Lauren In Tokyo

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Mach!!!!!!!!!!!!! (possible spoilers)

Better known as Ong Bak or The Thai Warrior outside of Japan, this movie is IT.

Showcasing the physical grace and strength of Tony Jaa as a country-boy Muay Thai expert, the movie is packed full of action scenes which literally pull no punches.

The story is about Ting (Tony Jaa) who is a devout Buddhist. He lives in a small village where one day the town's Buddha statue's head disappears. Ting believes he knows who stole it, a former friend who has since moved to the city and gotten caught up in a life of crime. He sets out on behalf of the village with their money and gifts to go to Bangkok to retrieve the statue head.

He finds another villager, George, who moved to Bangkok years before and stays with him during his stay. But George has also become caught up in the immoral ways of the city and finds himself trafficking drugs for a small gang to which he owes money. After Ting moves in, George steals all of Ting's money and bets it all on an underground fight.

The underground fighting scenes are expertly done, with Ting delivering breathtaking kicks and flying knees. The bar is inhabited by all sorts of scum and villainy with many American servicemen and Australian thugs taking part in the action, sometimes being the center of action themselves. Ting wanders into the bar looking for George and finds himself unwittingly pulled into the center of the action. A single (amazing) kick later and he is the new champion.

The owner of the bar, sitting in an upper room with another rich Thai (whose lack of tact and class is hilarious), bets against Ting and loses each time at some very bad odds. He calls in his goons to challenge Ting in the ring, and Ting wipes the floor with them all. The audience takes a liking to him and start tossing money onto the fight floor. The director passed up a great opportunity to show some internal conflict in the protagonist and instead showed him as a perfect angel, foregoing the fame and money that would be coming his way as an underground fighter.

Throw in another car chase for good measure and Ting finds himself underwater (the continuity here is lacking) face to face with not just his village's Buddha head, but a whole bunch of Buddha heads kept in nets underwater, away from prying eyes. It turns out that the owner of the bar is the one who has been "collecting" the heads and with the treasures now back in their rightful hands, he decides to exact revenge on Ting and his companions.

The owner still has the small Buddha head that was stolen from the village, and uses it to force Ting to throw a Muay Thai match against the owner's top bodyguard. After losing, Ting and George are kidnapped and dragged to a remote abandoned gas station where the owner orders them killed. Through amazing feats of strength and agility and some flaming legs, Ting gets away and he and George hop on a motorcycle to catch up to the boss.

Coming upon a large cave, Ting overpowers the guards and sees the boss and his bodyguard overseeing the removal of a giant Buddha statue head. It is revealed that the boss has a God-complex and feeds his ego by destroying religious artifacts. Ting, being the devout Buddhist, defends the statue and fights the boss and his henchmen to the death.

Unfortunately, George succumbs to massive wounds and dies in the cave, but not before Ting shows off his amazing Muay Thai skill.

This is a movie worth renting. The fight scenes are anything but tedious, and there are a lot of them. From a short, one-kick fight in the bar to a long, arduous battle against a drugged-up bodyguard, the fight scenes just keep improving as the movie progresses. It would have been nice to see less elbows to the head, but that might just be a feature of Muay Thai boxing.

With a few changes, this could have been one of the best martial arts movies of all time. A little more character development, especially in the scenes where Ting is faced with the lures of Bangkok, would have added another dimension to the character. Some more continuity between scenes would have been appreciated, as well as more focus on story. The director spent so much effort bringing the fight scenes and stunts as close to reality as possible that he seems to have spent all his creative reserves before getting to the storytelling. There are problems in the story that are hard to overlook.

That said, the movie will most likely take a high place in the pantheon of martial arts films because of its exceptional fight choreography and very cool cinematography. No wires, no CG, just realistic fighting and stunts as real as Jackie Chan's old movies set a standard to which other fighting movies can only hope to reach.

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