Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior. 2003. Thailand/France/Hong Kong. Directed by Prachya Pinkaew. Screenplay by Suphachai Sittiaumponpan. With Tony Jaa, Petchtai Wongkamlao, Pumwaree Yodkamol. 35mm. In Thai; English subtitles. 108 min.
Tony Jaa, in the role that launched him as an international martial arts star, is Ting, a noble country dweller sent to the big city to retrieve his village’s stolen Buddha statue. A peaceful man by nature, Ting is immediately (and repeatedly) tested in underground fight clubs, motorcycle cabs, and in the streets of Bangkok as he tracks down the statue with the not-so-able assistance of George (an amusing Petchai Wongkamlao). Using the Muay Boran fighting style, Jaa eschews the acrobatic grace of wu-xia films and instead relies on grit, strength, and the brutal deployment of knees and elbows to get his point across. Authentically Thai, the film was a labor of love for Jaa and director Pinkaew, and Jaa would go on to star in and direct two prequels.