Everything about Ong-bak screams "B-movie": bad lighting, bad acting, bad script. Yet the debut film from director Prachya Pinkaew has raised the standard for low-budget memorability, thanks to the honesty with which it spotlights the physical prowess of new action star Tony Jaa. The ancient martial art of Muay Thai (or kickboxing) is showcased in a way that makes you forget those terrible Jean-Claude Van Damme movies ever existed. It reportedly took four years to choreograph the fight and action sequences, for which no computer graphics, wires or "slings" were used. This is fighting far removed from the polish of Hero and House of Flying Daggers: Many, many stuntmen with only "hair helmets" for protection receive the full force of Jaa's elbows and knees. The plot is paper-thin, sending a country bumpkin to the big city to retrieve a sacred Buddha head from a villainous collector of religious artifacts. But Jaa emerges as a worthy successor to Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li, dispensing brutality that has never looked so perversely beautiful.
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