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Ong-Bak – Thai R0 (Sahamongkolfilm Co.) vs Aus R0 (Eastern Eye)
5th October 2005

Ong-Bak Comparison Review Rating/Certificate: Thailand 85
Region: 0
DVD Release Date: 30th June 2003
Run Time: 104 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Anamorphic: Yes
Colour: Yes
Video Signal: PAL
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Genre: Action
Soundtrack: Dolby Digital 5.1 Thai, DTS 5.1 Thai, Dolby Digital 2.0 Thai
Subtitles: None
Extra Features: Filmmakers’ Commentary, Ja Panom’s Fight Choreography, Casting and Auditions, Storyboard Comparisons, Demo Scenes, Alternate Ending, Deleted Scene, 3D Animatic Comparisons
Easter Egg: Yes
Director:  Prachya Pinkaew
Starring: Tony Jaa, Petchtai Wongkamlao, Pumwaree Yodkamol
Related Movies: Drive, Way of the Dragon, Police Story 2, The Swordsman


Ong-Bak Comparison Review Rating/Certificate: Australia MA15+
Region: 0
DVD Release Date: 25th August 2005
Run Time: 100 / 104 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Anamorphic: Yes
Colour: Yes
Video Signal: PAL
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Genre: Action
Soundtrack:  Dolby Digital 5.1 Thai
Subtitles: English
Extra Features: Making-Of Ong Bak, Born for the Fight Thai Boxing Documentary, Cast and Crew Interviews, Fight Rehearsals, Special Muay Thai Fight Moves
Easter Egg: No
Director:  Prachya Pinkaew
Starring: Tony Jaa, Petchtai Wongkamlao, Pumwaree Yodkamol
Related Movies: Drive, Way of the Dragon, Police Story 2, The Swordsman


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Ong-Bak Comparison Review
For decades now we have been waiting for a fresh new martial artist to grab our attention in the same spectacular, awe-inspiring way that Bruce Lee did. Strong contenders included his son, Brandon, who was cut down in his prime, the energetic Jackie Chan, the skilful Jet Li and even the lesser-known but equally innovative Marc Dacascos, who introduced us to the art of Capoeira. Hell, even Steven Segal proved that being a towering cumbersome oak did not matter if you were a seventh Dan Black Belt in Aikido. However, none of them quite captured the grace and effortless mastery of his own self-taught martial art that Bruce Lee exhibited and now, most of them are past their prime. So it is time for a new star to emerge. Enter Tony Jaa, the Thai hero of the acclaimed new martial arts adventure, Ong Bak.

Ong-Bak Comparison Review

Feature


Ting is the most skilful martial artist in his village, so when a precious idol – Ong Bak – is stolen from their monastery, he is dispatched to recover it. Armed with only his deadly skills and a bag-full of what little money the villagers could gather, he must return with the idol otherwise his village will not survive – after all, it protects the village and without it the wells will run dry and the fields will not yield crops. However, after meeting up with his capricious and somewhat wayward city-dwelling cousin, S, Ting soon finds himself embroiled in the vicious world of underground fighting championships; first of all to recover the precious little money that he had, which S wilfully gambled away, and then to work his way up the food chain and find the man behind the theft of the idol.

The story behind Ong Bak offers little that we have not come across before – in one shape or another, whether in Van Damme’s AWOL or even in Jet Li’s latest kick-ass actioner, Danny The Dog. After all, most movies with plots that feature underground fighting tournaments (with one noticeable exception) do so merely to give stars who are better fighters than they are thespians a good reason to show off their talents. For Tony Jaa’s debut, this is exactly what we need – any semblance of an excuse to prove that he’s a serious contender.  Despite its focus on style over substance, the action is superior enough (and frequent enough in occurrence) to keep you engaged from start to finish.

Ong-Bak Comparison Review
Once Ting starts fighting, we get about half a dozen tournaments fights, with myriad fighters that adopt every style from boxing, to chair-swinging, to even a weird Jamiroquai-like dancing movement that I simply could not take seriously. The fights get increasingly difficult for Ting and are interspersed with street battles with multiple opponents that showcase his talents for evading as much as tackling his many foes. Eventually we see him do a bone-crunching ring fight with an opponent who practices the same superior Thai martial art, which leads into the extended finale where Ting gets to show off some stick-fighting, sword-fighting and even fire-fighting (you’ll know what I mean) on the way to his showdown with the big boss and his lead henchman.

