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Movie Review: Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning

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So I'm sitting in a screening room at noon of a recent weekday, watching Tony Jaa kick huge quantities of ass in Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning and thinking, This is too much fun to be considered work.

No, Ong-Bak 2 isn't a great movie and, no, Tony Jaa isn't a great actor. But so what? If you love the pure kinetics of a well-shot martial-arts film and feel as though the form hasn't been the same since Jackie Chan and Jet Li went Hollywood, Tony Jaa is the most exciting figure to come along in years.

In his previous two films, Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior and The Protector, Jaa demonstrated an explosive physical style that seemed to be equal parts kung fu, gymnastics and Mighty Mouse. He unhesitatingly unleashed attacks on mountainous opponents -- or mountains of opponents -- blending speed, agility and aggressive fearlessness to mow them down by the dozen.

Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior was a 2003 film in which Jaa played a contemporary provincial forced to fight his way through the Bangkok underworld, to recover the stolen head of a sacred statue. His character had been taught martial arts by monks, though he'd been admonished never to use them in combat -- until he was forced to defend himself.

In The Protector (2005), Jaa was in similar recovery mode -- this time traveling to Australia to recover an elephant and its baby that had been stolen by poachers. The Protector featured one of the most amazing sequences I've seen in recent years, as Jaa fought his way through a seemingly endless series of opponents while working his way up several stories of a broad staircase in a multi-tiered building full of restaurants and lounges -- all in a single, extended shot.

Ong-Bak 2 marks Jaa's directorial debut; he also choreographed the action. The film isn't exactly a prequel; indeed, aside from the title -- and a glimpse of the statue from the first film, it bears no relation to the original.

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