When you enter the cinema, it is imperative that you remove all that you can from your memory of the first ‘Ong Bak’ film. A big part of that reason is because plot-wise, the film has almost nothing to do with the first one. In many ways, it is very confusingly titled; it suggests that there is a clear lineage between this and the first one. Nevertheless, after having seen it, we urge you to try your best to temper that particular part of your expectation down. It serves more as a prequel, a setting for the entry of Tony Jaa, rather than anything else. If anything, even the term ‘prequel’ should be taken as lightly as possible.
Done that? Purged it from your mind? Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show, because there is plenty worth watching and waiting for in this film.
What exactly is it that we’re watching? On screen, we see a young Tien on the run from Lord Rajasena (Saranyoo Wongkrajang). Rajasena is on a bit of a power trip, and is out to destroy Tien’s father, Lord Sihadecho (Santisuk Promsiri) in order to gain control of the region. Tien, who manages to escape, grows up along with a group of guerilla’s known simply as Garuda’s Wing. Led by Chernang (Sorapong Chatree), Tien (Tony Jaa) grows up under his tutelage, and learns what it is like to be a fighter. And what a fighter he would turn out to be: trained in boxing, muay thai, and even wrestling. Heck, there are even animal fighting slotted in there somewhere. Armed with this, then, he goes out to avenge his parent’s death and seek once again for the love of his life. But let’s be honest, do we really care much about all that?
Nevertheless, as we had mentioned before, it wasn’t what we expected. We had made that mistake of coming into the cinema and expecting something that would top the first film. Apparently the filmmakers themselves weren’t entirely sure what they were doing either; Tony Jaa’s ‘The Protector’ (or ‘Tom Yam Goong’, depending on your region) used this film’s title as the working title, suggesting that perhaps the story was intended to be continued in other films, rather than in this one. Obviously, that wasn’t the case, but it did suggest a hint of hesitation in terms of story continuation. Fikri felt that hesitation here as well. Incidentally, the first ‘Ong Bak’ was one of the best action film Fazil has seen. It certainly is the best one made in modern day Bangkok with hints of muay thai and parkour thrown into the mix. This one is promoted as a prequel to the first film, but even that doesn’t really clear anything up. Perhaps the filmmakers realised this, and attempted to insert voice overs at the beginning and the end to make them in the middle. If anything, it served to confuse us even more. We left the cinema thinking, “That’s it?”
There was one thing that played through Fikri’s mind, though, as the film unfolded before his very eyes: why couldn’t Malaysia do something like this? Having gained some experience in filmmaking, studied some of its techniques, and researched its history, he saw plenty in the film that could easily be done in Malaysia itself. Slow mo of raindrops falling into the crocodile pool? Crank up the camera during filming. Beautiful, natural, rural locations? Shoot somewhere in Perak, he’s sure there’s plenty of wide open spaces there somewhere. Nice aerial shots? They call it ‘cranes’. Thumping sound effects and soundtrack to accompany the action? We got a new Dolby mixing studio, let’s use it for that. Big sets that serves as ancient palaces as well as villages? We have set designers and the like in Malaysia, don’t we? About the only thing missing is our very own version of Tony Jaa, but even then, let’s not make it a martial arts film, then. A thriller, or a mystery, set during the times of the Malaccan empire. He honestly believe that technical support, or more specifically, its lack, can be overcome easily. After watching the film, it crystalises further in his mind that one of the strengths of a film, any film, comes strong ideas and concise visions.
It saddens him a little that Thailand are running ahead of the field, while we only have ‘Puteri Gunung Ledang’ to fall back upon as a credible historical epic.
For now, at least…
Can you believe it if you’re told that this is the first film that Fikri and Fazil saw together in the cinema?