Ong Bak 3 picks up exactly where its immediate predecessor ended. But can anyone actually recall the events of 2008’s disappointing Ong Bak 2? It was a dour mess; a confused jumble of leaden action scenes, montages and flashbacks without a modicum of comprehensible storytelling. Ong Bak 3 continues the decline in quality of Jaa’s output. Rather than cutting loose and providing an opportunity for Jaa to showcase his fighting abilities (like the original Ong-bak), the film concerns itself with overwrought myth-making nonsense and egregiously straight-faced ridiculousness. The film is made up of about 15% action (if that) and 84% pseudo-spiritual mumbo jumbo. That leaves about 1% for the story, though that term is probably too flattering.
After being captured by the wicked Lord Rajasena (Wongkrachang), villager Tien (Jaa) is battered and beaten within an inch of his life, but is spared when another random king chooses to interfere. From there, Tien is reincarnated, and the broken warrior is forced to retrain his body and soul through teachings of spiritual stability and focus. Meanwhile, Rajasena has his own hands full, as he’s being pursued by some mystical crow warrior (Chupong) who seeks to claim the throne. That’s about all I got from the movie…
Ong Bak 3‘s production values are admittedly solid and the recreation of medieval Thailand easily impresses, but the script is incomprehensible nonsense. As exemplified by the vague plot summary above, the story amounts to a few haphazardly-connected elements without any worthwhile character development. The “drama” of the story is restricted to characters staring at one another and only occasionally talking, leaving us confused about what’s happening and why. We hear stuff about a curse, we see a puff of black smoke floating around, we assume there’s some form of black magic at hand and we watch men squabble, but there’s no motivation to any of this material. We also witness Tien learning to be a pacifist during his rehabilitation (I think) but abandoning these teachings to go kick some ass… Wait, what’s happening in this movie?
With more dancing than fighting, and too many vain attempts at thoughtful spirituality, not enough time in Ong Bak 3 is spent on what we sought from this movie: ass kicking. The movie carries the subtitle The Final Battle, implying a kick-ass finale and suggesting that there will be a rewarding payoff after slogging through the tedious midsection of praying and meditation… But no such miracle arrives. There’s a good 10 minutes of butt-kicking, but it’s mostly in irritating slow motion. The original Ong-bak‘s action worked due to its brutal frankness, whereas Ong Bak 3‘s action is simply a lot of balletic movements in slo-mo. Adding insult to injury, most of the climax happens in Tien’s head. (Or maybe he turned back time…fucked if I know anything conclusive about what happens in this film.) I get that Jaa set out to make an epic, dramatic, spiritual period piece rife with symbolism and meaning. The problem is that it’s done badly; directors Jaa and Panna Rittikrai were visibly out of their comfort zone when it came to storytelling and assembling a cohesive narrative.
Perhaps the most perplexing thing about Ong Bak 3 is that it’s a Tony Jaa vehicle, yet Jaa is easily outshined by Dan Chupong. From top to bottom, this film is ill-conceived and disappointing. It’s hardly surprising that Ong Bak 2 and 3 were intended to be one movie, but there were a lot of behind-the-scenes troubles. Unfortunately, both films carry the earmarks of a troubled production, as they’re messy and slapdash. For crying out loud, Jaa even decided to quit films and go become a fucking Buddhist monk after the trauma of the Ong Bak sequels. I don’t blame him. Even if you’re a die-hard Jaa completist, Ong Bak 3 just isn’t worth it. Bad story and atrocious dialogue can be forgiven in action movies, but Ong Bak 3 spends too much time revelling in these elements rather than letting Jaa do his thing. How can Jaa and Rittikrai not understand the selling point of this movie?