As much as I enjoyed the original "Ong Bak" (2003), there were moments that felt like it was attempting to mimic big-budget action movies from other parts of the world (e.g., the motorbike chase, which was kinda lame). The script was also a bit bland in places. Still a great action flick, but it left some room for improvement.
Enter "Ong Bak 2", which improves upon its predecessor in every conceivable way. The most obvious enhancements are the cinematography and set designs, which are phenomenal. The highlight sequence in this regard must be the night time dance, which emphasizes golden architecture and beautiful clothing that reminds one of the striking visuals that are showcased in Zhang Yimou's films. All is not so clean, however, because the environments add a significant amount of authenticity with an unending assault of gritty, dirty, primal village imagery amidst the forests of Thailand. One simply cannot overstate the spectacular images presented herein, and many reviewers seem to have undervalued the amazing cultural contributions that "Ong Bak 2" has to offer, because non-Thai viewers will be transported to an unfamiliar world that not only exhibits rough geographical locations, but an equally rough (and incredibly diverse) band of bizarre, threatening characters that are attention-grabbing for virtually every second they're on screen (e.g., the white-haired mystic, the pirates, the dark-skinned wrestler, the crow man, etc.). When all is said and done, this film genuinely captures Thai culture from start to finish, with no pandering to foreign influence outside of some martial arts styles.
And that, my dear friends, is the crux of why "Ong Bak 2" so very easily surpasses its predecessor. Many of the non-action scenes are riveting and interesting to watch, which is something one cannot say about "Ong Bak" or even the brilliant "Tom Yum Goong" for that matter (which successfully used an absurd quantity of superbly executed action sequences to overpower any and all deficiencies that nest in-between the beatings). This is not to say that the script of "Ong Bak 2" is far better than Jaa's previous movies, because the conclusion is in desperate need for a direct sequel that wraps up the fates of the surviving antagonists as well as the lead protagonist. Nevertheless, the visuals, character interactions, and primary conflicts provide constant entertainment on a minute by minute basis. This movie doesn't even need action to sustain interest, and if that's not a glaring sign that Tony Jaa has already surpassed Bruce Lee as a cinematic entertainer, then nothing is.
I can't believe I've written this much without delving into the martial arts choreography, which is excellent. Is it as good as "Tom Yum Goong" in terms of quantity and precise movements? Probably not - but then again, "Tom Yum Goong" is virtually impossible to top in that regard. However, "Ong Bak 2" does provide an impressive assortment of styles that are seamlessly integrated into the action. Jaa's character doesn't randomly switch between attack styles like some other reviewers have erroneously asserted. On the contrary, his transition from one fighting technique to the next is triggered by the availability of particular weapons as well as the attack strategies of his opponents. For example, if you ever find yourself near a three-sectioned staff while fighting a number of enemies, it might make sense to use it to your advantage.
It's really nice to see that Jaa so capably expands into new realms and implements modifications to his strengths as a physical performer to yield refreshing, non-repetitive movies that are easily distinguishable from one another. I'll take this guy's movies over a lot of the big budget garbage currently coming out of China (those historical epics are just awful), and I hope that he continues to make Thai films exclusively in the near future. Although I do admit that a project with a capable Hong Kong co-star like Wu Jing or Donnie Yen would definitely get my blood pumping.