Yes, yes, Ong-Bak has repeated sequences of people getting the tops of their head caved in with an elbow, but what is unusual about that? Elbow have been giving people brain damage for years. No, what is interesting about Ong-Bak is the edit job which has been done to make it palatable to Western audiences. Not, you might thing, removing some of the brutality. Nope, that is all there. Rather the slimming down of a romantic subplot which one presumes shows the limit of star Tony Jaa’s acting ability to be – well caving peoples skulls in with his elbow.
That this was done pretty much on the sly by an opportunistic western buyer is probably a good thing. It does mean though that the film opens with a bizarre number of music credits: the music being added later again to make it more palatable to a Western audience. The music is okay, but it is rare that I find out who is playing the ethnic flute on a film before I know who is actually in it. This add on set of credits is done in a very 1970’s way, which does create a great 1970’s chop-socky feel to the whole affair (that the naivety of Jaa’s lead never fails to shake). Elsewhere though this is a modern Thailand with drug dealing, organised crime – the subtext being much of this being payrolled by Western tourists. Nowhere else is the sense of East/West fusion more pronounced than in the fight club sequences, where the majority of the baying audience to the barbaric fights are non-Thai.
Much has been written about Jaa’s use of Muay-Thai (elbow heavy thai boxing). It was not this that stood out to me, rather one of his vanquished opponents who uses a martial arts style very similar to my own self taught method known as Chair-Fu. His eventual loss in the battle with Jaa is not down to it being a rubbish fighting style, but rather a foolish diversification into using tables, illuminated signs and at one point a fridge. The way of chair-fu is very simple: Hit The Man With The Chair. I fear the loss of such an acolyte in a film like this may set back the cinematic potential of such an exciting martial art form by years.