'Ong Bak 2' offers big kicks for some


POSTED: Friday, October 30, 2009

For some reason, dedicated martial-arts films remind me of Fred Astaire movies. The plot is the flimsiest excuse possible, there only to provide a bare thread of continuity between the choreographed action sequences. You're there to see a master at work. The only difference between Fred Astaire and Tony Jaa is that the debonair Astaire danced charmingly, while Jaa glowers and kicks people.

Tony Jaa, as Tiang, was the breakthrough star of “;Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior”; some years ago, a Southeast Asian production that introduced Muay Thai martial arts styles to the world. It's fiercer and more personal than the graceful kung-fu of China, mostly consisting of getting in close and delivering a fusillade of punches and kicks. Jaa is so good at it that he has emerged as a star of the form, although he still has a way to go before reaching Jackie Chandom.

“;Ong-Bak”; was big in Thailand, naturally, and a minor import curiosity elsewhere. Now we have the sequel, “;Ong Bak 2: The Beginning,”; which is actually a prequel, set in the 15th century (and “;Ong Bak 3”; is in the works, you bet). While the first film was a low-budget actioner set in drug-infested modern times, the new film, flush with cash and confidence when the first proved a hit, is a medieval revenge fantasy, complete with elaborate effects, terrific costuming, a cast of hundreds and first-rate editing and scoring.

        Rated R
        Now playing at Consolidated Kahala and Pearlridge

The story is a slim thread in which a young fellow, done wrong by some sort of warlord, grows up to be Tony Jaa, who takes his revenge in action sequence after action sequence. They all sort of blur together afterward, but watch out for a frankly amazing scene involving a herd of elephants and another in which Jaa poses as a dancer.

The martial-arts expertise shown here is impressive, but it's undercut by undercranking the camera, speeding things up to Wile E. Coyote-Road Runner levels.

“;Ong Bak 2”; will certainly please those who haven't seen a down 'n' dirty head-kicker for a while, and perhaps those curious about the state of the art in Thai film technique (pretty good), but for most on this side of the Pacific, it's a kick to be missed.