The rarer it is to experience the all-natural, whether in boobs or movie-screen martial arts, the more exciting it is to uncover the real thing. Counteracting recent exposure to the numbing effects of computer-generated and wire-supported tricks in a post?Crouching Tiger/hidden Matrix world, Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior is the artifice-free antidote to such F/X enervation — a jaw-dropper of a star-making display from lithe fighter-artist Tony Jaa, framed by a plot as bare-bones as a backroom boxing ring. Ting (Jaa, known no longer merely as Robin Shou’s stunt double in Mortal Kombat 2) is a reverent country cousin with a world-class talent for Muay Thai boxing (those who know what this is can talk amongst themselves) who travels to Bangkok to retrieve a sacred stone Buddha head stolen by bad guys. And Ting fights a lot of them to get it back, with escalatingly desensitizing violence. (All in the service of Buddha, right?)
Ong-Bak (taken from the name of the sacred statue) is delivered raw, with an on-the-fly compositional approach from director Prachya Pinkaew that includes dim lighting and jumbled editing. Yet the jolting electricity of Jaa’s talent illuminates the murk — as do sparks of humor when he leads pursuers on a chase as merry in its virtuoso inventiveness as any Jackie Chan used to do when he himself was a young, all-natural wonder.