Monday, July 20, 2009

One of the villains looked so familiar, I thought Tony Jaa was going to say "Yo, she-bitch! Let's go!" before dispatching her.

This goddamn heat can suck my dick.

Anyway, I rented the latest flick from Tony Jaa, Ong-Bak 2 from my local video store/head shop. It's a place cool enough to stock multi-region DVD's, and cool enough to rent out movies 2-4 weeks before they're supposed to be available to the public, but apparently not cool enough to stock the director's cut of Watchmen. Yup, it's all widescreen and full-screen copies of the theatrical version over here. C'mon, video store people -- you were supposed to be reading my fuckin' mind.

If there's one thing that VHS has over DVD in a big way, it's that with VHS I could fast-forward past the FBI warnings and advertisements. Try that shit with DVD; it's a 50/50 deal, depending on your model and brand of player. You'll either be able to skip that shit no problem, or in my case, have no choice but to wait while still pressing the Skip and/or Menu buttons in a futile attempt to buck the odds. It's even worse with titles from other countries. You get anti-piracy warnings up the yin-fucking-yang in, like, 13 different languages, followed by 7 different movie company logos with the triumphant music, then the menu comes up, you hit play, then 3 more fuckin' anti-piracy warnings come up, followed by the same fuckin' 7 movie company logos with the triumphant music from before, and by then you're like Fuck This Bullshit, I'm just gonna go watch Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day for the fifth time on cable (although to be fair, I was probably going to watch that delightful romp again anyway). I don't know if Blu-ray is any different in this matter, since I don't have the money or the home theater system to mess with *that* shit.

Thankfully my patience outweighed my Amy Adams crush, and the flick was definitely worth the wait. Ong-Bak 2 is a prequel to the original Ong-Bak in the same way that The Patriot was a prequel to Payback; you've got the same star beating the shit out of/killing the shit out of motherfuckers but that's about it as far as connections go. For the record, I don't know if Tony Jaa is a crazy anti-Semite like Mad Mel, so maybe that was a bad comparison to make, but you get the idea.

This movie takes place in 1400's Thailand, and we're introduced to a little boy named Teean. It turns out Teean is the son of some big deal ruler and as it always is with this kind of story, there's turmoil and all that other bad stuff going on. Sure enough, the shit just got real, so the king/ruler/whatever has one of his men take the boy away to safety. Naturally, this doesn't quite work out, and soon Teean is running for his life alone. Eventually, Teean is saved by the leader of a pirate gang. But these guys aren't the sailing-the-seven-seas Arr Matey! type of pirates, they're more like R-rated Robin Hood/guerrilla types who punish the bad and protect the good (while making some serious bank outta the deal).

The pirate leader takes in the boy and gives the little dude a choice in either staying with him and his crew or going off on his own. The boy decides to stay, since he has nowhere to go and besides, these guys are pretty badass and he wants to learn how to give hardcore beatdowns they way they do -- and boy does he learn. As the years go by, Teean learns how to fight and becomes so good at it, he grows up to become Tony Jaa, that's how good he gets. We watch as he has to pass a series of tests to get his diploma in Badassery, and I guess it's no spoiler to tell you he passes with flying colors. Teean soon becomes the leader of the pirates, and we follow him as he leads his men to victory, time and time again. He's got the respect of his people, the admiration of the common man, and business is good in the ass-kicking department. But there's something nagging him, something that he can't shake off on those lonely nights while drinking. As Teean goes over his mental checklist of things to do, he realizes there's one empty box next to REVENGE, and it's time to get that motherfucker checked off.

Tony Jaa's been called the new Jackie Chan, which kinda sucks because Chan's still alive, but I can see why they would say that. Like Chan, Tony Jaa mixes it up between amazing martial arts skill and Holy-Fucking-Shit-Did-He-Just-Fucking-Do-That? stunts. I think the main difference between the two is that Jaa has this incredibly goofy sincerity that I think even Chan would feel a little embarrassed by. I can imagine Chan wanting to put his arm around Jaa, buy him a drink and say "Dude, calm down. It's just an elephant" or something. Jaa probably carries a photo of an elephant in his wallet to look at and get all weepy with, like homeboy with his dolphins in The Big Blue. I'm being unfair, I understand the Thai people love their elephants and probably packed the movie houses when Operation Dumbo Drop came out.

