Never let it be said that I was someone who valued my pride over my integrity. I say that because I’m about to admit this… I once called Ong Bak 2 the “greatest martial arts movie ever made.”
I could make lame excuses like my lack of sleep when I wrote the review. Or my level of inebriation. Or the fact that an editor worth their weight in Gourdoughs donuts really should have caught that hyperbole and cut it out of the post all together… but no, I’m fully responsible for the ridiculous accolade. And while I stand by the review in general, that particular line haunts me to this day. As great as the fighting in the film is the movie as a whole has multiple issues and there are any number of better martial arts movies out there.
Unfortunately, Ong Bak 3 is not one of them.
The film opens shortly after the stunted finale of part two with Tien (Tony Jaa) still in the custody of the Evil Dude. A punishment is declared and a gaggle of masked men surround our hero to mete it out… but he comes to life and begins to beat the crap out of each one. He’s sentenced to death but a messenger arrives in a move straight out of a Looney Toons cartoon and claims he’s there to transport the prisoner… and the bad guy falls for it. Tien is returned to his village where he’s cared for by his lady friend and an old man who together teach him the importance of dancing. “It won’t be long before we can dance together Tien,” says his platonic girl friend.
It’s at this point that the film moves into the longest training montage in the history of cinema.
And by ‘longest’ I mean pretty much the entire middle third of the film. Tien recovers from his latest beatdown after the locals pack him in mud and build the statue that we first saw in Ong Bak. Then he does yoga… not just any yoga mind you, but some truly violent and angry yoga inside of a tree’s vagina. It’s his bad karma holding him back you see, so while his chickie dances with a worried look on her face until she collapses Tien has to fight his inner weaknesses before he can overcome the outer ones. The wounded Tien goes through period of being an ass while he recovers, but the wise old man explains that’s understandable. “Wherever the shadow is the light is nearby,” he says. He goes on to teach Tien that dance is therapy for the body and mind, so he should “change the enemies into dancing partners.” Thankfully the music tells us that this is serious drama and not Thai comedy…
The only bright spot through all of this is the return of the Crow (Dan Chupong) from Ong Bak 2. He returns and angers the Evil Dude to such a degree that he’s also given a death sentence. The Dude sends his men to cap the Crow but one spectacular fight later they’re all dead. The Crow then goes looking for Tien, and after some solid fight action between our hero and some more nameless soldiers we’re set for a battle between two two incredible martial artists, Jaa and Chupong, as the Crow commits a devastating murder and nothing can prevent the clash of the ages from happ–
Oh. Nevermind. Who knew Jaa the director was a Michael Haneke fan.
Tony Jaa has reportedly retired from film-making, and that is a shame. And not just because he’d be going out with the weakest film on his resume. The man is an extremely talented fighter, but he seems to have lost the will to show it. Chupong’s fight scenes here actually outshine Jaa’s, and maybe that means Jaa’s body is responsible for forcing an early retirement. I don’t know. But if that’s not the case I for one would love to see Jaa return in a couple years with a new project… something set in present day… something not self-directed… and something that features absolutely zero dance scenes.