Ong Bak 3: The Final Battle
R1 - America - Magnolia Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (28th March 2011).
The Film

My one and only experience with the work of Tony Jaa came almost 10 years ago when a friend brought over a bootleg VHS tape of “Ong Bak” (2003). He couldn’t stop gushing about how insanely awesome Jaa’s stuntwork was; how this guy was the heir to Bruce Lee’s throne of cinematic ass kickers. I’ll admit his enthusiasm for the film got me excited to see what all the fuss was about – not that I ever expected this Jaa guy to blow me away like Bruce’s legendary skills were able to do. The film began, and I sat – mostly in silence – for the duration of the film, watching something that made little sense, had a lot to do with elephants and featured a mildly charismatic, long-haired Thai fighter elbowing guys in the head so much I remain unconvinced he didn’t patent the move and make a dime off each successful blow. Outside of some admittedly cool fight scenes, there wasn’t any substance. At all. I don’t get why so many in people in online geek circles have given the film so much acclaim. Jaa is incredibly talented, there’s no doubt about that, but I’d rather watch a 3-minute sizzle reel of his best feats on YouTube than watch someone try to direct him in a feature film. So, as you might expect, I skipped over “Ong Bak 2” (2008), a film that I heard little about aside from the numerous production difficulties encountered on the set.

Which now brings me to “Ong Bak 3” (2010)… I actually found myself with a renewed interest in the series when this one showed up. I’d hesitate to call it completely genuine, but seeing that this series had now logged three entries made me wonder if there was something I’d been missing out on. Maybe in the past 7 years, Jaa had developed more of a screen presence to balance out his extraordinary fighting abilities. Or maybe the Thai film-going public will watch anything he’s in. After watching “Ong Bak 3”, I’m going to have to stick with the latter. I did my best to follow along with the plot, but I’m still not sure what exactly was going on here. Based on the opening prologue (this film appears to pick up right where its predecessor left off – also, spoiler alert!) it looked like things were being set up for some big epic battle where Jaa faces someone who apparently killed his father. Then, next thing you know he’s beaten to a pulp and spends almost the rest of the film in a coma. When he’s not in a coma, he’s training. In between all of this, lots of Thai dudes fight each other. I didn’t catch any names, but it looks like some demonic guy from the Netherworld has taken over and nobody is able to defeat him. You should already know where this is going…

I found the fight scenes here to be impressive. Of course, they’re impressive in the sense that I can’t do any of this stuff. I’ve certainly seen more death-defying aerial acrobatics on screen before. Jackie Chan could smoke most of these guys any day of the week. Jaa is clearly the star here – but he seems to forget that his martial arts abilities alone aren’t enough to carry a film. Chuck Norris knows this, but that’s why most of his films kick so much ass. They build a ridiculous, B-movie plot around his Epic Beard and let him run wild. Jaa, who I should mention is also co-director of this film, is trying to make an epic, dramatic, spiritual movie that fails at almost everything it has set out to accomplish. The emotional quest he goes on is never made fully clear – although it seems like he’s just fine tuning his body to prepare for an all-out assault on the film’s Final Boss.

There were some elements of the film that I thought were cool, even if they didn’t make much sense. The main villain, who I’ll just refer to as Black Power Ranger (since that’s what he reminded me of most), was an interesting concept. I have no idea who he’s supposed to be, or where he came from, but he’s evil, man! And he’s got the black teeth to prove it. I thought his role was that of “the devil on your shoulder” to the king, but then he cut off the king’s head, so there went that theory. I had figured Jaa was building up some epic battle a la Hiroshi Inagaki’s “Samurai Trilogy” (1954-1956). Not that this series had even a faint chance of matching that epic trilogy, but a culmination of his lifelong torment/revenge/etc. seemed to be ripe plotting ground for this film. Instead, we spend half the movie watching Jaa recover in a coma-like state while complete nonsense occurs around him. Plenty of guys fight, plenty die… once it was all over, my brain wasn’t quite sure what to make of all of it. It isn’t so much that I’m at a loss for wards as I can’t even think of words worth using. Even my friends who are hardcore kung-fu fans thought it was meandering and slow. Unless you’re a major Jaa fan who has to complete this trilogy, I’d say you’re better off skipping this entry.

Video

Congratulations to the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, as it ranks up there with some of the worst looking images I’ve seen DVD produce. Is it 1999 all over again? I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d popped in a DVD or a widescreen VHS tape. Green predominantly rules the screen – this is a jungle, after all – but everything looks so muddy that there’s simply no definition to the image. I don’t know how much better the Blu-ray fares, but this is one ugly mofo. Black levels suck up what little detail there is in their infinite darkness, leaving you squinting at the screen whenever it’s nighttime. I really can’t think of many adjectives to commend the picture, aside from the obvious fact that I could see what was going on. I don’t expect much out of DVD these days, but this was just a poor showing all around. I’m not sure unscrupulous companies don’t make their DVD's look terrible so that the concurrent Blu-ray release shines that much brighter.

Audio

You get two options: Thai or English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. And they’re both monstrous. As much as it surprises me, this film has one bombastic track. The score, which remains uncredited on IMDB, is positively ear-shattering. I don’t think this was a case of pumping up the levels during action, either. The film retained a nice balance of dialogue and music throughout, but I still found myself occasionally scrambling for my remote when the action started. There’s one scene where Jaa stomps the ground as he works his way through fiend after faceless fiend, and my subwoofer was thumping like I had some hip-hop blaring. It’s too bad the film was boring and the image looks terrible, because this is a killer soundtrack that rivals many Blu-ray lossless tracks I’ve heard. Now, I’m far from being an audiophile with a golden eardrum, but I know power, presence and clarity when I hear it – and this track’s certainly a winner in that respect. Note that the back cover lists English & Thai Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo tracks are included, but I didn’t spot them in the set-up menu.
Subtitles are available in English and Spanish.

Extras

Yawn. Not much to see here, although word on the street is the Blu-ray (or the 2-disc DVD) has much more to offer. We simply get a fluffy EPK featurette, the theatrical trailer and some bonus trailers.

“HDNet: A Look At Ong Bak 3” (16x9) is a featurette that runs for 3 minutes and 9 seconds. Clips from the film are shown while some guy who wasn’t remotely involved in the production, though apparently he’s some kind of martial arts expert, talks about Jaa’s abilities. This couldn’t possibly be any less interesting.

The film’s theatrical trailer (16x9) runs for 1 minute and 25 seconds.

Bonus trailers for the following precede the main menu:

- “Monsters” runs for 1 minute and 37 seconds.
- “All Good Things” runs for 2 minutes and 18 seconds.
- “Vanishing on 7th Street” runs for 2 minutes and 38 seconds.
- “HDNet promo” runs for 1 minute and 1 second.

Packaging

A single disc in an amaray eco-case. Is it just me, or do all of Magnet/Magnolia’s releases have cover art that looks like it was printed from a second-generation copy at Kinko’s?

Overall

“Ong Bak 3” is a martial arts film that, ironically, lacks any kind of punch. Jaa definitely has put in the training to have the chops, but his complete lack of screen presence and charisma leave him a weak candidate for lead roles. Add in that he spends a good chunk of the film sleeping (hey, kinda like me!) and you’ve got a weak end to what was already a weak series. I surely hope we don’t have an “Ong Bak 4” to look forward to.

The Film: D+ Video: C- Audio: B+ Extras: D Overall: D+

 


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