Friday, February 18, 2005

Fit To Be Thai

Ong-Bak is a Thai martial arts movie starring up-and-comer Tony Jaa that is cool enough to make me reconsider my stance on Thai food (not really).

The filmmaking, especially the editing, is kind of creaky and ham-handed, and the dim, moody lighting of many scenes is a bit much, but they mostly don't get in the way of Tony Jaa's impressive moves, which are the whole reason to see this. He's fast, limber, acrobatic and brutal. The violence gets pretty hardcore, even a bit gruesome near the end, but most of the best martial arts movies have to get a little uncomfortable by the final battle--you need to keep upping the level of visceral thrills.

Jaa is touted as being the next Jackie Chan/Jet Li figure (the trailer emphasizes this point too much, at the expense of actual footage) and he's got the skills for it. Now that Chan has gotten to the point where he's started using stuntmen and wires, and even the best of his American movies make it clear he's not as fast as he was at his peak, and Li has succeeded in breaking into mind-bogglingly bad hip-hop crossover movies, Jaa is a welcome addition. His choreography isn't as clever and innovative as Chan's yet, nor as lighthearted, though there is a humorous chase scene where he gets to put his own spin on the comedic side of the genre. But he's speedy and ballsy and pulls off some stuff we've never seen before from Chan or Li.

Yeah, so it's cool.

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