Tony Jaa's `Enter the Dragon' knocking at a cinema near you

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Fri, Aug 06, 2004 - Page 20

Bruce Lee (李小龍) achieved a huge hero screen persona with the filmEnter the Dragon (唐山大兄). Jackie Chan (成龍) is remembered for the movie Project A (A計劃). And now in Thailand, with the movie Ong-bak, Tony Jaa has come of age.

Ong-bak is also the kind of movie that will make Thai people proud of their own martial art -- muay thai, or Thai boxing. It has successfully presented muay thai as a visually stylish and enjoyable martial art.

It is not like the Thai boxing we see on TV. The martial arts action is well-designed and done with more grace, under director Prachya Pinkaew's ambitious lens and with Tony Jaa's impressive performance.

The story of Ong-bak is very simple. Ting (Tony Jaa) is from the countryside, where he has learned martial arts from monks.

One day, the head of the statue of Ong-bak Buddha -- the symbol and guarding spirit of the village -- is stolen by an urban thief. Without Ong-bak, the annual ceremony cannot be held and the well-being of the village will be affected. So, Ting vows to go Bangkok to track down the thief and reclaim Ong-bak for the village.

On the way, Ting naturally gets involved in a series of fights and gangster acts. These include a chase-and-run sequence where Jaa performs stunts no less entertaining than Jackie Chan's. He effortlessly jumps through a few tables like walking on the moon and does a high split in the air, flying through a pile of swords. Then he somersaults through a collection of woks full of boiling oil.

These are fast-paced and compact action scenes. All of them are done without the help of computer graphics or wires. To prove it, director Prachya shows each of these actions more than once, from different angles and in slow motion, just in case some of the audience misses out on the action.

In conclusion, Tony Jaa not only shows off the flying elegance of muay thai but also the fierce aspect of kung-fu. Language is in Thai, with Chinese subtitles.