I went to the theater by myself today, while Kim was at work, just to watch this movie. The last few times Kim and I have been to the theater, the pickin’s have been rather slim (it being in the dreary months between January and May), and so I usually say something like, “We could see Hitch… or Because of Winn-Dixie… or… Hey, Ong-Bak is playing…” You can imagine the response that gets.

The reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are what convinced me to see the film. I didn’t expect much in the way of a story line or character development, and wasn’t disappointed. I didn’t expect much in the way of acting, and I wasn’t off the mark there, either. The movie was really just a showcase for Tony Jaa, and on that level it was worth the price of the matinee admission. Like Jet Li or Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee, Tony Jaa develops this amazing screen presense because of his moves, his body control, and his amazing athletic abilities. I don’t believe there was any wirework in the whole movie (the special effects crew weren’t really good enough to take out wires anyway, I’d imagine) but the fight scenes and chase scenes were terrific.

Jackie Chan has his running up trees and the corner of walls and squeezing through tight spaces; Tony Jaa’s tricks were his ability to hurdle (he hurdles cars!), spin, flip, jump, and “levitate” (I’m borrowing the term from a review) – he seems to be able to run over a crowd on heads and shoulders without ever really putting his full weight down on either foot. While Jackie’s abilities are pretty much gimicks in his movies now, Tony’s moves were more basicly athletic and because of that, a little more incredible.

Tony’s fight scenes, especially in the last half of the movie, are the centerpiece of the film. He has the body control of Jet Li, the lean power of Bruce Lee, and a uniqueness in that he does Muay Thai instead of Kung Fu. (Yes, I know Jean Claude Van Damme is a kickboxer as well, but comparing Jean-Claude to Tony Jaa is like comparing Pierce Brosnan to Sean Connery (or even perhaps Leslie Nielson to Sean Connery).) Where Kung Fu is lithe, supple, and probing, like a snake bobbing and choosing when to strike, Jaa’s kickboxing is direct and forceful, full of interrupting strikes, elbows and knees, and taking hits rather than slipping out from under them.

A couple of times during the movie I wanted to rewind and watch a scene again – I think that means I’ll at least rent the movie when it hits DVD. Hopefully there will be some better subtitling by then.

Don’t see this movie if you’re just looking for a good-fun film. Only watch it if you like Martial Arts films because of the Martial Arts, or if you like the early Bruce Lee movies.