A beautifully crafted but remarkably dull directorial debut
To say Tony Jaa’s life over the past couple years has been interesting is a bit of understatement. From being a movie star to forsaking it all to become a Buddhist monk, and apparently back again, Jaa came out of nowhere for U.S audiences en masse with a throwback film to another time in martial arts films: 2005’s Ong Bak. Eschewing wire work for realistic stunt work he did himself, Jaa seemed poised to become the crossover martial arts star in his prime that eluded both Jet Li and Jackie Chan. After the behind the scenes disaster that Ong Bak 2 became due to contractual problems, Jaa seemingly compromised to finish up with a third film in the trilogy: Ong Bak 3.
A sequel to the second film in the franchise, which was a prequel to the original film, follows up the cliff-hanger of the second film. When we last saw Tien (Jaa), he had been captured after a legendary battle with the foot soldiers of Lord Rajasena (Sarunyoo Wongkrachang). Tortured beyond belief, he’s nurtured back to health to fight a supernaturally powerful warrior (Dan Chupong) in what is meant to be an epic showdown for the ages. And if the first sequel to his breakthrough film was a complete departure from the original, this is a detour from that. If Ong Bak was a bone crunching action flick, and the sequel a historical epic, the finale can best be described as a meditation on Buddhism with some fight scenes thrown in to break up the monotony of long dialogue sequences about the nature of man.
One can see where Jaa is going with this film. The entirety of it is a meditation on the nature of Buddhism channeled through Tien, a man who needs to overcome the sins of humanity in order to be fulfilled. Jaa the director and the writer is using darkness and light throughout to present a thoughtful, elegant meditation on the nature of humanity through a man trying to find the right path to enlightenment. But there’s one problem: it’s layered over a bone-crushing historical epic and can’t figure out which one it wants to be.
Jaa is taking on three hats for this film and it shows in the final product. This is a film of beautiful cinematography and some grand sweeping camera movements. Jaa the director has a knack for visual flair ala Tom Ford’s debut with A Single Man as he’s crafted together a beautiful film on a purely visual level. He’s created a series of great moments throughout, as there’s an arresting visual style and some unbelievable moments throughout. But that’s kind of a problem as that’s all he’s done: created a series of great moments. There’s no heart or soul to the film outside of his look at Buddhist principles and their affect on Tien.
There’s no strong story connecting the film as the grand finale falls flat because there’s no grand connection to it all. One can see where Jaa is going with this film, as really it’s an extended version of Ong Bak 2 in what could’ve been a near four hour epic. Jaa is seeking a soulful meditation on Buddhism with his signature blend of action but it’s coming from a place of passion as opposed to one from outside it. It is clear Jaa is a devoted follower of the religion, as he left the movie industry to become a Buddhist monk, but it’s influencing his film in bad ways. He wants to have his meditation and he also wants it to be an action epic but he’s not skilled enough as a director or a writer to make it that way.
Filled with enough interesting and wonderfully done action sequences, as well as some beautiful cinematography, Ong Bak 3 is a film that is visually arresting but doesn’t ever go beyond that.
Director: Tony Jaa Notable Cast: Tony Jaa, Sarunyoo Wongkrachang, Dan Chupong Writer(s): Tony Jaa
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.