Pornography and action movies have a lot in common, and the link is not just structural. Both types of films have thin plot lines designed to hold their main selling points – sex and violence – and, if they’ve done their jobs properly, the viewer is left with a sense of satisfaction. Pornography and action movies are also visual, gratuitous and often ridiculous. Incidentally, it is usually a combination of these points that makes for a good entry into either genre.

Such is the case with “Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior,” a film from first-time director Prachya Pinkeaw. If fist fights and chases were replaced with a different kind of human interaction, the movie would make for pretty good porn.

And, “Ong-Bak” is pornographic – figuratively, though, not literally – as everything about this film is self-consciously explicit and over-the-top. Sure, it’s clichd and shallow, but as the protagonist punches, kicks and jumps in various settings, one can’t help but watch with outright glee. If there is a Thai word for “subtle,” it must not be used much, or Pinkeaw doesn’t know it. Believe me, this is a good thing.

The title is a bit misleading, as “Ong-Bak” is the name of a small village’s deity, whose head is severed and stolen by a greedy crook intent on selling it on the black market. The “Thai Warrior” is a local man named Ting, played by Tony Jaa, who ventures off to Bangkok to retrieve it.

That’s the plot, or at least all you need to know of it, because like I said before, it’s basically a clothesline on which to hang action sequences. Although there are reasons that the village needs the head returned, no one should really care. The pugilism more than makes up for the lack of those tired conventions of character and story.

For example, the film opens with a contest among the villagers to claim a flag from the top of a tree. Apparently, this is some sort of village tradition, but the scene exists simply to show us people climbing, fighting and falling hard, which sets the tone for the rest of the movie. After the plot is established, “Ong-Bak” continues at a non-stop pace, moving from a dimly-lit underground boxing club to chases on city streets and finally a confrontation in the “cave,” where the main villain – an old, wheelchair bound man who speaks through an electronic voice box – is excavating artifacts for illegal sale.

For lack of a more intelligent phrase, every fight scene is incredible, which happens to be why you should see “Ong-Bak.” Also, since the stunts were performed without wires, the film is granted an immediate, visceral quality because the action is about as real as a movie can get. There is one scene in particular where Ting faces three opponents in succession, which culminates with one fighter kicked out a second-story window and then kicked again on the way down. This moment, in addition to others like it throughout the movie, is replayed several times so we can fully appreciate the moment.

This film is pure entertainment, and I recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind subtitles. “Ong-Bak” is an action film you can appreciate without worrying about plot, story, character or thinking, which would normally be bad, if it didn’t feel so good.

Battenhausen can be reached at dbattenhausen@campustimes.org.



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