If you are like me, and you prefer your Thai men to be dark, built, and project an aura of masculinity (so, not fem), then you too probably fell in lust when actor/martial artist Tony Jaa came onto the scene a few short years ago. I don’t recall how I first heard about Tony, or his break out movie, Ong-Bak: The Warrior. But do remember unsuccessfully trying to buy a copy from the pirated DVD vendors along Sukhumvit and at Pantip Plaza. The only reaction elicited by me saying Ong Bak, or Tony Jaa, were quizzical stares from the merchants. My friend Noom was as clueless. I think he got tired of having to stop at every DVD booth with me and finally asked one of the sellers where we could find the movie. 7/11. Duh. Of course.
7/11s in Thailand are what 7/11s in America should aspire to be. Convenient and cheap, stocking everything one could possibly need in the early hours of the morning. In Thailand the 7/11s actually have sales; though even their regular prices are on par of what you’d pay in a grocery store. None of those gouging prices one pays for convenience back in the States.
First 7/11 we hit, there it was. The DVD I’d been hunting for. For a mere 99 baht. I rushed back to the hotel dragging Noom behind me and plopped the movie into the DVD player. We both enjoyed the film. Tony was hot, cute, ripped, and beat the hell out of a slew of bad guys. Muay Thai at its finest. The plot wasn’t all that, but it was followable, even in Thai (uh, 7/11 doesn’t sell English language DVD’s).
Heralded by Time magazine as “the next Bruce Lee,” Tony Jaa performed all of his stunts without guidewires and other special effects action hero movies have come to rely on. And when he stopped leaping and flying about delivering blow after blow . . . that body, that face, that smile, those eyes! Mommmmmie!
Tony quickly followed up with Tom Yun Goong (renamed The Protector for U.S. distribution). The story line this time around had Tony working as a protector for the royal elephants. Blah, blah, blah. Stolen elephants. Blah, blah, blah. Black market. Blah, blah, blah. Go to Australia. The final fight sequence set in a temple with fire, flooded floors, and a dripping wet Tony was an incredible cinematic feast. A visual delight (both Tony and the scene). As in his previous movie, Tony did all of his own stunts, demonstrating his mastery of Muay Thai. And two years later he still was a feast for the eyes. A bit older, but even more handsome. And still a body to die for.
In his third movie to gain international release, Ong Bak 2, Tony took on both the roles of star and director. A prequel to Ong Bak, (though it has absolutely nothing to do with the first movie; ‘prequel’ just means it is set a few hundred years before the original movie) Ong Bak 2 told the story of Tein (Jaa) whose papa was murdered by a bad guy, and then Tien was enslaved by another bad guy, and then Tien killed the second bad guy and a crocodile and is saved by a bad guy who is a good guy but later turns out to be a bad guy when Tien kills the first bad guy who really doesn’t die just before he has to kill the bad guy who was a good guy and now turns out to be a good guy who had to be a bad guy because of the original bad guy.
Uh, and sorry, but that synopsis is actually less confusing than the movie. Even the English Language version. No problemo. Tony kicks ass throughout and slowing the movie down so you can watch each muscle ripple as he moves across the screen is highly suggested. And if you are watching the Thai language version, it’ll sound better, too.
Still in love with the man’s hotness, I was thrilled to discover the next chapter in this storyline Ong Bak 3 at my local Blockbuster. (If you are reading this in 2012 or later, Blockbuster was a popular chain of DVD rental stores that once had thousands of locations across America. Like eight track players Blockbuster is now but a remembrance of a technology of days long gone.) I raced home in anticipation, popped the movie into my DVD player, and . . . WTF?
OK, Ong Bak 2 had already diverged from the Hollywood movie path into the land of Thai. So I hadn’t really expected the next chapter, once again directed by Tony, to avoid the overwrought acting and painfully thinly hidden good vs. evil message of the previous movie. But Tony had other ideas, making its predecessor, Ong Bak 2, look like a masterpiece of character development. The movie was worse than a Thai TV sitcom. Mysticism, ghosts, demons, and screeching damsels in distress left little time for the fighting sequences that made Tony a star. And left room for a much larger role, in his third Ong Bak appearance, for that fat little Thai guy who seems to be in every Thai comedy released in the last 20 years. Toothless for this role. ‘Cuz Thais know nothing is more funny that a toothless character. I chuckle now even thinking about him. Not.
Full of cliches and narrative incoherence, Ong Bak 3 takes up directly where Ong Bak 2 left off. Tien (Tony) gets the shit beat out of him by order of the bad guy who didn’t die in the last movie, then good guys come to save Tien but get killed instead by a new bad guy, then a new good guy saves Tien and gives him to villagers who treat him to a mud bath at the local day spa while the new bad guy kills the old bad guy, and then Tien has a Mr. Miyagi moment with the aforementioned toothless comedic relief just before the new bad guy kills the screeching damsel in distress (not that I cared ‘cuz I don’t pay attention to fish in movies that feature hot near naked male beauty), and then another new bad guy who had a cameo role in the last movie becomes the badest bad guy, but he really is the new bad guy reincarnated (though he didn’t die) who kills Tien except they rewind the movie and have Tien kill the bad guy instead. Oh, yeah, and for some reason the fish lives, too.
I could live with the Thai-ness though, as long as Tony beat the crap out of everyone in the masterful fighting manner he displayed in his previous movies. And he did. But not until the end of the movie. First, he got the shit kicked out of him again and again before he finally fought like only Tony Jaa can. Complete with aerial ballet movements off the backs and tusks of elephants. Sweet!
With the fight sequences finally up to par, you’d think I’d be satisfied. And as an action flick junky, I would be. But part of my love for Tony’s movies is/was Tony. That beautiful hunk of Thai meat. And that’s where the WTF! comes in . . . what in the hell happened to Tony Jaa? I wasn’t even sure that it was him in the movie. Seriously, I even checked the credits. Charlie Sheen has aged better! Granted the make up and hair extensions didn’t help. I think they were suppose to give visual definition to the plot, but after the cost of the make up and elephant rental, they couldn’t afford a plot for Ong Bak 3.
Tony’s once handsome lean face ballooned out to twice its previous width, dragging his facial features along for the ride. It’s not only that he no longer looks like Tony Jaa, now he doesn’t even look like Tony Jaa’s ugly older sister. He’s starting to look like that fat little Thai comic guy. I quite expect him to be toothless in his next role. And his body has followed his face’s lead. What once was a beautifully ripped torso gleaming with strength and muscle is now a barely held together bag of fat skin and bone. I’m pretty sure he was wearing a girdle in one scene. Tony! What have you done! Think about your fans! Think about my mastabatory fantasies! Think about becoming Weight Watchers’ next spokesperson . . .
I know it is not unusual for Thais to go from handsome to hideous over night. A lot of Thais just don’t age well. And maybe I should have been expecting it with Tony. His overly dramatic efforts both as director and star in Ong Bak 3 didn’t manage to make me tear up as intended. But the loss of this male beauty did.
Related Posts You Might Enjoy: