Continuing with the theme of Best Martial Arts Movies, The Best will now take you down to Thailand. Formerly known as Siam, Thailand has a rich and varied history dating back nearly 40,000 years, and is the only southern Asian nation to not be colonized by outsiders. While political strife has certainly been mentioned many times in the news, Thailand still remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. While Thailand’s movie industry has been around as long as film-making has been, it’s never really garnered much attention outside of the country. There was one man who really started to bring attention to the action genre in Thailand: Panna Rittikrai. You may not know who Panna is, but you probably have heard of his protege, Tony Jaa. These two guys managed to make some of the most unique and spectacular martial arts films in the industry. One of the reasons these movies are awesome is because of their use of Muay Thai, Thailand’s national and kickboxing style. I had heard of the style before Ong-Bak came out, but I never really saw what it was about. When Ong-Bak was released, it shook the martial arts genre of action films to the core. We had a new star in Tony Jaa, who is a phenomenal martial artist and athlete. Because of him, we now have to access to many of Thailand’s action films, now that we know what they can do with action. Story-wise…they still need some work. This is The Best Martial Arts Movies: Thailand.
Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior
It’s almost hard to believe that Ong-Bak was released 13 years ago. Ong-Bak and Tony Jaa took the world by storm and showed us that you can have high-flying stunt-work without wires. Tony Jaa was a living special effect, like Jackie Chan. Ong-Bak follows Tony Jaa’s character, Ting, as he pursues the evil-doers who still the head of their revered statue, Ong-Bak. The story is nothing more than an excuse for Tony Jaa to kick some righteous ass, and he does that extremely well. The choreography and stunt-work is as spectacular as it is thrilling. Tony Jaa does all of his own stunts and acrobatics. The moment this movie hit the international market, all eyes in the action film genre turned towards Thailand to see what they would come up with next. Oh, Ong-Bak was just the beginning.
Tom Yum Goong(A.k.a The Protector)
They did it again. They took what made Ong-Bak so awesome in the first place and dialed it up to 11 with Tom Yum Goong. Not only are the stunts crazier, but the fights are even more brutal. This fight scene that I posted takes place near the end of the film, but it is one my favorite fight scenes of all time. I’ve never seen such a bone-breaking fight in a movie before. All the fight scenes in the film are phenomenal. The real standout is the restaurant fight scene which is done in one entire take without cutting. In fact, I’ll show you:
Panna Rittikrai and Tony Jaa basically just upped the ante for what an action film could be. According to Tony Jaa, there were no overly serious injuries during the making of the film. That’s absolutely crazy considering the stuff that you see here. Wow is the best word I can to describe a movie like this. Again, the story is nothing spectacular, but you really don’t go to a movie like this for the story. It’s definitely worth checking out.
It’s exceptionally rare to find a martial arts film that is truly unique in this day and age. To find one from Thailand is even more so, but here we are: Chocolate. Featuring Jeeja Yanin in her feature film debut, Chocolate follows a young autistic girl as she learns martial arts by watching movies and local martial artists. When she grows up she’s a fully capable martial artist with a few quirks. Honestly, this movie is better than it has any right to be. It actually has a pretty decent story with some pretty decent acting. The standout here is Jeeja Yanin, who is another of Panna Rittikrai’s proteges. While Chocolate has some wire-work in it, it still has some very impressive and hard-hitting fight scenes.
Born To Fight(2004)
If there’s one thing that you can take away from these movies, it’s that there is a lot of screaming. Screaming=drama, apparently. In all seriousness, Born To Fight has some of the most audacious stunts that I’ve ever seen. It’s a different kind of movie from what Tony Jaa has made, but the stunts are absolutely stunning. Panna Rittikrai enlists actual athletes to portray athletes that get caught in the middle of a terrorist attack. Gymnasts, martial artists, and soccer players. Panna uses them all. The film itself is actually a re-make of a film that Rittikrai starred in back in 1986. Featuring yet ANOTHER one of Panna Rittikrai’s disciples, Dan Chupong, this movie is absolutely bonkers. It gets pretty brutal at times, but I’m glad it doesn’t pull any punches.
Vengeance of an Assassin
In 2014, Panna Rittikrai passed away from acute liver and kidney failure. He was 53. He was Tony Jaa’s mentor and teacher, as well as the fight choreographer for many of Thailand’s modern martial arts flicks. The last film that he directed was called Vengeance of an Assassin. This was Panna at his best when it comes to action films. It has some seriously wild fight choreography, brutal stunts and great camerawork. It’s wall-to-wall with action. While he hit some rough spots in his career, there is no doubt in my mind that Panna will be missed by fans of martial arts movies world-wide. It’s an unexpected loss, but we should appreciate that he had such an amazing career, both as an actor and as a director. Vengeance of an Assassin is one of his best.
There are other really good Thai martial arts movies, but these are the ones that stood out the most for me. That will conclude my list for The Best Martial Arts Movies: Thailand. The next ones will include American and European martial arts films, and The Best Martial Arts Movies will conclude with China.