Sunday, April 17, 2016

PCP's Movie Pick of the Month for April: Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior (2003)

Not much to say about April's movie pick of the month. Most of you have probably seen it already. Or at least most of you should have seen it already. If somebody asks you if you have ever seen this movie, there is only one acceptable response: "Which version? I prefer the subtitled, digitally remastered North American release with music produced by the RZA." This film is simply required viewing for any martial artist, especially those of us who train in Muay Thai.

Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior (2003)

"Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!!!" -Ting

Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior, directed by Prachya Pinkaew, is the film that made Tony Jaa an international celebrity. It boasts wall-to-wall action sequences featuring some bone crunching stunts. It doesn't get old because they manage to up the ante with every sequence, sometimes adding multiple levels, multiple opponents, and a fantastic, parkour style foot chase. The fights are fast and feature creative, stylized Muay Boran choreography. The first time I watched Ong Bak, I remember thinking "How did they do these stunts without people getting seriously hurt?". Well after watching several behind the scenes videos I realized that the answer is, well, some people got seriously hurt. After all, you can't flying knee a guy on a motorcycle in the head, jumping off the back of a truck, and expect everybody to be completely okay afterwards.

I can't discuss Ong Bak without discussing Tony Jaa. Jaa, who was born in Surin Province in Thailand, started his career as a stunt double for martial arts movies. He developed an interest in Muay Boran, the martial art on which the techniques of modern Muay Thai are based, and studied it for several years with the intent of making a movie that featured it heavily. That movie is Ong Bak. Jaa did all of his own stunts, without the help of wires or CGI. So yes, the really did set him on fire. This movie established Jaa as a serious movie martial artist talent, in the same discussions as Jet Li, Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan.

In all seriousness, this movie holds a special place in my heart. When I first started training Muay Thai in Guelph in 2004, it was still being shown in theatres. I went and watched it with the people who I was training with at the time. I've seen it several times since then. It was even featured one time at YMT's 30 hour famine. This movie is so iconic that it's everywhere, on t-shirts, dorm-room posters, and even on the door to the bathroom at the gym. Now, it would be inaccurate to say that Ong Bak got me into Muay Thai, but it definitely made it cooler for me. It got me secretly wishing that one day, I would have the chance to step up on somebody's hip and shoulder and drop a downward elbow on the top of their head. Who among us can truly say they haven't tried something from Ong Bak on the heavybag when we thought nobody was looking? Nobody, that's who.

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