Tony Jaa burst onto the scene in 2003 and quickly became the heir apparent to aging action guys like Jackie Chan and Jet Li. He put the adrenaline back in action and reminded audiences of the inherent beauty in well choreographed fisticuffs that didn’t rely on wires, editing or fancy Hollywood effects. His starring features ONG BAK (2003) and TOM YUM GOONG (2005) – despite some flimsy “you stole something that belongs to me” plotting – put Thailand on the international cinematic map. Perhaps sensing director Prachya Pinkaew’s storytelling limitations, Jaa moved into the director’s chair for the oddly titled prequel ONG BAK 2 in 2006. The production became somewhat troubled as the neophyte director ran over time and budget, with the studio releasing the story unfinished in December 2008. It was a success and the wrap up ONG BAK 3 quickly went into production.
If this sounds a bit too negative, please don’t think that. ONG BAK 3 is a decent film, just a disappointment compared to Jaa’s previous work. You won’t get anything as epic as the style melding fights in ONG BAK 2 or the classic tracking shot in TOM YUM GOONG (aka THE PROTECTOR). The action, however, continues the brutal tone established in the previous entry. One need only look at the bit where Jaa steps on a guards face and then continues to pummel him until his armor shatters. It is violent and bloody action for sure. Unfortunately the film is by the numbers and an attempt from Sahamongkol Films to get a bit more mileage out of their star. In fact, someone could edit parts 2 & 3 together and have a pretty kickass action flick. Here’s hoping Jaa’s recent sojourn into monkhood gives him time to heal, clear his mind and think of better ways to kick ass.