Okay movie makers. You win. It actually is possible to make a film that is so incomprehensible, not a lick of it makes sense even when you’re enjoying it. Previous theories believed this to impossible.
Ong Bak 2 is the winner (or loser) here, a movie that is nothing more than a simple revenge tale, yet taken to such absurdly ridiculous extremes, none of it really clicks. The movie combines a variety of flashy martial arts, elephants that roar like monsters in a cheap made-for-TV sci-movie, people that caw like birds, crocodile fighting, and a timeline that is beyond confusing.
Also included is an ego the size of Thailand itself. Tony Jaa’s introduction, just past 20-minutes in, has him standing in front of a setting sun on a mountain top while the camera pan downs so the audience can stare at his awesomeness. You know when the audience wants to stare at his awesomeness? When he is kicking and punching like an enraged Ninja Turtle, not standing still on a pile of rocks.
The film is loaded with pretentious slow motion, such as blood dripping into a small puddle of water. It does not have a point (like much of the filmed footage), and seems to exist “just because.”
There is no question the variety of skills on display here. Jaa switches styles constantly, keeping the brawling fresh, even if the audience has no idea why he is fighting in the first place. The finale, taking place on, around, and near an elephant, is jaw-dropping. Jaa is kicked off the head of the animal, and lands horizontally on the tusks. His foe then does a spinning leap off the back and crashes through Jaa’s midsection in one of the more brutal, savage hits you’ll ever see.
How Ong Bak 2 actually arrived at this moment is anyone’s guess. This is a terribly disjointed film, switching between the film’s present and Jaa’s childhood. At times, you can never tell which portion of the story you are in until Jaa himself shows up to kick people in the face, and then you don’t really care why. The film has no connection to the first, which is a shame since that was a wildly fun ride that served as a resume for Jaa’s absurdly flawless athleticism. Ong Bak 2 is lost in itself to make the stunts and fighting the star.
Ong Bak 2 is what one could imagine a practice movie run through a digital intermediate would look like. It looks as if someone sat down for the first time tweaking colors, contrast, and filters to arrive at a look that becomes as inconsistent as the movie itself. Everything is given a yellow, jaundiced look. That leaves flesh tones completely unnatural and ugly. Color tweaks are one thing, and the film has plenty of them, but the black levels never catch on, the grain structure is all over the place, and a pervasive digital softness dominates numerous frames. Establishing shots of the landscape as a young Jaa is picked up by a tribe are a mess, with significant blocking making plants appear mushy and completely undefined.
Halos are a minor problem, mostly existing early. At 5:28, mountains have an easily noticeable white line surrounding them, as does young Jaa’s head at 13:48. That little problem creeps into the frame again during the finale, which during the hectic brawling, seems over-sharpened. Nothing beats the fight at 27:34 though, which introduces drastic pixelization, interlacing, and artifacting. Faces and skin are obviously smoothed and waxy. A bizarre moment at 27:38 shows huge interlaced white boxes suddenly suffocate the frame, an encode error undoubtedly. These are not the white specks that dot the print itself from time to time, but an after-effect of this VC-1 encode gone wrong.
If you still believe the film was not DNR’ed, the scene at 39-minutes makes people look like animated wax puppets. That is not to say the US distributors (Magnolia) butchered it; this could very well be the fault of the digital intermediate itself. Shots like the one at 11:46 (badly compressed, making the frame look like a watercolor) tend to veer towards the encode being at fault, while the brawl at 49-minutes (which looks okay beyond the blown out contrast) is tweaked to still appear film-like in manner.
Black levels can appear to glow, or be so washed out the frame loses all depth such as in the opening chase. Oddly, some of the final frames look great, producing substantial and defined facial texture, along with a general grain structure. While the contrast remains hot, at least something remains stable in this transfer. These stable scenes account for a few minutes of the film total, if that much. They are spread thin throughout.
Ong Bak 2 comes in two audio flavors, an original Thai language and English DTS-HD mixes. Neither sounds great. Getting through the English dub as quickly as possible, dialogue is obviously heightened, although clear. All sound effects seem equal to the original Thai effort.
Moving into Thai to bypass the atrocious dubbing, directionality is fine. Chase scenes involving horses consistently track movement from one channel to the next, regardless of direction. Flying arrows likewise pass accurately. Thunderstorms and rain provide nice ambiance, and as young Jaa passes through his eventual training grounds, various grunts and conversations are aggressively placed in the surrounds. The stereo channels are spaciously utilized during action scenes.
Unfortunately, this track sounds compressed. The score never seems to breathe, stuck behind slightly muffled and hot action. Bass is inconsistent, the elephant stampeded being a real disappointment. Cannon fire is equally lacking punch on the low-end, and the explosions lack clarity. Clanging swords lack distinctive pitch, and punches on the high end are flat, obviously exaggerated on the low as expected. Most effects are poorly prioritized. Rain sounds more important than words. Dialogue, which is fine in terms of fidelity in the original language mix, can be drowned out during fight scenes.
Extras begin with a three-part, 21-minute promotional making-of. The more interesting piece is a three-part behind-the-scenes featurette, comprised of raw footage from the set with background music. The latter runs 18-minutes in all.
Eight interview segments have cast and crew discussing their roles and the finished product. An HDNet preview is another promo piece for when the film premiered on that cable network. Ong Bak 3 footage shows Jaa’s character returning from the dead (!), and BD-Live support has nothing to offer.