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Ong-bak Reviews

A country kid trained in the ancient martial art of Muay Thai beats up half of Bangkok in order to save his tiny village in this inspired, nonstop smackdown from Thailand. The villagers of tiny Nung Pradu are preparing to enact the traditional ceremony of presenting the robes to their deity, Ong-Bak — a ritual performed only once every 24 years — when the sacred statue's head is stolen by dastardly Don (Wannakit Siriput), a Bangkok drug dealer working for powerful crime-lord and artifact-smuggler Khom Tuan (Sukhaaw Phongwilai). If the head isn't returned in seven days, the entire village is doomed, so the villagers have no choice but to scrape together what money they can and send favorite son Ting (Tony Jaa) to Bangkok, hoping he can track down Don. Ting, an accomplished student of Muay Thai, has been warned by his master not to use his deadly skills against an enemy, but the warning goes unheeded on Ting's first night in the capital. Ting's cousin, Bangkok con artist Hum Lae (Petchthai Wongkamlao), who now goes by "George," has turned his back on Nung Pradu and his father's dream that his son might become a monk, preferring to run scams with his motormouthed sidekick, Muay (Pumwarree Yodkamol). Before Ting is even settled in George's apartment, George steals the villagers' money and heads straight for Khom Tuan's illegal fight club. Ting, who must now fight in order to get the money back, becomes a serious thorn in the ruthless Khom Tuan's side once the kingpin realizes that Ting's relentless search for Ong-Bak is endangering his entire smuggling operation. Thai writer-director Prachya Pinkaew practices recombinant genre filmmaking at its most gleeful. He tosses in bits and pieces of FIGHT CLUB (1999), THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2001) and XXX (2002), Takashi Miike's brutal yakuza shockers and plenty of Asia's own martial-arts classics. Even considering the graffiti shout-outs to Steven Spielberg and Vin Diesel, however, the result never feels like slavish imitation. Prachya claims his chief inspiration is Thailand's own martial-arts superstar Phanna Rithikrai (Rithikari is cocredited with creating the astounding martial-arts choreography, and Jaa is considered his final protege), and his concern about wholesale hijacking of national treasures that still hold tremendous religious significance for many Thais is genuine. But the meat of the matter is the fight sequences, and rather than being goosed with now-common digital effects and Hong Kong-style wirework, it's all real and all breathtaking.