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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Ong Bak 2 [Blu-ray]

(aka "Ong Bak 2 - The Beginning")

 

(Tony Jaa & Panna Rittikrai, 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Iyara Film

Blu-ray: Magnolia Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:37:50.364

Disc Size: 48,906,802,184 bytes

Feature Size: 22,618,146,816 bytes

Video Bitrate: 23.96 Mbps

Chapters: 13

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: February 2nd, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: VC-1 Video

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 2356 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2356 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)
DTS-HD Master Audio Thai 2657 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2657 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), English, Spanish, none

 

Extras:

• Alternate Unrated Cut

• 3 Making-of Featurettes – in SD (21:00)

• 3 Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes - in SD (17:45)

• 8 Interviews with Cast & Filmmakers – in SD (25:20)

• Ong Bak 3 Exclusive Footage

• HDNet: A Look at Ong Bak 2

 

 

The Film: 4
Perhaps you are unacquainted with Ong Bak, the 2003 Thai martial arts film that brought almost instant international fame to its star, Panom Yeerum (now known as Tony Jaa), known for his wire-free, CG-free, stunt double-free work. Tony Jaa's stuntwork was electrifying. It had a certain raw energy, combined with acrobatic skill that announced a kind of Jackie Chan/Bruce Lee. That film was set in both village and city of more or less contemporary Thailand. A second movie titled Tom yum goong (or, simply, Ong Bak 2, or more oddly, The Protector) also features Tony Jaa in his efforts to retrieve a stolen sacred baby elephant. Lots of Muay Thai. Not so much plot or character. And now we have another Ong Bak 2 (aka Ong Bak 2 – The Beginning) that has nothing to do with either of the previous films since it does not propose to be a prequel to either of those movies or their heroic protagonists, but evidently the first of a series of movies with a new character set in centuries old Thailand.

The plot harkens back to more movies I care to count from any number of cultures: Young boy is orphaned after his parents are murdered, he's raised by outlaws, and eventually confronts those who killed his parents. That's about it. One difference: there's scarcely any room for romance in this tale of unrequited revenge. There is a girl/boy childhood friendship that doesn't quite sort itself out as adults. The thing reeks of sequel. More than that, the movie is so episodic as to wonder if there isn't another half hour or more somewhere waiting to surface. (The "Alternate Unrated" cut, being shorter, doesn't address this shortcoming.)

Jaa's Tien is raised in comparative luxury until his blueblood parents are killed by traitors. Once he is trained by the outlaws and grows up to take on their leadership (a good third of the movie that also brings in his conquest of elephants), he is ready to confront his past (much of which is told in a long flashback) and his destiny: to seek out and kill the man who killed his parents, who now poised to unite the country in a dictatorship. But things don't come off nearly as planned. Thus, the sequel.

Tony Jaa and his movie make for comparison to the popular Indian actor from the 1940s and 1950s, Sabu, and Zoltan Korda's Jungle Book in particular. Sabu, though as spirited as Jaa, is soulful, romantic, vulnerable. His Mowgli is interested in others, and he's courageous, but he is distracted by vengeance and a fear of those who look like him but aren't. Mowgli possesses not nearly the same means to accomplish his aims as Tien, which makes his adventure that much more accessible to the imagination. He needs only to level the playing field with a "tooth" of proper proportion and power. Such subtlety does not lend itself to a story as preoccupied by cruelty and numbers as Ong Bak 2. Tony Jaa is not nearly as pretty as Sabu, and Tien has no sense of humor whatsoever. He does possess much the same degree of determination and is perfectly willing to risk death to carry out his vengeance, and even displays a certain degree of style as he goes about it.

The Jungle Book, of course, is meant for a younger and more innocent audience. It is, in part, that very innocence which makes both the Kipling story and its incarnation by Sabu and Korda the stuff of timeless legend. Ong Bak 2 clearly intends to be epic but is targeted for adults who require their action violent and rageful. There is little room for meditation, though there is a scene when Tien lets his blood mix with water that intends just that, but which doesn't come off. Curiously, the best scene in Ong Bak 2 comes at the end in a moment of revelation, regret and penance – and, best of all, that moment does not belong to Tien.

Try as it might, Ong Bak 2 fails to stay with us once the curtain falls. This was less true of the first Ong Bak, which had a raw energy where this movie has only gruesome intensity. Ong Bak 2 has more than its share of kick-ass action sequences, but few, if any, are as interestingly choreographed or filmed as, for example, any number of duels in Yip Wai-Shun's Flash Point or Wilson Yip's SPL, to say nothing of the first Ong Bak. Disappointing, too, is the sequence that features Thai classical dancing, which isn't nearly as interestingly designed, staged or photographed as Jerome Robbins' "Uncle Tom's Cabin" from The King and I.

 


 

Image: 9/9   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

The movie may have little to offer in the way of structure, plot or character, but Magnolia provides a strong image with few, if any transfer issues. I found no defects in the source print, nor edge enhancement or DNR. The image is not razor sharp, but doesn't really suffer as a result. Color is saturated. Blacks are solid with adequate shadow information. Highlights blow out some, but that's most likely a consequence of how the movie was shot, as is the pervasive yellow-green color cast.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 6/5
Dialogue, such as it is, is clear enough and reasonably well located. There are numerous isolated locational cues during the action sequences, but panning is hit and miss. For example when young Tien is chased on horseback at the beginning of the film, there is opportunity missed for arrows to whistle from back to front, but they don't. The music, for the most part, strikes me as stock action material, easily interchangeable with any number of other low-budget martial arts movies. There are a few moments of relevance or beauty, but by and large, unimaginative. However my biggest gripe is the lack of distinction of one body blow from another. The effect is that it dulls the sense and the power Jaa and Panna Rittikrai are going for. If every blow sounds the same I get bored quickly.

 

Operations: 6
Let's go right to the subtitles and English translation. One doesn't have to understand Thai to see that the translation was in need of some serious tweaking. Spelling errors are few, but the sense of much of the dialogue makes everyone seem duller than they must have been. After one particularly grueling scene where Tien puts down half an army of slave traders, a tearful mother, finally reunited with her child, says "You saved my life. Thank you so much." This sort of sloshing about from style to style makes this movie seem stupider than it probably is. In fact the movie is more successful when there was little if any dialogue – the first fifteen minutes has no conversation to speak of - the action speaks well enough for itself. I should mention that there is an English language dub that I didn't check out. Menu operations are readily accessible with extensive bonus features laid out neatly and usefully.

 

 

Extras: 6
The Behind the Scenes featurettes are shown without anyone addressing us and therefore it is sensible that subtitles are not included. The segments are divided into three areas of filming: Capturing a Warrior, The Kingdom and The Community. The three Making-of featurettes: Story & Character of an Epic, Revealing the Majesty, and The Art of War take on the usual aspects of production, and are subtitled. (Do you ever get the impression that the titles for these segments are all the work of a single person? I wonder how much he gets paid?) The interviews with cast and crew are also subtitled. I like that each person introduces him or herself so that we can hear how they say their names. Thai is a fascinating aural experience that has always struck me as a tape recording played backwards. I don't mean this in any pejorative way. Some languages are so remote to my ear that they have a special ring to them. Thai and Finnish are two that come quickly to mind. The Ong Bak 3 Exclusive Footage is not quite ready for trailer status. All of the extra features are presented in standard definition of varying quality and aspect ratios.

 

 

Bottom line: 5
The image is quite good and the audio adequate, even if the body blows aren't properly undistinguished. "Undistinguished" pretty much sums up the movie in general. For Tony Jaa and Muay Thai fans only.

Leonard Norwitz
February 1st, 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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