The fighting itself is captured well, utilising the same repeat shot technique perfected for Van Damme’s early efforts (you get to see many superior moves several times in slow-motion from different angles) and showcasing the very essence of this masterful new fighter. Exhibiting almost the same speed and focus as Bruce Lee, as well as the bone-crunching ferocity of his blows (with elbow strikes that nobody should be able to get up from), Tony Jaa is most definitely the next big thing. He has even got the charisma to boot – although this is not the perfect vehicle to show that, which is why his co-stars, Petchtai Wongkamlao (as George) and Pumwaree Yodkamol (as Muay) add some humour (and maybe even a hint of romance) to the proceedings. Aside from a brief cameo in Petchtai Wongkamlao’s silly The Bodyguard, Jaa has yet to release another film but I am waiting with eager anticipation to see what this new talent has to offer us next (the upcoming Tom Yum Goong and Sword both could be good). In the meantime, Ong Bak is the perfect introduction to this new martial arts action star.

Spoilers alert: For the main feature, the Thai DVD presents the original Thai Uncut version only whereas the Australian DVD allows you to watch either the French Theatrical Cut or the Thai Uncut version. I found it particularly difficult to see the differences particularly since the fights seem identical. There are no noticeable cuts to the violence, with all of the elbow strikes intact and the vicious arm-break, leg-break, painful sledgehammer blows and the saw fight, all at the end, present and correct. The forced overdose is there and none of the blood from any of the scenes has been removed but the subplot behind the overdose scene (revealing that it is Muay’s sister who is addicted to drugs) has rather strangely been removed. This only results in Muay’s character’s reaction to the death of the girl to go from understandable to inexplicable and I cannot understand why they bothered to omit it.

Video


Both discs present Ong-Bak in near-identical 1.85:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfers. Both have almost all of the same flaws, with limited detail, frequent softness and significant grain throughout. The colour scheme provides the most notable difference between the two releases, with the Thai palette looking a little faded, whilst the Eastern Eye colours are rich and vibrant. This also allows for slightly better contrast, deeper blacks and thus better shadowing. The lighting is generally not great in this movie (it is, after all, fairly low budget) and so the Eastern Eye disc often ends up looking slightly better because it has the edge when it comes to contrast.

Note: clicking on each image will download the full resolution screen grab.

Ong-Bak Comparison Review

Thailand (Sahamongkolfilm Co.) Region 0



Ong-Bak Comparison Review

Australia (Eastern Eye) Region 0



Ong-Bak Comparison Review

Thailand (Sahamongkolfilm Co.) Region 0



Ong-Bak Comparison Review

Australia (Eastern Eye) Region 0



Ong-Bak Comparison Review

Thailand (Sahamongkolfilm Co.) Region 0



Ong-Bak Comparison Review

Australia (Eastern Eye) Region 0



Ong-Bak Comparison Review

Thailand (Sahamongkolfilm Co.) Region 0



Ong-Bak Comparison Review

Australia (Eastern Eye) Region 0



Audio


Both versions also have a near-identical Dolby Digital 5.1 track in the original Thai language. The dialogue is generally perfectly clear, mainly coming from the frontal array, and we get various fairly standard score elements that come in throughout the movie. There are also a few punchy numbers with a great traditional Thai instrument edge, which play during the fights and allow for some minor directionality, but this generally feels like a stereo track that has been merely replicated across the rears, albeit to a quieter degree. There is no significant bass but there are quite a few effects – normally in the form of devastating blows to the head or smashing tables, although there are a few gunshots and some car crash mayhem to extend the range. For the Eastern Eye edition, this is the only track we get but the Thai disc provides a slightly superior DTS effort and also an inferior Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. Subtitles are unfortunately only present on the Eastern Eye release, limiting your options if you want to actually understand the dialogue (that is, if you don’t speak Thai). The subtitles are generally clear and comprehensible.

Ong-Bak Comparison Review

Extras


Eastern Eye
First up we get a Documentary entitled Born for the Fight, which spends a whopping fifty-one minutes looking at The Art of Muay Thai Boxing. There are plenty of interviews with relevant parties talking about the evolution of this particular form of Thai boxing, how it fits in with the aspirations of the whole country and how it represents the general struggle of war and peace that is ongoing. They talk about the rougher side of Muay Thai – how it spawned kickboxing and how, for grudge matches, they often laced their hemp ‘gloves’ with glass. There is plenty of old footage of Muay Thai boxing matches, which still looks unfeasibly fast even though it may not have been sped up and we get to see lots of behind the fights footage where the trainers and experts discuss the purpose behind such items as the headband and the symbolic body prints. We get to see young kids training in this particular art, the regime and practice that this involves and then the shock of actually seeing these kids kicking each others heads in the ring. Surely that cannot be good news? Anyway, it is an extremely interesting and informative documentary that will teach fans of any martial art a great deal more about this particular one.

