Hong Kong has been the go-to place for martial arts cinema for years. There's a good reason for that, considering the rich history created by the likes of The Shaw Bros., Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li. China isn't the only country with fantastic fight films, though -- Thailand has made major contributions to the genre in recent years, led primarily by the one-man army Tony Jaa.
Jaa first blipped onto our radar back in 2003, with the debut of Ong Bak. After a disappointing second installment (the story's a mess, the fight scenes are breathtaking), Jaa is back with Ong Bak 3 -- can this film get the series back on track and finally hip American audiences to the awesome action films coming out Thailand? If the new trailer is any indication, the answer to both questions is yes.
The new clip features Jaa and a freaky looking Dan Chupong squaring off in mortal combat. There are no English subtitles in this first full-length trailer, but luckily the language of bone-crunching body blows is one that's not governed by borders. The actor once again ups the ante when it comes to stunts and I shudder to think at what the outtake reel for this one will look like. After watching this trailer, you just know lots of guys got hurt making the film.
This outing looks to be the most supernatural one yet – which is odd considering the way this franchise began, but I like what I see. The trailer has no shortage of "Oh My God That Was Awesome!" moments, but clearly the best parts involve Jaa fighting guys on top of elephants and then swinging around on their tusks. And as anyone who watches a lot of Thai martial arts cinema knows, this isn't even all that out of the ordinary.
This begs the question: Why aren't American audiences embracing these films? Hong Kong/Chinese and Japanese action cinema have all made major inroads with American audiences, yet Thai flicks remain something of a cult phenomenon, loved by geeky action fans but unknown to the masses. It can't be a purely cultural thing -- there's a cultural gap between American audiences and all of the aforementioned Asian cinema. It can't be the lack of compelling stars, because Jaa is essentially as athletic as Chan and makes for a charismatic lead character. Besides, it's not solely about Tony Jaa -- when other excellent films like Chocolate (a young autistic girl learns martial arts moves by simply watching them *head explosion*) fail to catch on, there's something more at work. I know that Hong Kong action cinema was around for years before it became popular in America -- and Japanese films as well. They are popular now though, so in theory audiences should have already overcome these hurdles when it comes to films from the rest of the region. I'm shocked to discover that it doesn't appear as though we have and curious as to why that is.
Ong Bak 3 debuts in Thailand on May 5th. Check out the trailer after the jump and then hit the comments section to discuss why you think Thai action cinema is still struggling to find an audience here in the States.