Synopsis: While there can be no doubt that Tien (Tony Jaa) is an amazing warrior, he simply cannot take on an army of highly skilled warriors, the most fearsome of which is the Crow Ghost(Dan Chupong). Taken into custody by the cruel Lord Rajasena (Sarunya Wongkerjang), Tien is beaten to the point of being crippled and is about to be executed when a rider enters, bearing a royal decree that frees him. Lord Rajasena is not happy to hear that this ‘traitor’ has been freed and begins to have hallucinations and terrible dreams, remembering earlier treachery that caused him to be cursed by an important official that he murdered. The cause of the dreams are supposedly known and can be cured by the Crow Ghost, the same malevolent figure who took down Tien in the previous film. The Crow Ghost wrestles with Lord Rajasena’s sanity and his power while Tien must deal with being crippled. Through the teachings of a Buddhist monk and his childhood friend and love, Pim, Tien trains in the way of the Buddha and prepares to face his greatest rival. Will Tien choose the path of revenge again? Or will he finally set things right within the kingdom and within his soul?
Review: Ong Bak 3 is probably the most interesting of the three flicks. Punch for punch, this one does not have as many action scenes as the others, concentrating on Tien’s story and transformation. It begins with a VERY brutal torture scene and some flashbacks from Ong Bak 2. The movie itself is darker, with issues of the soul, curses, love, loss, lust for power and the need for detachment key elements of the film. We see Tien go from being the greatest fighter in the land to a despondent cripple, legs twisted, fingers bent and hating his life. Desire has doomed not only Tien but his enemies. Lord Rajasena is forced to deal with what his lust for power has made him do and the Crow Ghost rises as the main adversary of the film.
The Crow Ghost is…freaky. He basically destroys Tien in the previous movie and more of his abilities are shown off. It’s very rare that I find myself cheering for a bad guy in a movie but the Crow Ghost’s style is so interesting, I can’t help but want to see him kill more guys. He’s the only one who uses magic in the movies, which is illusory magic. And when he cocks his head to the side, the way a crow does when it’s considering you? *shivers*
The darker nature of the film means that a little bit of humor is needed from time to time and the character Mhen (played by Phetthai Wongkhamlao) keeps things a bit lighter. He’s the town crazy person that has been around since Tien and Pim were children. He cracks a few jokes and even lends a hand (or a rope) during one of the fights. Pim is Tien’s oldest friend, trying to encourage him when he is depressed in his cripple state, dancing with him and for him in an effort to appease those Tien may have harmed in the past. Their love is sweet, and not overbearingly so. She is a true friend and a master of her own art, Thai dance.
The final scene where Tien throws down with the Crow Ghost is extremely well done. The filming and the choreography are deliberate, showing the difference between a fight that is fueled by rage and hate as opposed to setting things in balance. The contrast of Tien’s movements and the visual difference between blood and water are striking. The Crow Ghost is powerful indeed but Tien isn’t hungry for power or money or position or even revenge. The fight plays out and it is fun to watch.
For Gamers: Ong Bak 3 goes deeper into Buddhism (specifically Theravada), as well as the subjects of karma, consequences and regrets. There are a few great sequences that show men and women practicing medicine on ill people. Magic is around but not explained, just used. Curses are things to be taken seriously. And Tien’s journey shows how a character can seek peace but make war. The key is intent. When personal desires fade away, balance can be obtained. And as the monk tells Tien, ‘wherever shadows fall, light is always nearby.’
If you’re interested in action as well as character development or are interested in Eastern philosophy, check it out. Lovers of non-stop thrill rides will probably be disappointed in the number of fight scenes, though the action scenes are there and definitely deliver in terms of style and skill. There is less action but the story is deeper, skipping flesh and bone and cutting to the soul. GMs who are interested in plots driven by inner turmoil, having souls on the line and want to drive home that actions have consequences will like having Ong Bak 3 as a reference. Players that want to see how a character can be devoted to peace and still dish out the pain can follow Tien’s example. In addition, the ‘fighter with magic’ in the form of the Crow Ghost is a nice trope that isn’t always done in RPGs and is interesting, though an enigma. I don’t know enough about Thai magic to figure out what is going on there. That guy is so freaking creepy.
Don’t watch this movie with your kids. Scenes of torture, brutal martial arts scenes and the creepy Crow Ghost will ensure your child will have nightmares. There is a scene that involves the killing of an elephant and blood sprays in a big way.
That being said, I enjoyed the movie. Worth watching. Again, the idea of consequences in RPGs is worth exploring. Would probably give it a 4 out of 5. I can’t penalize the lack of action because the action scenes are still amazing and the last one in particular ties in so well with the themes of the movie. Tony Jaa is an amazing martial artist and it is a pleasure to see him on the screen.