Ong Bak was released in 2003 and was a hit with audiences in Thailand and The West and also received mostly favourable reviews from critics. A sequel was announced (although the film ultimately became a sort of prequel) and was released in 2008. This was another box office success although critics were less enamoured with Ong Bak 2.
Ong Bak 3 picks the story of Tien (Tony Jaa) from Ong Bak 2 and opens with him in chains. He is then tortured for what feels like an incredibly long time before spending an even longer time recovering from this torture. Although a little unclear in the film it actually seems like Tien dies and is then reborn. This torture and subsequent rebirth is most likely inspired by Jaa’s interests in Buddhism but it also brings to mind the version of a particular story brought to film by Mel Gibson.
Following this frankly excruciatingly long and incredibly dull recovery period, including a couple of dancing sequences, Tien returns to fight in a third act that is mostly action. The action is lacking though with scenes that have far too much in common with Ong Bak 2, uninspired direction and editing that apart from adding little to the action also suffers from continuity issues. There is a sense you get from these scenes that there was little coverage and perhaps the editor is making the best of a selection of weak footage. There are a few moments of genuinely entertaining action but these are marred by the technical issues and the fact that they are so few and far between. Jaa also does not appear to be putting as much physically into this role as he did in the first film, or even the second.
The plot of Ong Bak is very convoluted and there is even a very misguided sub-plot that appears to be romantic although there is so little chemistry that it falls completely flat. Perhaps the highlight of the film though is another strand of the plot involving Dan Chupong, who reprises his small role from Ong Bak 2. Underused though Chupong doesn’t have a strong enough character or a clear enough arc to help add a backbone to the story that the film so clearly needs. Littered with flashbacks and even a scene where a sequence reverses and is played again with a different outcome the film’s structure is a mess and is actually somewhat difficult to keep track of and even harder to care about.
The troubled production history of Ong Bak 3 hangs heavy over the film. Although it is what is up on the screen that is important a little back story on the events that led to the completed film go some way at least to help contextualize the mess outlined above. Tony Jaa famously had something of a meltdown during the filming of Ong Bak 2 and ultimately the film was co-directed by Jaa and Panna Rittikrai (who worked as action choreographer on the first film). There were a series of delays during the filming and money lost. There were also rumors that Jaa was kidnapped at one point and he even appeared on television and broke into tears. Jaa did return to the set and it was at this point that Panna Rittikrai was brought in. The decision was also then made to end the film on a cliffhanger and quickly follow up with another sequel, Ong Bak 3. Footage from the second film was also reportedly held back for use in the third film. It appears that perhaps Jaa was fulfilling his contract and dealing with personal issues and therefore perhaps not entirely invested in Ong Bak 3. The use of footage from the second film also possibly accounts for some of the story and continuity issues.
The last that was heard of Tony Jaa was the news on May the 28th that he had been ordained as a Buddhist monk. Todd at Twitchfilm has speculated that this may be a move that is partly motivated by a desire to ride out the end of a contract he is currently under. This seems likely so we may hopefully see a triumphant comeback from Jaa in a couple of years but until then Ong Bak 3 is a sour note to have ended on.
The UK DVD released by Optimum is of high quality with a good transfer and clear subtitles. The image is of good quality but is incredibly colour saturated and has the look of a television with the chroma turned up far to high. This is not a criticism of the disc though as it seems more likely that this is the result of over enthusiastic post production work on the film.
The DVD extras include a selection of interviews and a B Roll. The interviews will most likely be of interest to very serious fans only and the Tony Jaa interview included is so full of jump cuts that most will probably find it almost unwatchable.
Ong Bak 3 is released on DVD and Blu-ray on the 11th of October.