Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior (Blu-ray)

Elbow. To your head.

Here’s the plot: Some bad guys steal a statue head and Ting (Tony Jaa) chases them around Thailand.

Sure I could have tried to pad that story synopsis more, but if you’ve seen Ong Bak you know that I was already too verbose. If you haven’t seen Ong Bak, for some crazy reason, don’t let the threadbare narrative dissuade you from getting your tiny mind blown by the awesomeness of Tony Jaa.

He is the main reason to watch. He is the special effect. He is the guy who can leap over compact cars and pull off moves which have previously only been seen in Capcom fighting games.

At its core, Ong Bak is simply a series of increasingly fantastic action scenes, tied together by the flimsiest of plots. The Buddha head scavenger hunt allows Jaa to transition from place to place, hot on its trail, getting embroiled in larger and more pulverizing fight sequences. Thankfully, this shortfall in storytelling depth is utterly trumped by what Jaa and his choreographer cronies are able to conjure. From the opening fight in the sacred tree and the street chase with convenient obstacle course, to the blistering bar fight and a balls-out finale where the roid-raging antagonist gets totally owned, there isn’t a wasted frame of action to be found. Well, the taxi chase is sort of lame and overheated, but be patient; there is head-crushing elbow dropping just around the corner.

Though The Protector would unleash some noteworthy fisticuff fireworks (wrapped in an even weaker story), and Ong Bak 2 would introduce child crocodile fighting, the original still stands as Jaa’s best movie. It’s lean, simple, and the spotlight stays where it should: focused solely on its star’s shocking physical abilities.

Just as shocking? The underperformance of this Blu-ray. All of the extras were imported from the DVD release: a live stunt performance by Jaa, music videos, B-roll footage, and a Muay Thai showcase; all looking pretty shoddy in standard-definition. The video quality is what really disappointed me. This 1.85:1 1080p MPEG-4 AVC transfer fails to live up to the HD standard set by other catalog releases. The enhanced resolution just isn’t there, with the soft picture quality looking like an upconverted DVD at best. DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks are delivered in both English and Thai. They’re clean mixes, but not nearly ear-pleasing enough to compensate for the mediocrity of everything else on this disc.

These half-assed Blu-ray re-releases need to bring more to the table.


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