Ong Bak 3 (2010)

Reduced in scale and ambition, but brings closure
Reviewed by Simon on 2021-07-26

ONG BAK 3 picks up directly after Ong Bak 2, so read no further if you wish to avoid spoilers for that

At the end of ONG BAK 2 our hero Tien was captured by his enemies, against all odds, and the film implored the audience to pray for him lest his story come to a premature end. The film opens with Tien in chains, sentenced to be beaten to death. After taking a series of harsh blows he uses his chains to turn the tables on his attackers and metes out some bloody punishment.

Contrary to expectations this does not lead to his escape to freedom though, he is eventually subdued and tortured further, with his captors seeking to break every bone in his body. I guess the audience failed him. He is eventually rescued though, and nursed back to something like health by his childhood sweetheart Pim and a Buddhist monk. The monk teaches him to control the rage in his heart, and Pim teaches him to dance.

Ong Baks 2 and 3 were always planned as a pair and the second film is definitely incomplete without the third - apart from anything else, this is where we finally learn what any of it has to do with ONG BAK. The ambitious project proved too much for Jaa and was nearly abandoned without even one film being completed, but Jaa's mentor Panna Rittikrai stepped in to help him complete them - and keep his ambitions in check, presumably.

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As a result the final part feels scaled down and comparatively slight - for much of the first half Tien is barely able to move, let alone fight. It could be imagined that the punishment and debasement Tien suffers is Jaa offering penance for his failure on the last film, but it eventually leads to a redemption arc that is presumably where the films were always intended to go. We get some Buddhist philosophy and Tien re-trains until he reaches a new level of physical and spiritual enlightenment.

It's a bit heavy handed, and ultimately boils down to a rather common "chosen one" tale. Tien's enlightenment is contrasted with the darkness of Crow, Dan Chupong's character who made a very brief appearance in the previous film but becomes a major player in this one. Crow is driven by dark desires and uses black magic to achieve superhuman fighting skills. A showdown between light and dark is inevitable.

The film suffers from the common dilemma of wanting to preach the virtues of martial arts in cultivating a calm, peaceful heart but not wanting to give up on a kick ass fight scene to cap everything off. ONG BAK 3 cheats a little bit here, but Crow is such an antithetical character to Buddhist virtues that there can be little doubt that Tien needs to put an end to him.

Definitely a lesser film than either of those that precede it numerically, but it does deliver a couple of spectacular fight scenes, which is ultimately what matters the most here, and it brings some sort of closure to the tale of Ong Bak and its generations of protectors.