If you’ve ever stood in front of a mirror and practiced your Bruce Lee “kara-tay” chops, Thailand’s Tony Jaa should, de facto, be your hero. He has himself logged thousands of hours doing so, also studying the finer points of Jackie Chan, Jet Li and muay thai. Today, the 33-year-old fighter is inarguably the movies’ most fearless martial artist, a doofus who actually consented to performing scenes with his pants on fire. His breakout film, 2003’s midnighter Ong Bak, still triggers gasps; Jaa’s survival doesn’t feel like a premise you can count on.
And yet, he has survived, to codirect a prequel that definitely knows where its bread is buttered. Ignore the hot-and-sour-Macbeth solemnity about murdered noblemen and filial revenge; all of Ong Bak 2’s ancient intrigue is spun only as a framework for Jaa’s Raggedy Andy back flips, extended leg sweeps and bone-crunching facials. The new film sometimes feels too snazzy in its jittery cinematography, but the stunts make it through the budget upgrade intact. Most impressively, Jaa runs along the backs of stampeding elephants—reportedly, a trick he learned growing up in his family’s rice paddies. We frown at the lack of parental supervision, and also salute it.