PictureOng Bak: The Beginning looks far superior to its predecessor, especially when it comes to its Blu-ray release. Sporting a 1080p High Definition video rendition in the movie's original, theatrically broad aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen, the arty wushu-esque style may not make up for the wafer-thin, hackneyed plot, but it certainly makes things look much more glamorous. Detail is generally very good, with only a little softness, negligible edge enhancement and an acceptable sheen of grain. This is certainly not a movie that will ever stand up to criticism when put alongside any half-way decent budget Hollywood production, but that's only to be expected. As it is, this presentation is perfectly acceptable for the material on offer. The colour scheme is luscious and lavish, but more in an over-saturated way than a natural one, although this does lend to the aforementioned style of the production. Black levels could be better, but overall this is a serviceable rendition.
SoundOn the aural front things are a little disappointing, even when you consider the material. Sure the Dolby Digital 5.1 track does all that is required, blending the Thai vocals (not necessarily one of the top languages for serious dialogue) with the bone-crunching effects and generic, highly irritating score (easily the worst score that I have come across in my time reviewing BDs) to reasonable effect - the track certainly does not detract from your enjoyment of this movie - but it is simply not the best that is on offer. The US release of this movie sports a DTS mix that, whilst also far from perfect, is more boisterous than the standard Dolby track. The UK Blu-ray release basically has the same aural offering as the SD-DVD, which is just not acceptable. Disappointing.
ExtrasTo accompany the movie we also have a limited set of extras in comparison to the US counterpart. We get the Press Interview clips, some Behind the Scenes Footage and a Photo Gallery (as well as the Theatrical Trailer), but the multi-part Making-Of Featurette is distinctly absent, as is the preview footage from Ong Bak 3.
VerdictOng Bak: The Beginning is a padded-out, over-stylised two-thirds-of-a-movie that offers viewers nothing that they have not seen done a dozen times over the last few years (and better), other than Tony Jaa getting to kick ass in his own, inimitable, blistering jaw-dropping way. I think that this would have been enough to justify its addition to your collection, were it not for the fact that we get a Region Free release in the UK that is not even as good as the already-limited US equivalent. Decent enough video, sub-par audio (with a track that already has a horrendous score) and lacklustre extras (that are thinner even that the US edition offers) all come together to disappoint. And whilst it may not be a better cut, the fact that we don't even get the alternate, shorter, Luc Besson-tinkered version just compounds the insult. Worth a rental only, but if you really must purchase it then you may have to look overseas for the better release. Or even wait for the inevitable trilogy box set which may have improved tech specs and extras. And let's hope for better from Jaa in the future, because this isn't the kind of movie that will make him the international superstar that his martial arts skill truly deserve. This may be a step in the right direction, but it's just a baby step.
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