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By Adam Thomas

Friday February 18, 2005

His Legs Are On Fire

Originally released in 2003, Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior is a movie for Saturday afternoon martial art action fans. If you like the epic scope and design of big highflying tree top martial art films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers, know that this is not that kind of movie. Instead it is a really simple story used to showcase the spectacular gymnastic and fighting capabilities of its star Tony Jaa. And Jaa is the hero for real of the movie. Looking and feeling like a throwback to the good old days when martial art films featured actual stunt work usually resulting in a long list of injured stunt people, Ong-Bak without Tony Jaa would be lame. With secondary characters that are both kind of annoying and not really funny–except for maybe the mob boss who smokes through the hole in his neck, the movie is about Ting (Jaa) who leaves his quiet village to bring the town’s sacred Buddha (Ong-Bak) back after it’s stolen by some thugs from the city. There, he teams up with some kind-hearted petty thieves, and gets into a lot of fights.

Endorsed by the Wu-Tang Clan, the film promises real action, real stunts with no computer generated scenes and no wires. Like Jackie Chan before him, Tony Jaa does all of his own stunts and his moves and style are pretty amazing. In the opening chase scene through the streets of Bangkok, Jaa runs from a mob of thugs. He jumps over cars like a hurdler, split kicking and dive rolling his way through the gang. He runs up walls, flips over pedestrians and obstacles and literally runs over the heads and shoulders of his attackers. Yes that’s barbed wire.

This guy on the bike has a gun. Not for long. As the bad guys try to take out Ting and his friends because they keep getting in the way, Jaa runs up the back of the truck and lands knee first on the head of this guy on a moving motorcycle. In order to prove how real it all is, the filmmakers run the stunt three times from different angles.

Tony Jaa’s style consists of a gymnastic Tae-Kwon-Do mix that centers on removing the inertia from your opponents attacks. Instead of backing away or dodging, Jaa moves towards his opponent and into the blow before the attacker can generate full momentum. He then comes at you with switch-a-roo body kicks and likes to finish things off with a flying elbow wedge to the skull. Here Jaa has been fighting a guy in this underground nightclub-fighting arena. He’s dodged tables and plates, blocked chairs, bottles and knives and finally kicks the guy out the second floor window, jumps out after him and knee kicks him again on the way down.

This is a bare bones action comedy and a good time if you know how to take it. It will be interesting to see what Jaa does next and if he can actually act. Of course the film’s intention isn’t to tell an epic story or fetter away time with emotionally charged character arcs. Nope, this is just good old-fashioned whoop-ass movie making. And Tony Jaa knows how to whoop ass.