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Ong Bak 2: The Beginning

An Action-Packed, Clichéd Melodrama

By: Mel Valentin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Ong Bak 2: The Beginning, martial artist Tony Jaa’s third film (after Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior and Tom-Yum-Goong, a.k.a. The Protector) isn’t, as the subtitle implies, a prequel to Jaa’s breakout hit Ong Bak. It’s a different, apparently unrelated story set in the 15th century. Packed with Jaa’s signature fighting moves and a variety of fighting styles and weapons, Ong Bak 2 will leave Jaa’s fans mostly pleased, but the clichéd revenge melodrama Jaa puts on screen is shallow, empty filler between the martial arts scenes.

Jaa, who co-directed with longtime collaborator Panna Rittikrai, opens with a long prologue as Tien (Natdanai Kongthong as a child, Jaa as an adult), the son of a murdered nobleman (Santisuk Promsiri), barely escapes with his life.

Caught by slave traders, Tien is forced to fight a crocodile in a mud-filled pit while covered in blood. A spectator and local pirate, Chernang (Sorapong Chatree), is impressed with Tien’s tenacity, intervenes and rescues Tien. Chernang offers Tien protection and, later, training in the various martial arts practiced by the men under his command. Tien spends years training, preparing for the inevitable day when he’ll go out into the world to take revenge on the despotic administrator, Rajasena (Sarunyu Wongkrachang), who murdered his family, deposed the king, and took the crown for himself.

Eventually, Tien ascend to a position of leadership in Chernang’s pirate army. With Chernang’s pirates under his command, he sets out to get revenge on the slave traders who captured him and infiltrate Rajasena’s heavily fortified compound. Along the way, flashbacks fill in Tien’s backstory: his father’s failure to stop Rajasena’s power grab, his father’s death, and a brief friendship with a young girl, Pim (Primorata Dejudom), who he meets at a dance school that presumably sets up a romantic subplot in the sequel, Ong Bak 3 (Ong Bak 2 ends on a perplexing cliffhanger).

Of course, moviegoers don’t make an effort to see films like Ong Bak 2 for their clichéd, melodramatic storylines or one-dimensional characters, but for the well-choreographed, gravity-defying, bone-crunching martial arts action. In that respect, Ong Bak 2 delivers, if at times repetitiously. Taking his cue from Jackie Chan, Jaa and his stunt crew are always willing to sacrifice multiple body parts and serious injuries for the demands of a particular scene. Branching out from the brutal, hands-on style that him a popular box-office draw in Asia and elsewhere, Jaa shows himself equally adept at melding different martial arts (e.g., Japanese Kenjutsu, Indonesian Harimau Silat, Chinese Zuiquan, Wing Chun and Hung Ga) into his Muay Thai fighting style, along with wielding numerous weapons, including katanas, scimitars, nunchakus, and three-section staff with seeming effortlessness.

As a director, however, Jaa shows more than a few rough edges, even with Panna Rittikrai stepping in after a two-month production stoppage to get Ong Bak 2 completed and into movie theaters to help recoup the investment. Ong Bak 2 simultaneously feels too long, due to the lengthy flashbacks, and too short, due to the inconclusive, ambiguous ending and obvious sequel set-up. With a tighter running time and the semblance of an ending, Ong Bak 2 could have been more than another, ultimately forgettable, entry in Jaa’s filmography.