It's been years since I've enjoyed a martial-arts movie as much as I enjoyed Ong Bak. Actually, and it's not surprising, considering what Jackie Chan and Jet Li have been up to lately, it's been years since I've enjoyed a martial arts-movie. But Ong Bak, which stars Tony Jaa as the hick from the country who goes to the vice-ridden city and is frequently moved to demonstrate that he happens to be an unbeatable fighter (remember Bruce Lee in Return of the Dragon?), is really good.
Certain sequences had me thinking back fondly of Jackie Chan's best films which of the Project A movies has that incredible street chase which involves hot peppers? Homage is paid to it in Ong Bak.
The plot? Don't worry, you've seen it before. It's been in movies for at least fifty years. The same plot drives John Frankenheimer's excellent The Train, for example. But it's probably been kicking around since the silent era, perhaps even since popular fiction of centuries before that.
The filmmakers wisely didn't let too much plot get in the way of the story, as Joe Bob Briggs would say. The story in this case is about how elbows and knees can be used like fists.
One odd thing about the DVD of Ong Bak that I saw was that, as far as I could tell, you couldn't watch it with English subtitles without also getting English captions, such as "[Screaming]", "[Screaming and Groaning]", "[Grunting]", "[Screaming Continues]". I found this kind of annoying, though there were a few times when it was amusing, such as "[Inhaling Deeply]", which accompanied a scene of a villain snorting lines of coke. My favorite, though, was "[Inaudible]". Oh, thanks for telling me.
There's been a lot of excitement about the next James Bond movie, Casino Royale, which will star Daniel Craig. Craig is English, not Scottish, however, and James Bond is half Scottish (on his father's side). In fact, Ian Fleming wrote the Bond novels with Scottish actor Sean Connery in mind after Connery had established the Bond character on the big screen.
Occasionally the subject of Scotland is raised and explored in considerable depth in The Times Literary Supplement. I've found it interesting reading. "Scottishness", if that's the word I want, is perhaps as profound a subject in Britain as, say, race or gender is in the United States.
In their issue of September 9th, 2005, the TLS published a review of Alain Riach's boook, Representing Scotland in Literature, Popuar Culture and Iconography. According to Riach, "James Bond is the most important character in post-war Scottish fiction" and when Connery strides across an airport runway near the end of Goldfinger, it's "a signal moment that marks the beginning of a recovery of confident self-determination in late twentieth-century representations of Scotland".
So Daniel Craig is English, not Scottish, but he is still a more appropriate choice for the hero of Casino Royale than was the first actor to take on the role. I refer not to Sean Connery, but to Barry Nelson, who played American secret agent "Jim Bond" in an adaptation of Casino Royale, the first Bond novel, for an episode of the American anthology television show Climax!
It aired on October 21, 1954. Peter Lorre played Le Chiffre, the villain. The whole enterprise is pretty lousy, and that's coming from a die-hard Peter Lorre fan. (Right now I'm reading a 613-page biography of Lorre just published by the University of Kentucky press.)
Whenever I find myself getting dismayed over Bond-movie stars who aren't Sean Connery, I can always sit back with my videocassette of that episode of Climax! After a few minutes with "Jim Bond", things these days don't seem so bad.