PCR past banners
   Now in our tenth calendar year
    PCR #507  (Vol. 10, No. 50)  This edition is for the week of December 7--13, 2009.

"Invictus"  by Mike Smith
Time Warp Toy Box ’09 – Part 2  by ED Tucker
The Star Wars Holiday Special  by Chris Woods
The Thai Warrior  by Jason Fetters
Book Review: Mistletoe and Mayhem:Horrific Tales for the Holidays edited by Richard Dalby  by Lisa Scherer
Remembering Roy .... Happy Stanley (get It....stan Lee) .... Oops .... Passing On .... Now I'm Upset! .... .... .... .... My Favorite Films, Part 2 by Mike Smith
Archives of Nolan's Pop Culture Review
Archives 2009
Archives 2008
Archives 2007
Archives 2006
Archives 2005
Archives 2004
Archives 2003
Archives 2002
Archives 2001
Archives 2000
Email PCR

The Thai Warrior

I was just reflecting on the lack of action stars currently out there, every time I want to go out and see a movie. Gone are the carefree days of the 80’s when I could get together with friends to see the latest Arnold Schwarenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, and Jean Claude Van Damme movie. I was never much of a Steven Seagal fan besides the first Under Seige movie so I didn’t include him in that list. The action hero seemed to have died out sometime in the 90’s. The older stars were getting up there in the years and it seems that no one is making action pictures that are any good any more.

The first stars came from the United States and the next stars came from Hong Kong and China with Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li. All three had some type of real martial arts background. Today, the Hong Kong action stars are more likely to have a background in dancing, ballet, or gymnastics than any serious martial arts training. Stars like Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi have a little bit of training for a couple of weeks before filming starts. Both Yeoh and Ziyi rely on wires and camera tricks to sell the shot. It appears that Hong Kong has no real action stars coming out any longer. Which is why I believe the next big star will not be American, from Hong Kong, or a Japanese karate fighter like Sonny Chiba. The next big thing is already making films in Thailand.

For the most part, Western audiences have never seen real Muay Thai on the big screen. The only film that comes to mind is the goofy and likeable Kickboxer starring Jean Claude Van Damme back in his prime. If you look at the martial arts techniques in Kickboxer, you’ll see that it was nothing but Shotokan Karate mixed in with a few head butts, elbow and knee strikes to appear like Muay Thai. International audiences have seen kung fu, karate, Aikido, and various weapons but have never really seen Muay Thai, the deadly kickboxing art from Thailand.

That all changed when Tony Jaa hit the ground running in 2003 with Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior. Here for the first time is real Muay Thai without all the Van Damme karate mixed in. Ong Bak is a wonderful fast-paced action movie that while short on plot, showcases actual brutal techniques that would even make current Mixed Martial Artists wench. Jaa starts out by showing a Muay Thai form and later on when he gets pissed off at club, you see how effective it can be.

Tony Jaa grew up on a steady diet of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li movies and he longed in his heart to promote Muay Thai the way those men promoted kung fu. Like kung fu, Muay Thai has a wide range of styles and forms that differ from village to village. Tony tries to show a different type of that art in each film.

Ong Bak was a big success all over Asia and had a little success in the U.S. Following Ong Bak, Jaa started in Tom Yum Goong (aka, The Protector, Honor of the Beast), which emphasizes how important elephants are to Thai society. When Jaa’s pet elephants gets stolen from evil men and sold and shipped to Australia, he loses his mind to get his favorite elephant back. I have never seen bad guys demolished with such intense energy and anger, as Tony accomplishes in Tom Yum Goong during the opening. When Tony gets to Australia and meets up with Tae Kwon Do expert Johnny Nguyen, all hell breaks loose between the both of them and some excellent fight scenes coming kicking and screaming right in the viewer’s face. The film’s action scenes develop to bone-crushing intensity as the movie comes to an end, as in all great martial arts movies, you have to have a long end fight with the hero suffering. That’s the way the audience likes it.

What I like about Tony Jaa, that I haven’t seen in a long time, is how real he is and how dedicated to showing off Muay Thai to the world he is. Tony gives demonstrations in America to show that he is no fake. He leaps 8-feet up into the air to kick a stuntman in the face. There are no wires or trick photography here, just real techniques that are backed with power and strength and a certain graceful beauty that people have come to love about seeing a real martial art. Tony’s next big film is Ong Bak 2 which had a limited screening in the US. I do believe he is the next big martial arts star mainly because I don’t really see anyone giving him competition, except for maybe co-star Johnny Nguyen who made his martial arts extravaganza in Vietnam, The Rebel.

So do yourself a favor and check out Ong Bak 1 & 2, The Protector, and The Rebel.

"The Asian Aperture" is ©2009 by Jason Fetters.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2009 by Nolan B. Canova.