Ong Bak 3
Directors: Tony Jaa, Panna Rittikrai
One might conjecture that the narrative arc of Ong Bak 2 and Ong Bak 3 was a reflection of the troubles that director and star Tony Jaa had going on in his personal life during the making of these two films. During the production of Ong Bak 2 there were numerous on and off set problems with Jaa disappearing at one point and rumors of a possible nervous breakdown. This created major dissonance between Jaa and the Sahamongkol production house that has been behind all of Jaa’s films. But things were patched up and Jaa along with his mentor Panna made Ong Bak 3 (a direct sequel to the second film but no relation to the first in terms of story). Ong Bak 2 is full of angst and pain and the sequel begins in the same manner – but by the ending Jaa’s character has come to terms with who he is and is at peace. Regrettable this resolution does not make for a particularly compelling film and Ong Bak 3 is a disappointing simplistic jumble of mysticism, brutality, action, Buddhism, revenge and redemption.
Ong Bak 2 ends jarringly with Tien (Jaa) being captured by the killers of his father and imprisoned primed for torture. This film takes the story up right from that point with Tien being literally broken with bone crushing techniques. Tien is saved at the last moment – the sword getting ready to descend with a horse rapidly approaching cheap scenario – by an order of the King and turned over to a monk for repair. Tien’s tormentor, the ever smirking Prince (Saranyu Wongkrajang) soon gets his just desserts at the hands of the even more evil Bhuti Sangkha (played by the terrific Dan Chupong – Dynamite Warrior, Born to Fight) who impressively appeared near the end of Ong Bak 2 as the Crow like fighter. Tien is made whole again – not only externally but more importantly internally – and he begins to accept the teachings of Buddha. But Bhuti makes one mistake – he messes with Tien’s female childhood friend – and now Tien has to face an entire army of killers.
None of this is particularly interesting – a martial arts revenge/redemption story that has been enumerated hundreds of times all over the world but it is made even less compelling by stereotype sketch characters – the good monk, the loving innocent girl, the evil menace, a stiff lipped hero. But come on – let's face it, no one watches a Tony Jaa film in expectations of narrative complexity – we come to see asses kicked in multiple ways and here is where the film truly is a let down. If memory serves me correctly, there are five action set pieces – one with Jaa taking on his tormentors, one with Bhuti killing all of the Prince’s men, Jaa in another small combat number against some of Bhuti’s men, the large set piece against the army and the finale one-on-one against Bhuti – and none of them really excite. Perhaps I have seen Jaa and his bag of martial arts tricks once too often but nothing here felt original. In Ong Bak 2, Jaa displayed a number of martial arts styles that were astonishing – but all the choreography in this film is basically one guy charging Jaa and getting crushed – after the first 20-30 victims it all gets a bit repetitive. Even the final showdown was less than inspiring because by then Tien was almost Buddha like and nothing could beat him. Jaa seems a lot more interested in sending a message than in generating excitement. My advice to Jaa would be to bring his films back into contemporary times and to find his sense of humor again.
My rating of this film: 6.0
Other than this, the only other films I have seen of late are the Matt Helm series from the 1960’s starring Dean Martin. The Matt Helm series of books written by Donald Hamilton was America’s answer to James Bond, but minus much of the Bond razzmatazz and save the world scenarios. Based on my reading of three of the books that the films are based on, the plots are very basic and to the point and the 150 pages or so are easily read in a day or two. In the books, Helm is an assassin for the US government. He gets an assignment to kill and amid various complications he completes his job. In their day the Helm books were quite popular and not surprisingly four of books were brought to the screen all starring Dean Martin.
A worse selection for this character is hard to imagine. In the books, Helm is a tough terse cynical operator – but Martin plays him basically like Dean Martin on a golf outing at the Playboy Mansion. He is a lady killer and no woman can resist his slight charms. In those rare moments when he is not ogling or seducing women, he tries to stop the villains but his assignment is almost an inconvenience. The films only have a passing resemblance to the book plots as well – for example in The Wrecking Crew (1969) in the book Helm is sent to Sweden to kill the communist head of a secret cell, while the film has something to do with a gold robbery and lots of gadgets. In fact, the films are little but gadgets, bushels of women and Martin smirking. They are plain awful and one can’t feel a bit disheartened that the Matt Helm character was given such short shrift – someone needs to bring the real Matt Helm to the screen.
From a strictly cheesy pop 60’s perspective, the one plus for today’s viewers are Martin’s female co-stars – some of the more popular babes of that era – Elke Sommer, Sharon Tate, Nancy Kwan, Tina Louise, Senta Berger, Ann Margaret, Camilla Sparv, Stella Stevens and Daliah Lavi.
The same thing seems to have happened to the one incarnation of the Modesty Blaise books. The books are great fun – pulp fiction somewhere between the Doc Savage books and the Bond series – tough hitting, gritty but a bit preposterous. But the film Modesty Blaise made in 1966 is so full of pop pretentions that it is painful to endure it. Modesty too needs a high budget reworking on the big screen.