There are three reasons to see this movie. First: the dazzling martial arts moves of Tony Jaa, whose lightning reflexes and breathtaking gymnastics are both impressive and entertaining. Second is the authenticity. As the tagline says, this film has “no safety nets, no computer graphics, and no strings.” This is not the kind of movie that inspires critics to use words like “balletic” and “graceful.” This is the kind of movie that shows you that everything but the injuries is really happening on screen. The third reason is so that you can see the first leading performance by a man who is set to become the next big action star.
With all of that, the reasons not to see the movie — predictable script (“The fate of the whole village lies in your hands!”), effective but not especially artistic direction, and adequate but not especially impressive movie-making, with a lot of those hiccup-y little instant replays that show you the most exciting stunts a second or even third time.
Jaa plays Ting, who must retrieve the head that has been stolen from the statue of Buddha in his small rural town in Thailand. So for the first time he goes to the big city. Then he has a lot of chase scenes and fights. Then the movie ends.
But the fights are very cool. Ting fights in the street. He fights in a ring. He goes underwater. His legs catch fire. He fights with his hands, with his fists, and with knives.
Jaa is an electrifying performer and the movie is primarily designed to show off what he does best, with what little story there is just there for breathing room and a change of location before the fight scenes start up again. There is a wheelchair-bound bad guy who can only speak through an electronic voicebox (it is really eerie when he laughs) and a female sidekick with an annoying voice that may be intended to be funny but just sounds somewhere between a whine and a screech. But the movie is a showpiece for Jaa, whose talent is well worth showing and viewing.
Parents should know that the movie has constant, intense, and graphic violence with bone-crushing injuries. Some characters are killed. The plot involves drug dealers and drug use and characters smoke and drink. They also use strong and sometimes crude language (as translated in the subtitles).
Families who see this movie should talk about how Ting makes the decision about whether he will fight or not. Why did George change his name? Why was Ong-Bak so important to the village?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the films of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li.