On horseback a boy races through the forest, protected by his bodyguard, being relentlessly pursued by some individuals with sharp blades and even sharper sword tips in Thailand action star Tony Jaa’s somewhat sequel to his international hit ‘On Bak’ with ‘On Bak 2: The Beginning’. A movie that I can only call a really beautiful mess.
The boy escapes those who were trying to kill him only to land out of the virtual fire and into the frying pan as he is captured by some brutal slave traders. These cats are all kinds of bad news as they rape the women, brutalize the men and sacrifice whomever they can sacrifice all in the name of entertainment. Today this new found slave boy, Tien (Natdanai Kongthong), will be supplying the entertainment as he is tossed in a mud pit with a hungry gator inside so we can see how long he survives. What fun!
But this boy Tien ain’t no joke though and he does survive, and while the boy was tap dancing on the head of this gator these slave traders are mercilessly attacked by some pirates whose leader Chernang (Sorapong Chatree) sees promise in the child, saves his life, takes him back to pirate-ville to teach this boy the ways of the arts.
The boys grows into a man, looking just like Tony Jaa, and not only does he learn the various art that Chernang has taught him, he has mastered them. So proficient is Tien’s skill level that Chernang, after a series of increasingly difficult tests, has turned over leadership of the clan to his adoptive son. But while he is grateful for all that Chernang has done for him, what Tien truly hungers for is revenge. Revenge against those who sought to enslave him as a child and especially revenge against those who sent him fleeing as a child, those who slaughtered his father and his mother before his very eyes. This would be the iron hand ruthless leader of his nation Lord Rajasena (Sarunyu Wongkrachang) who will be recipient of Tien’s venomous wrath.
There are easier things to accomplish in this life than actually getting close to Lord Rajasena to do him harm, say taking a row boat to the moon, but Tien is nothing if not determined… and the showdown looms.
You like beautiful scenery? Damn does this movie have beautiful scenery with its lush jungles and elaborate costumes when necessary, all wonderfully photographed looking almost good enough to taste. Since this movie takes place a good six hundred years before the original Ong Bak, thus having nothing to do with the original Ong Bak as far as I could tell, we do get a sort of a history lesson on Thai oligarchy, and this is a history that Jaa, serving as the film co-director has respect for as this film features traditional dance and presentation in addition to its bone breaking action scenes. But this is a martial film and sets and jungles and costumes and choreographed elephants don’t mean much if there’s no bone breaking action, and there is bone breaking action to spare.
Tony Jaa whips out his full complement of martial arts skills mowing through hordes of pirates and ninjas and armed guards and slave traders, showing them no mercy. If you like martial arts action, if you want to see a couple guys duke it out on top of elephants, then you will enjoy ‘On Bak 2: The Beginning’.
It’s just too bad they didn’t get a chance to finish the movie. It seems that a lot of the work that went into completing this movie took place in the editing room. Since the word on the street is that the production of this movie was challenged, to say the least, it’s a damn good thing that they were making an action movie. Action movies, at least if the action is tight, don’t really need to make a helluva lot of sense. As such the story elements in this movie were whittled down to the most threadbare and served the most basic purposes in getting us from one action set piece to the other. For the most part they were successful in pulling this off because the action sequences were sweet. Sure I wouldn’t have liked a just a tiny bit of character development, maybe a little more of the love story they looked like they were attempting to put in this movie, but I didn’t get that so why harp on it.
However I still like my movies, even ones that have threadbare storylines, to end normally. What is this… ‘Lost in Space’? I have tune in next week at the same time on the same channel to have this cliffhanger resolved? Oh wait, this is a movie, not a television show and I don’t think the sequel has even gone into production yet. I guess this is more of a personal thing but I don’t like cliffhangers in movies. I didn’t like the cliffhanger at the end of ‘Lord of the Rings’, but at least the sequel was finished already so I knew it would be resolved in short order. Who knows what’s going to happen with this movie. If I had knows this movie ended in a cliffhanger I probably wouldn’t have even gone to go see it.
But again this is more of personal preference with me, and from my vantage point there’s no denying that ‘On Bak 2’ is visually satisfying and really worth watching for fans of martial arts on film. But as spectacular as it may be visually it is an equal failure thematically with your enjoyment of the film being if your love for the visual can override it’s shortcomings in theme. It almost did for me, but not quite.