-like boss helps him prepare to avenge his father by teaching him a dozen forms of martial arts.

The film's costumes and lavish settings and its muddled, pretentious plot almost crush Jaa under their weight. Jaa is at his best when facing off with bad guys in simple settings. Here he overreaches himself.

It's a shame. Jaa's expertise as a fighter and stunt choreographer and his on-screen charisma make him the most exciting and explosive martial-arts star since Jet Li. And The Protector is as near a perfect martial-arts film as mortals could make.

Ong Bak 2 is still a must-see for genre fans. Jaa in action is poetry - even in a disappointing film. Let's just hope he regains his senses for Ong Bak 3.

- Tirdad Derakhshani

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