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Review: Ong-bak: The Thai Warrior

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"You’ll believe a man can fly," promised the ads for 1978’s
Superman. Well, no. But I do now believe a man can leap
clear over a mid-sized four-door sedan at a dead run,
because I’ve seen Thailand’s impossibly athletic Tony Jaa
perform this astonishing feat twice in five seconds, as
captured from two separate camera angles. Even then, I might
suspect some kind of cinematic legerdemain if not for the
fact that the makers of Ong-bak: The Thai Warrior have
practically filed affidavits swearing that no wires,
miniatures or computer graphics enhance the film’s
collection of eye-popping stunts. When Jaa, cornered in an
alley by a dozen thugs wielding sticks and baseball bats,
manages to escape by scampering over their shoulders, their
collective astonishment looks as genuine as yours. They
can’t believe he did it, either.

    Fair warning, though: While Ong-bak inspires more gasps per
minute than any other movie currently in theaters — indeed,
than any other movie since the ’80s heyday of Jackie Chan —
you should be prepared to stifle a fair number of yawns
along the way. So leisurely is the setup, involving the
theft of a Buddha statue’s head from a rural village, that I
actually walked out of the movie at the 2003 Toronto Film
Festival, convinced that it was a dud. (A second viewing
confirmed that it’s more than half an hour before the real
thrills commence.) And while Jaa brings an awe-inspiring
kineticism to both fight and flight, he sorely lacks Chan’s
winning personality; standing still, he’s no more expressive than the stone Buddha head he so relentlessly
pursues.

    Still, nobody goes to a martial-arts movie for the acting,
the plot, or the inevitable moments of bathos in which an
ostensibly adorable moppet wails over the corpse of a loved
one. (Ong-bak‘s annoying urchin gets two such scenes.)
Ultimately, all that really matters is this: Does ass get
kicked, preferably in copious quantities? You’d better
believe it, if only because the folks who made Ong-bak have
gone to considerable trouble to make sure that you do. — Mike D’Angelo

Date DVD #19: P.S.
 

When you go a-courtin’, there’s a thin line between picking a film that’s slightly disturbing but kind of titillating and a film that screams, “You are so not getting laid tonight.” To avoid disaster, sometimes you must parse the subtlest of differences. For instance, last year, there was a strange sub-genre of Middle-Aged Women Being Freaked Out By the Death of a Lover/Son and Becoming Strangely Attracted to Someone Who Looks Like Said Lover/Son. And for the most part, these films are very, very bad date movies.

    In Birth, Nicole Kidman desperately craved the love of a little blank-faced cherub who reminded her of her dead husband — so much that she climbed into the bathtub with him, naked. This is a bad date movie, even if you’re not dating a toddler.

    In The Door in the Floor, Kim Bassinger fucked a teenage boy toy that her husband generously brought home to her. And she fucked him while she cried and stared morosely at a framed picture of her dead son that hung above the bed. This is an extremely bad date movie.

    P.S. is the third and best of this bizarre trifecta of films directed by men about needy, delusional women. Dylan Kidd’s spastic drama stars Laura Linney as a Columbia University admissions officer who begins to believe that a young, cocky applicant (Topher Grace) is the reincarnation of her dead husband. I’m still not sure that this plotline isn’t some malignant cultural wart, but I am sure Kidd’s still got the goods he debuted in Rodger Dodger. He can write men like few others, shifting from cocky bravado to skittish deflection in a single line. At first, the romance between the two plays dorkily romantic: “That was awesome!” Grace enthuses after a sweaty bout of sex, and Linney’s face says it all: What the fuck am I doing with this kid?

    The film’s gimmicky as hell, brutal in parts, and inclined to slapstick and tart punchlines — and that’s why it works, because, unlike Birth or The Door in the Floor, this film never settles for even one character that’s merely a stand-in varietal of Grief or Mid-Life Crisis or Childlike Spookiness — and, unlike the other two, it’s damn funny (a big help when you try to pull off such overwrought conceits). The halting seduction sequences are alternately bumbling-hilarious and nearly abusive, but there’s a kind of gritty, tempered optimism that runs through the film: hard-ass, smart-ass romanticism that is Kidd’s signature. And that leaves you feeling hopeful, not merely creeped out. — Logan Hill



 
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