Pretty people shooting and blowing shit up is mighty fine entertainment for a Saturday night. It’s not a great film, by any means, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to a popcorn flick. It’s a simple enough tale – Mr (Brad Pitt) and Mrs (Angelina Jolie) Smith are bored with their marriage, only to discover that each other is professional assassin, sent to kill the other – told with vigour and vim by Doug Liman. Vince Vaughan pops up pointlessly, doing his schtick imported from his Brat Pack films, so your mileage of enjoyment may vary, but it’s the Pitt & Jolie show, looking sexy and having fun. Watch, enjoy, forget.
Let everybody bow down and worship at the feet of the god of kung fu comedy, Stephen Chow. Harking back to the old Shaw brothers films, he mixes old school martial arts with CGI with insane cartoon comedy to deliver something completely new. The story, which sees the Axe Gang in charge of things, with the exception of Pig Sty Alley, until Chow unwittingly causes the eruption of a small war, is an excuse for fantastical scenes of martial arts action and laugh-out loud gags. While martial art films have been a source of unintentional amusement to some (like my father, who used to mock them as my brothers and I watched them), this is a deliberate and knowing gag creation, which is more than the, admittedly amusing, slapstick of Jackie Chan. Although it is still a little odd to see CGI in wushu, where the whole point was that it was human beings (with the sometime contribution of wires) performing the stunts, it is impossible not to be entranced by the spectacle.
My girlfriend, a martial arts enthusiast as well, summed this film up best: martial arts porn. The selling point of Ong bak is the ‘no wires, real stunts’ angle – everything you see on the film was performed without assistance. Which makes it so bone-crunchingly intense. It harkens back to the early days of Bruce Lee, where you watched the film for the prowess of the star, here Tony Jaa. However, it also harkens back to the early days by being a rubbish story, because you ONLY watched it for the martial art prowess of the star. It’s so silly, I’m not going to even explain it; people who are going to enjoy this won’t care for the story either. Watching Jaa is incredible. I found myself exclaiming, ‘Whoa!’ and ‘Shit!’ on a regular basis when the fight scenes started, such was the visceral response. The fighting in this is vicious, fast and insane; none of the beauty of a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon here, thank you very much. You don’t see them elbowing someone on the top of the head in that film. You will believe a man can kick the shit out of someone AND withstand that amount of pain without something breaking in half. In summary, then: silly story, stunning fight scenes.