Ong Bak 2 isn't a movie; it's a videogame. Lacking the elements which generally constitute a film - little things like story or character or performance - Tony Jaa's MMA follow-up is difficult to review in any kind of meaningful cinematic context. It is, one supposes, a performance piece, a wonderfully visual display of martial arts acumen that'll succeed at keeping your rapt attention while ultimately failing to entertain.
This is due in large part to the film's structure, a sequence of grand fights spread out over a number of dynamic locations in which Jaa takes on several waves of inconsequential bad-guys only to defeat the equivalent of that location's "boss." Put a controller in the hands of every theater-goer and you'd have the world's highest resolution action-platformer in place of a watchable action film.
Perhaps if Ong Bak 2 boasted any kind of story it'd be easier to view it in light of more straightforward action films, whatever their country of origin, but the minimal narrative here simply doesn't suffice in the creation of likeable characters. Jaa plays Tean, a martial arts expert who, as a young boy, witnessed the murder of his father and mother at the hands of a mysterious, masked figure under the control of a local despot. Tean flees the scene of the murder only to be captured by slavers, but when his quick thinking and fighting skills ultimately set him free, a group of renegade thieves take him in and train him for his inevitable revenge. The film is no more or less complex than that very description, so the ratio of character and narrative to general bad-assery is exceptionally low. Nor does the film bear any connection to the first movie aside from the title, some elephants and Jaa himself.
That said, Jaa is jaw-droppingly talented at a wide range of fighting styles, so watching this two-hour beat down will, at the very least, never get boring. Jaa takes the directorial reins of this installment, and while he never proves himself to be a master storyteller, he's certainly capable of framing an action sequence with an admirable level of visual polish. In fact, the photography here can often be a distraction from the fights themselves considering that many of the battles are set in some truly stunning locations. To the uninitiated, however, the finer points of some of the martial arts styles on display might eventually run together, and where true enthusiasts might appreciate the film for its wide range of combat scenarios, there's a point at which even the most dynamic ass-kicking can leave audiences glancing at their watches.
Unfortunately, action requires a greater amount of context to involve an audience for anything longer than 90 minutes, and the film's relentless insistence on style over substance proves tiresome at the two-hour mark. You never really root for Tean, mostly because you never get to know him, and by the time the film arrives at its ending, which should have at least some emotional impact, you're simply too visually exhausted to care. Overall, Ong Bak 2 is a mixed bag, filled to the brim with amazing fight choreography and beautiful landscapes, but the non-existent story, lack of character development and over-long runtime suggest re-watching the original and waiting until the sequel hits cable.