Ong Bak 2: The Beginning (2008)
By: Devon B. on August 22, 2010  | 
Eastern Eye | Region 4, PAL | 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced) | Thai DD 5.1 | 93 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Tony Jaa, Ranna Rittikrai
Starring: Tony Jaa, Sorapong Chatree, Sarunyu Wongkrachang, Nirut Sirichanya, Dan Chupong
Screenplay: Panna Rittikrai
Country: Thailand
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Tony Jaa has made it clear that he idolizes Jackie Chan. Unfortunately, Jaa mimics Chan too much with Ong Bak 2, and I'm not just talking about the extended drunken master sequence. In an effort to be more like his idol Jaa has made his own version of Dragon Lord. Dragon Lord was the first film that Chan had real control on, and he spent heaps of money to make an incoherent mess. Jaa must've thought that was a good thing. Jaa clearly took on more than he could handle when he decided to direct Ong Bak 2, and he reportedly disappeared for two months during filming due to stress. In an absolutely flabbergasting move, Jaa initially chose not to collaborate with his former mentor and stunt team leader Panna Rittikrai, though Rittikrai was called in at the end of filming to try and salvage the film. Too late, she cried. Too fucking late.

Those that thought Jaa's previous films bore too complex a storyline, rejoice, for Jaa has opted to do away with a story almost completely. Ong Bak 2 is a prequel to the first, set several hundred years ago. A young boy is made to fight a crocodile, which impresses a bandit king, and the bandit takes the boy in to train him in various martial art styles. The first major flaw in the movie becomes apparent here: we don't see Tony Jaa until 20 minutes into the movie! I don't watch Tony Jaa movies to see other people, I watch his movies to see what crazy physical feat Jaa is going to manage next. The intro combined with further flashbacks leave Jaa out for about a third of the movie. You'd think with so little story they could've worked him in more. Anyway, a tiny bit more is revealed story wise, but essentially Jaa's character is planning on seeking revenge against the bad guy but will have to face off against an entire army to get to him. It sounds like such a great concept...

Jaa's movies have all had stupid stories, and a few outlandish plot devices have worked their way into Ong Bak 2. Jaa seems to have been so impressed with the idea of Royal Elephants in Warrior King that in this film he makes himself king of the elephants. I'm serious. Another oddity is the female character that's introduced late in the piece via flashbacks like she's going to be integral to the story, but then she does nothing. But the overall plot is where Jaa really screwed up. The problems with his last two movies were the banal stories. I refuse to accept that no one in Thailand can write a decent screenplay. Rather than develop a great story to go along with the brilliant action and create a cinematic masterpiece, Jaa has opted to cripple the story element even more. This is no more apparent than when the film ends on a moment that owes way too much to the scene in Peter Pan where the audience is asked if they believe in fairies to resurrect Tinkerbell. If Peter Pan had ended right then, I'm sure a lot of kiddies would've been upset, and I was upset by this bizarre cop out of a finale which sets up Ong Bak 3.

I could forgive all the faults if the action was up to Jaa's previous calibre. Ong Bak 2 has some impressive visuals and it climaxes well (presumable because by the time the finale was shot Rittikrai was on board), but it is often a jumbled, incoherent mess. I don't want to say that the marital arts on display are crap; they are decent. The main problem is the fights are often poorly filmed, and Jaa has a disturbing fondness for slow motion, using it even when there's no action happening. The second problem is that Jaa wanted to do something different, so he opted against using Muay Thai for the most part. That's okay, I guess, but the thing that set Jaa apart from previous martial arts movie stars was the sheer brutality he displayed because he was using the no nonsense Muay Thai styles. Kudos for trying to bring some variety to his work, but if he was gonna break formula the action still had to be good. Here it often just isn't, and all I could do when I saw Jaa's snake style was laugh. Weapons, specifically swords, are used more, and Ong Bak is a bloodier film than Jaa's others because of that, but sanguine squirts aren't the selling point in a martial arts film that they are in a John Woo shoot-'em-up. Perhaps if Rittikrai had contributed more there would be more to praise, but some gold still shines through the mire. Some great elephant fu is featured at the end, and an early stunt with Jaa and some elephants is just as amazing as anything he's done previously. It's just a shame these moments weren't in Warrior King so no one would have to be so crushingly disappointed while watching Ong Bak 2.

The only place that Ong Bak 2 improves on Jaa's other films is the annoying comic sidekick only has a cameo.
It's not Easter Eye's fault, but Ong Bak 2 is overly dark and clarity gets lost in the blacks. I fiddled with my TV so I could see what was going on better, and the colours got oversaturated. I couldn't make this print look right no matter what I did, which is a shame. Maybe Jaa forgot to put lights up on the set.
Ong Bak 2 is available in either Thai 5.1 or 2.0 mixes. The 5.1 is far better, with a greater depth of sound being really noticeable compared against the 2.0. The bass was also more rumbly on the 5.1. The score, however, is often annoying and not always incorporated well into either mix.
Extra Features
Extras are minimal, but then so is the quality of the film. There's a 25 minute behind the scenes feature which is just a mish mash of clips. There's some good stuff here, but it's nothing compared to the previous making ofs. There're also two short interviews with Jaa and producer Prachya Pinkaew. Finishing the package is the trailer and trailers for other Eastern Eye titles.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Ong Bak 2 is hard to judge fairly because I was so let down. It's okay for Jaa to take a few years between movies to achieve greatness, but I expect greatness then, dammit. Jaa will be out of his prime sooner rather than later, and at his current rate of production we may only get a total of 5 films from him while he's at his peak. It's a travesty that one of those has to be Ong Bak 2.

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