Next we get cast and crew interviews with actor Tony Jaa, director Prachya Pinkaew, actor Petchtai Wongkamlao and fight choreographer Panna Rittikrai. Each lasts a few minutes, in original Thai with decent subtitles. Jaa explains the different sequences and how he prepared for the demanding fight scenes in the movie, explaining how some of the crazy stunts were extremely tiring (understandably) and some of the potentially disastrous experiences on set. His second interview is a ridiculously brief and poorly edited snippet about the fire sequence where he even got his eyebrows singed. The Director has about nine interview segments, the first main one giving him the opportunity to talk about every aspect of the production, even digressing into the history of Muay Thai boxing and how it evolved from wartime conflicts when unarmed individuals wanted to defend themselves. In the others he talks about why he wanted to make Ong Bak, how he filmed the fights, the comedic secondary character and the chase sequence, with each one of these further interview segments lasting mere seconds. Petchtai, who provides the comedic elements, gets barely a few seconds to talk about his role, as is the same case with the fight choreographer.

Ong-Bak Comparison Review
There is a making of documentary that lasts a massive forty-nine minutes and is split into sections. The Market Fight, The Illegal Fighting, The Weapons Fighting and the end Cave Climax each have plenty of rehearsal footage, test runs, behind the scenes footage and alternative camera angles of the final cut. We get to see them practice the key sequences, with multiple takes, on-set gags and lots of instructions from the director. There is a little too much footage from the main film itself, but it is worth enduring for the sake of seeing yet more Tony Jaa action, along with some pretty funny on-set mistakes.

Then we get three behind the scenes featurettes on the Tuk Tuk Chase, The Fight Club and The Petrol Station. Each lasts only a few minutes and offers slightly poor footage of the cameraman filming the sequences, B-roll and dailies. I cannot see a great deal of difference between this and the footage on the main making-of documentary, except for the fact that it deals with different sequences. Anyway, it is perfectly good stuff, although seeing Tony Jaa in pain after having had his legs set on fire and also seeing the accidental blows he caused to fellow cast/stunt members was a little unsettling.

There are four Tony Jaa fight demonstrations. International Film Premieres runs at six minutes an is merely a music-laden montage of clips from him kicking around at couple of the premieres, both on the stage in front of the screen before the movie is played and just as a demonstration outside the screening room. We get three minutes of bone-cracking rehearsal fight demonstrations, nine different Muay Thai promos, with Jaa showcasing the same moves he explains in the main feature itself, along with these eight Muay Thai movements broken down into descriptions, each with the option of playing an animated example of the manoeuvre. Again, this is juicy stuff for martial arts enthusiasts.

Finally we get a terrible French music video by Blue Marlyn, some artwork galleries (with posters, stills and storyboards), the original trailers and a bunch of other Madman Trailers – the classic Seven Samurai, The Eye, Happy Together, Howl’s Moving Castle and another anime called Madlax.

Sahamongkolfilm Co.
Here we get a wealth of extras but, just like the main feature, they are all without subtitles. This means that the fight choreography examples are understandable only from the brief animations, the deleted scenes (with director’s introductions) make little sense (although there are no extra fight sequences) and only the fairly obvious alternate ending can really be fully enjoyed (I prefer this alternate ending – it is less incongruous with the sentiment of the rest of the movie). The casting and audition segments are also pretty pointless. The demo scenes are equally so because they are mostly just talk. We get to see the storyboard and 3D animatic comparison, although not before introductions which are again incomprehensible. The Easter Eggs section highlights some moments in the movie when messages to various directors are written on the walls in the background (Spielberg and Luc Besson both being mentioned). It all looks like interesting stuff, and much of it is different in content from that of the Eastern Eye disc, but it is all fairly worthless without English subtitling.

Ong-Bak Comparison Review

Overall


Ong Bak could be the start of the next big thing in terms of martial arts action as Tony Jaa steps into the limelight, kicking his way through endless foes to secure his place in cinematic action star history. When it comes to the two releases I have to favour the Australian Eastern Eye edition, not least because it has the vital subtitles but also because it boasts a better transfer and a second disc with more comprehensive extras (that are again subtitled). Completists may want the deleted footage and DTS track, but will probably find it all hard going unless they speak Thai. That said, in a movie like this, it is mostly about the action. In that respect, both versions are identical (the French cut is slightly redundant either way) and provide plenty of martial arts entertainment. Fans of any decent martial arts master since Bruce Lee will probably already have this, but if you don’t then the Eastern Eye disc is worth picking up straight away. You won’t be disappointed.

Thailand Region 0
Australia Region 0
Film:77
Video:56
Audio:76
Extras:74
Overall:57


The Australian release can be bought for $21.49 from YesAsia.

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