Following on from my previous post about my initial encounter with Ong Bak, I have done research into specific aspects of the film that were of relevance to my initial reactions recorded on Twitter. I have watched limited martial arts films and the majority of them were western produced films (I’m talking Rush Hour). The Thai film industry was already renowned for its horror and teen movies and has seen success in the box office since 1997 however research into Ong Bak showed that the Thai film was a worldwide success and started the breakthrough of Thai action films. The prominent type of Thai action movies that are successful are those showing exciting Thai boxing (Muay Thai). Thai films do not use martial arts which aims to chase the antagonists, instead they design the fighting scenes to be beautiful and exciting combining Muay Thai with acrobatic moves and combat which can related to real life and human action (Panyasopon 2012).
There are three main aspects of the movie which I will touch on in this blog. The first aspect is religion. My initial encounter with this movie resulted in numerous thoughts about religion and its importance in Thai culture. Ong Bak has a very limited plot, and the basis of the plot revolves around those that believe in Buddhism and those that don’t. On one side is Ting and his village which have their Buddha’s head stolen and on the other side is Komtuan the evil boss who is stealing Buddha’s from across the country and selling them off shore. Once Ting’s village has lost Ong Bak’s (their Buddha’s) head they are plunged into a drought which I assume is punishment for the loss. Komtuan is portrayed as a non-religious man and refers to himself as a “god”. This is ultimately his undoing in the film as he is ironically crushed by a giant Buddha’s head.
Further study into religion in Thailand concluded that nearly 95% of Thailand’s population is Buddhist, derived from the Theravada school (Kusalasaya 2006). Buddhism has become so integrated into Thai life that the two are hardly separable. Buddhist influences can be detected in Thai life-style, mannerisms, traditions, character, arts, architecture, language, and all other aspects of the Thai culture. The fact that Thailand has become widely known today as the Land of Smiles is due in no small measure to the Buddhist influence on the Thai people. Indeed, the nation as a whole owes much to the religion and wholeheartedly acknowledges her indebtedness to the Buddha’s teachings (Plamintr 2016). It therefore makes sense that Komtuan is killed at the end of the movie because of his lack of faith.
Reflecting on this tweet about Ting becoming a monk at the end of the movie now makes more sense to me through this research into religion. Ting becoming a monk means that he is regarded highly by his village and therefore it is a great privilege for the young protagonist.
The second aspect of the film which I commented on is the appearance of a cultural battle between Thailand and Myanmar.
Ting (the protagonist) is forced into a deadly rope fist fight against the fighter called Saming. Saming originates from Myanmar, however Ting is told to purposely lose the fight if he wants to see Ong Bak’s head. Research into Myanmar and Thailand’s relations brought to my attentions the numerous battles fought between Burma (Myanmar) and Siam (Thailand) during the 16th to 19th century. Relations between the two countries now are strictly focused on economic issues however there is still conflict over the alignment of the border. Ong Bak repeatedly mentions that Saming is from Burma as well as negatively portraying him as a drug cheat with numerous scenes of him injecting steroids.
The use of drugs ties into my final observation of the film. Ong Bak has a very negative attitude towards illegal drugs.
Komtuan the evil boss happens to be a drug lord, Humlae (Ting’s cousin) has ran away from the village and now makes money by ripping off drug dealers, Saming is a steroid user and the culprit who stole Ong Bak’s head (Don) sells and uses cocaine. This negative attitude about illicit drugs is engrained into Thai culture, take for example the statement from the Customs Department of the Kingdom of Thailand (2016) website;
“Violators of laws related to illicit drugs, e.g., having and holding for use, or being a producer, seller, or transporter are subject to the death sentence”.
With a death sentence possible for using, selling or transporting drugs it is clear that Thailand has a zero illicit drug policy which is reflected in the movie clearly.
To conclude, after conducting research my initial responses of Ong Bak it seems there are underlying themes present in the movie. To continue with my research into Thai films I plan on watching the sequel to Ong Bak, Ong Bak 2. It will be interesting to see if the main themes which I drew from the movie are present in the sequel or if they take a different approach to the plot.
Iskander D. 2013, ‘Thai Culture Uncovered: A Cultural Analysis’, Intercultural Communications, accessed 17th September 2016, https://diskander1.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/thai-culture-uncovered.pdf
Kusalasaya K. 2006, ‘Buddhism in Thailand Its Past and Its Present’, Buddhist Publication Society Wheel Publication, no.85
Panyasopon T. 2012, ‘The Characteristics of Thai Movies and Factors Contributing to Becoming Widely Known in International Markets’, International Journal of Social, Behavioral, Educational, Economic, Business and Industrial Engineering, vol. 6, no 10
Plamintr S. 2016, ‘Buddhism and Thai Society’, budsas.org, accessed 17th September 2016, http://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebdha108.htm
Thailand Customs Department 2016, ‘Legislation Customs Act (No. 20) B.E. 2548’, customs.go.th, accessed 17th September 2016, http://www.customs.go.th/wps/wcm/connect/custen/legislation/legislation