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

Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior [Blu-ray]

 

(Prachya Pinkaew, 2003)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Baa-Ram-Ewe

Blu-ray: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: 'A'-locked (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:45:06.341

Disc Size: 21,658,889,398 bytes

Feature Size: 19,947,159,552 bytes

Video Bitrate: 17.99 Mbps

Chapters: 24

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: February 2nd, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 2859 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2859 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit)
DTS-HD Master Audio Thai 2889 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2889 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), English, Spanish, none

 

Extras:

• The Movements of Muay Thai (1:40)

• Live Performance with Tony Jaa & Stuntmen (2:30)

• Rap Music Video (4:00)

• Making of Music Video (7:12)

• RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan promo (1:00)

• Selected B-rolls (5:50)

 

 

The Film: 7

The first Ong Bak movie came out in 2003 and brought almost instant international fame to its star, Panom Yeerum (soon to be known as Tony Jaa), famous for his wire-free, CG-free, stunt double-free work. Indeed, Tony Jaa's stuntwork was electrifying. It had a certain raw energy, combined with acrobatic skill that announced a new kind of Jackie Chan/Bruce Lee. Unlike the historically set Ong Bak 2, which is being released on Blu-ray the same day by Magnolia, the original film was set in both village and city in more or less contemporary Thailand.

The gist of the plot for the original movie is fairly simple and pretends to no comment, subtle or otherwise, about the human condition: "Ong Bak" is the name the villagers give to their stone Buddha head, believed tied to the health and welfare of the village. A wise guy from the city arrives and, failing to do business with locals as he expected, steals Ong Bak in hopes to curry favor with a gangster, leaving the villagers despondent and concerned for their future. Ting (Jaa) volunteers to go the city and retrieve the stone. Once there, Ting is accompanied on his adventure by Muay Lek, a spunky young woman (Pumwaree Yodkamol), and especially Humlai (aka "Dirty Balls" aka "George" - Petchthai Wongkamlao), who has already become corrupted by the city. They quickly make their way to a den where high stakes gambling on local fighters is the order of the day. (I was only a little surprised that I didn't hear some one yell out, "5000 quatloos on the newcomer.") All Ting wants is his precious Ong Bak returned, but he is soon drawn into a world of drugs, prostitution and more fights and mad dashes through the city, all staged seemingly entirely for his benefit.


 

Image: 4/6   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.

Fox's Blu-ray boasts of its being made from the "original 35 mm internegative of the film" with additional "color correction, image stabilization and digital cleaning". Given that the present image is far from what we expect as derived from a 35 mm source, its comparison to DVD makes for important comparison. I have on hand only the All-Region Red Sun, which I suspect is Thai produced. In any case, it's clear enough for casual viewing, though we lower our expectations on large screen projection.

We should keep in mind the obvious: that the original movie was a big success only after it was released and did not have the kind of funding that Ong Bak 2: The Beginning was able to bring to bear for production values. We should not, therefore, expect a great deal from the first movie - or the Blu-ray, despite its claim to be produced from the original source elements.

That said, there are clear improvements. One of them cannot be demonstrated in screen captures, and that is image stabilization, which was quite staggering at times on the DVD: to with the pan down the tree in the opening sequence. I shudder to think about it. That scene, and others are now smooth – or smoother. Note that the movie is cropped in some scenes on the Blu-ray – not to any disturbing effect - but not others. Color variation is significant. The DVD appears comparatively brightened with increased contrast most of time but, again, this is not consistent. The Blu-ray is always sharper and more highly resolved – this despite its not being all that good to start with. So don't get your hopes up. Textures, detail, and what usually passes for resolution is pretty much non-existent. And, though it may be an accurate representation of its original intentions, I found the pervasive green-red color cast in city interiors especially to be wearing.

 

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

 

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Audio & Music: 4/5
The original audio mix is 2.0 and there isn't much more than that to engage us in the soundscape: some street noises and enthusiastic audience at the gambling den, and, more impressively, some loutish hip-hop that presents itself now and then. Body blows are, as expected, as indistinguishable as they are unrealistic.

 

Operations: 5
The subtitles and English translation are clear and straightforward, if lacking in subtlety. Spelling errors are few. There is an English language dub that I visited long enough to know I didn't want to spend any time there. Menu operations are readily accessible with the usual hidden menu pages for the extra features and scene selection – and Fox's inane Search menu page that requires yet a second click to get to the chapters.

 

 

Extras: 1
This is where things are too weak to make excuses for. What can you say when the Music Video and the Making-Of same are the best of a bad lot? "The Movements of Muay Thai I suspect may be an animation, but it's hard to say, since I could hardly make it out. In any case what "movements" there are take up about ten seconds of this pointless exercise. (It may be of no consequence, but attempts to access to this feature crashed my OPPO repeatedly. I had to resort to watching it on my computer.) The "Live Performance with Tony Jaa & Stuntmen" is another all-too-brief sequence of perhaps 30 seconds worth of acrobatics – an embarrassment. The B-rolls are almost unwatchable. There is nothing on board that addresses production or casting. It should go without saying that none of the extra features are in HD. At least the DVD had a couple interviews, though they were in Thai and not subtitled.

 

 

Bottom line: 7
Unlike Magnolia's Blu-ray of Ong Bak 2, neither the image nor the audio for the original movie is going to win over anyone to high definition. That said, the movie itself is much better. Even the fight sequences are more interesting. I'm sure it's a great advantage to have a city for a prop. The image is a step up from the DVD. Despite the poor, paltry and irrelevant Extra Features, Fox's new Bu-ray is recommended for those who want to see the movie in as good a presentation as we are likely to have for some time to come.

Leonard Norwitz
February 6th, 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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