Despite all the recent hyperbole and American studio-generated buzz, Thai action star Tony Jaa is not "the next Jackie Chan." Nor is he "the next Bruce Lee." At least not yet.
At this point in his career, Jaa really hasn't had the experience to be compared to either the former or the current king of martial arts.
Judging from his supposed starmaking 2003 film "Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior," Tony Jaa has neither Chan's goofy charm nor Lee's edge. But Jaa does have a lot in common with the acrobatic but charisma-free Jet Li, who's still fun to watch in the right movie.
As for "Ong-Bak," its plot is pretty much standard-issue. But the action is spectacular enough to allow the audience to overlook that problem.
Besides, anyone who goes into a martial-arts action movie for the story is there for the wrong reason.
What story there is follows Ting (Jaa), the protector of a tiny Thai village. Bandits have made off with head of a Buddha statue named Ong-Bak, which the villagers worship. So he goes to Bangkok to get it back.
Ting believes he'll get help there from Hum Lae (Petchtai Wongkamlao), who has also come to Bangkok from his village. Unfortunately, this greedy, would-be entrepreneur is not interested until he sees Ting exhibiting his Muay Thai (kick-boxing) skills and realizes that Ting could be his new meal ticket. But they wind up making a lot of enemies all around the city, including a gangster (Suchao Pongwilai), who may have the relic Ting's been looking for.
Actingwise Jaa doesn't embarrass himself too much, but the action is the thing. Among the film's most memorable sequences is a foot chase, during which Jaa dives feet first through a barbed-wire hoop and then slides, doing the splits, underneath a moving vehicle.
If anything, that chase sequence is even more exciting than the fight sequences, which resemble the "Street Fighter" or "Mortal Kombat" video-game movies because they're so silly, although this one doesn't rely on "wire-fu" special effects to enhance the action, which is refreshing.
"Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior" is rated R for strong scenes of martial-arts and action violence, scattered use of strong sexual profanity and crude sexual slang terms, drug content , brief gore, and brief, partial male nudity. Running time: 101 minutes.
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