While serious martial arts movies have their place -- at least people are getting hurt, and that's what's really important -- I'm a sucker for the funny ones.
Violence and comedy go together like chocolate and peanut butter that's been secretly replaced with even more delicious chocolate.
Watching someone get dispatched with an inventive wallop is the ultimate form of "it's funny because it's not me," like when your friend crashes his new car into his winning lotto ticket.
Comic but beautiful, 2003's Ong-bak is a case study in seeing people get hit in ways you'll pray you never have to experience firsthand.
After the head of a sacred Buddhist statue is stolen from a village in Thailand, resident Tony Jaa travels into gangland Bangkok to get it back. But Jaa is no ordinary bumpkin: he's a master of muay boxing, and when he hits the big city, it's the city that gets knocked out.
Sound like hyperbole? Perhaps, but when Jaa kicks some guy across his face it sounds like late-era Orson Welles doing a bellyflop onto the sidewalk. So you think you've seen muay boxing on UFC, have you? All you've seen is gangly-legged wimps throwing Goldilocks roundhouses at other wimps! And if Anderson Silva reads this and decides to pulverize some sense into me, I can only assume he'll have to get through Jaa first, whose farming-village honor inspires even hardened con men to help him in his quest.
Ong-bak's fighting and choreography are incredible, all the more so because director Prachya Pinkaew made it without any CG or wirework. As a result, its physics look painfully real -- Jaa strikes with such fierce and sudden force I'm surprised the entire country of Thailand wasn't kicked bodily into Laos.
But it's got more to offer than the innocent joy of watching one man crack another man's head with a flying elbow drop. With a delightful and athletic sense of humor that wouldn't feel out of place in a Jackie Chan movie, Pinkaew's action scenes are as funny for us as they are painful for the participants.
And in case you miss any of them on the first take, he graciously repeats that vicious front-kick or taxi explosion from one or two different angles, just to be safe. While its story is nothing new, Ong-bak is a movie of bone-cracking fights, ridiculous hairstyles, and awe-inspiring gladiating that makes the most of every moment it's got.
-- Contact Ed Robertson at firstname.lastname@example.org.