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Featured Blu-ray Review: Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning

February 12th, 2010

Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

In 2003, Tony Jaa broke onto the scene with Ong Bak, which was a surprise hit with critics, even if it didn't find an audience during its theatrical run. He followed that up with Tom Yum Goong, a.k.a., The Protector, which earned mixed reviews, but performed better at the box office to become the biggest Thai hit of all time. For Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning, not only did Tony Jaa star in the movie, he also directed. With him behind the camera, will Ong-Bak 2 return to the level of Ong Bak, or will it be closer to The Protector?

Tony Jaa stars as Tien, whom we meet as a child fleeing from unknown forces with an unknown protector. When the protector sacrifices himself to save the boy, the boy escapes temporarily but is later captured by slavers. After he fights back, they decide he is more useful as entertainment than as a slave, so they toss him into a mud-filled pit to be eaten by a crocodile, or possibly an alligator. This time he is rescued by a group of outlaws after the leader, Cher Nung, recognizes something special in the way he fought for his life. After he consults with his father, the soothsayer, they decide to train him in all the forms of martial arts that they know so that he can become the ultimate warrior.

Throughout the film we see in flashbacks that Tien was the son of Lord Sihadecho, a provincial ruler, who sent his son away for dance lessons. At the time Tien did not understand why, but we know it was likely for his own protection, as it was a time of political upheaval. There he meets an orphan girl named Pim and the two become friends, because they share the same fiery spirit. However, eventually Tien decides to return home, much to the disappointment of Pim. However, this turns out to be a poor decision, as he returns just in time to see his parents assassinated by a traitor. He swears revenge on those who murdered his parents, which is his main motivation throughout the film.

Ong-Bak 2 is a movie that tries too hard to be more than what it is. What it is is a martial arts movie with a paper-thin plot that is only there to give excuses for fight scenes. Lots of fight scenes. Fight scenes with a wide variety of styles and weapons and locations. Had it just done that, it would have been a great movie. However, they tried too hard to be artistic and it just didn't work, mainly because to the filmmakers "slow motion" was a synonym for "artistic." There are still plenty of amazing fight scenes, as well as some stunts that are just unbelievable. (Many of these involve elephants.) I just wish they had stuck with their strengths.

On a side note, stick with subtitles and avoid the dubbed version. The voice acting is not good.

I do not have the Two-Disc DVD, but apparently they have the same extras as the Blu-ray, starting with an alternate cut of the movie. (This is why the DVD has to be on two discs while the Blu-ray is just one.) The alternate is the French cut of the film that is 89 minutes compared to the original version that is 98 minutes. Some of the differences are obvious, especially the opening, which is trimmed back extensively. I'm not sure this was a wise decision. In the original you knew Tein was someone special from the beginning, because he had a protector, while in this version he could be just some poor boy. Other extras include a three-part making-of featurette that runs a combined 21 minutes. There's a three-part behind-the-scenes look that is 18 minutes long. There are 25 minutes of interviews with the cast and crew. There is some exclusive footage of the upcoming Ong Bak 3, as well as the HDNet preview and trailers.

The Blu-ray is BD-Live enabled, but at the moment there is nothing, not even a generic studio page. Additionally, the video transfer is not a selling point. There are far too many issues, with poor contrast, weak black levels, artifacts, banding, etc. The audio is better with some usage of the surround speakers, but it is not stellar. At least the two formats are the same price.

The Verdict

Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning could have been a great movie had it not tried so hard to be a great movie. All it needed was the amazing fight scenes and the natural beauty of Thailand. It has that, but it also tries to be too artistic and the result is middle of the road. For fans of the genre, it is still worth checking out, and fans of Tony Jaa will likely want to buy it. The Blu-ray is far from the best I've seen from the format, but it is the same price as the DVD, so if you are going to buy, go with High Definition.

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