Ong-Bak 2 definitely has its share of elephants, but there's a lot less going on in the crazy stunt department. There's a wild sequence involving Teean and a stampede of ever-present pachyderms, but for the most part this is all about the fights. Oh, but what fights! It's been a while since I've seen a martial arts movie that really knocked me on my ass, and it's good to have that feeling once again while watching this. Every time some poor schmuck got a faceful of kneecap you could feel it, and thanks to the great sound work on this movie, you sure as shit hear it. Of the three Jaa movies I've seen, I prefer this one over the first Ong-Bak and Tom Yum Goong (aka The Protector). For one thing, there's a lot more action going on in this movie. I remember getting a little impatient waiting for some assbeating to happen with those two other flicks. Here, the balance is completely flipped over so that there are more action scenes than scenes of dialogue and exposition, at least it feels that way.

I liked that the filmmakers give you enough of an involving story to get you, uh, involved without overstepping their boundaries. They didn't appear to be suffering from any delusions of storytelling grandeur. Too many of these guys think they're making the martial arts Braveheart or something, and the audience (me) ends up suffering through what's supposed to be some emotional shit but is really some third-rate warmed-over epic movie cliches that you've seen a million fucking times already. And to add insult to injury, they give you more of that bullshit than the shit you paid to see in the first place -- the fucking fights, man!

This one is also a step up as far as production value goes. They go for that epic wide look, shooting it in 2.35 or 2:35 or however the fuck that's supposed to be written. It looks very expensive, coming a long way from the "Hey guys, we can make movies too!" aesthetic of the other Jaa flicks. This is even more impressive when you consider the fact that Jaa himself directed it as well, or at least half of it. From what I've found out on the Interwebs, the stress of making this movie got to poor old Jaa, and at one point he just took off and disappeared into the jungle for a couple of months, leaving the cast and crew with nothing to do.

The Weinstein Company originally had partnered up with Jaa and was going to put up a lot of the money for this flick, but after finding out about all the Apocalypse Now/Tropic Thunder shenanigans going on, they pulled out. That must have been hard for poor Harvey Weinstein, losing a good opportunity like that to take a motherfucker's movie and chop the shit out of it. Eventually, Jaa came out of hiding and made an appearance on a talk show where he admitted he ran away so he could be alone and cry. He didn't even have to look at some elephants to get worked up, it was the stress of the movie that got him like that.

So Jaa wiped away the tears, put his testicles back on and went back to work. Only this time he brought along his friend/fight choreographer to complete principal photography. And here's the rub -- in order to finish the movie with no more money, they had to end Ong-Bak 2 on a cliffhanger. I feel I have to spoil this and tell you, because if you end up watching this movie, it's better to be prepared rather than ask out loud "What the fuck?!" like I did when it happened. It's pretty funny too, because it ends at such a messed-up moment (which come to think of it, is how a cliffhanger is supposed to work) and then a narrator comes in and says that it's up to us in the audience to save him, with our good thoughts or some shit like that. I thought he meant it in a clap-for-Tinkerbell way, but I think the underlying message is "Hey, if enough of you motherfuckers pay to see this movie, then we'll make another one that shows you how he makes it out of this pickle". Which I guess makes me a fuckin' murderer since the copy I rented was probably a bootleg that the film company won't make a dime out of.

But hopefully I'm in the minority, and the majority of people's dollars or baht will go directly to the moviemakers. Then we can get Ong-Bak 3 and not only will we get to see how Teean makes out, but maybe we can also find out if Tony Jaa loves every elephant or makes exceptions in some more randy cases, like this one: