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Ong Bak 2: The Beginning (2008) Print E-mail
Monday, 08 February 2010
ImageIn 2003, "Ong Bak" gained a cult following.  Pirated copies spread around university campuses worldwide.  Word spread and the film's martial arts sequences were touted as the next level in filmmaking.  Tony Jaa has made a name for himself with his agility and stunts.  He is quickly becoming a name to be compared against Jackie Chan and Jet Li.  He could easily go mainstream.

As it stands, what made "Ong Bak" so popular was the fact that there was no CGI or wire work in the film.  Audiences were astounded at this fact.  In a world where martial stunts are all performed using stunt doubles and wires, the film was a real refresher.

"Ong Bak 2: The Beginning" is a prequel to the 2003 film.  While the original was extremely low budget and looks even worse on the Blu-ray format, the sequel, or prequel, was given a bump in production value.  This is of great interest, as it makes the martial arts sequences all the more powerful.

"Ong Bak 2" is marked by bone crushing blows and fancy footwork.  However, I guess it is too much to ask for everything.  The film contains no real plot.  It exceeds the first film's complete lack of story, but in the prequel it remains undeveloped.  Like every other martial arts film, the story is about revenge.  However, as I said, it is not developed.  I can tell what the filmmakers are aiming for, but they failed at conveying it.  However, a film like this is really about the martial arts and choreography.  All the elements for the story are there, but the audience will have to fill in the gaps and will probably change the events to suit their own imagination, having been presented with the basics by the script.

In medieval Thailand, Tien (Tony Jaa) is studying with outlaws to become a master of weapons and martial arts.  As a boy his family was slaughtered and he was captured and marked for sell as a slave.  When he is forced to wrestle with a crocodile, a group of outlaws attack and give him to chance to free his self.  He is adopted by the outlaws and begins his training in martial arts.

When Tien is named as the successor to his mentor, he feels that he must first settle a score with the tyrant that has taken over Thailand and killed his father and mother.  Unfortunately, upon his return to his village, he is ambushed and a fight to the finish ensues.  The final showdown is a lengthy one.  In fact, it gets a bit ridiculous after a little while.

When all is said and done, "Ong Bak 2" is a thrill ride.  While mainstream martial arts films have some more impressive action sequences, they are fake.  What makes this interesting to watch is that it is all real.  Well, it is obvious that the frame rate was sped up for many of the fight sequences.
The Blu-ray of edition of the original "Ong Bak" film was horrible.  About as bad as a pirated copy.  Thankfully, the prequel comes to Blu-ray with quite an impressive video transfer.  It is presented in 1080p/VC-1 and a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  The image has to be taken for what it is.  I for one don't agree with the choices, but I am not the filmmaker.  My beef with the image is that has been processed heavily.  Color temperatures are entirely unreal.  The green forest of Thailand is pushed beyond the normal hue, making the greens look like they are blooming.  Contrast has also been increased, which hurts the nighttime sequences.  Bare in mind, al these choices are intentional.  The only real issues with the transfer are some banding effects, especially when fading to black, unstable black levels in the nighttime sequences, and some instances of softness.  However, for the most part the image contains strong details and textures.  This video transfer makes the film more enjoyable to watch.

The Blu-ray comes with two DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio tracks - Thai and English.  I recommend avoiding the English dubbed audio track for a couple reasons.  First, the dubbed dialogue is laughable.  The English translation is not accurate and the dialogue actors have absolutely no sense of the feel of the film.  Second, the M&E mix of the film is not so good.  With the original dialogue removed from the master, there are holes in the production sound that weren’t properly filled.  The Thai track however is quite impressive.  The soundfield is wide and deep.  This is probably one of the more immersive tracks that I have heard in a while.  What is a real refresher is that the sound designers took the time to create an encompassing rainfall.  Most times, rainfall is front-heavy with only band-pass rain in the rear channels at such a level that it may as well not exist.  The rainfall in "Ong Bak 2" is fully surround.  You can here individual drops pouring all around.  It brings you right into the scene.  The LFE is solid.  It is not as expansive as blockbuster martial arts film, but kicks and punches still land a crushing blow.  You will flinch on several occasions.  Dynamics are not expansive and the frequency range is missing some power in the mid-range.  It is evident that the high frequencies are crisp and the lows are solid.  That middle is missing.  Nevertheless, this is a great audio transfer for the budget.

This Blu-ray comes with more special features that I initially expected.  The disc comes with an alternate cut of the film.  The alternate version loses about 10 minutes of footage.  In all honesty you may as watch the original, longer cut.  Not much changes.  "The Story and Character of an Epic," "Revealing the Majesty" and "The Art of War" are three making-of featurettes, not any more revealing than the film itself.  "Capturing a Warrior," "The Kingdom" and "The Community" are three behind the scenes featurettes, which standard on location footage.  "Interviews with the cast and crew" contains some footage from Tony Jaa in addition to a handful of other creators.  "HDNet: A Look at 'Ong Bak 2'" is a typical promotion piece.  Finally, there is an exclusive look at the third installment of Ong Bak" and some trailers.

"Ong Bak 2" packs quite a punch and should not be missed by action junkies and martial arts enthusiasts.  The audio and video transfers will not let you down.  I recommend this title.

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