Thanmatra / Ong-Bak
These 2 movies are rather strange candidates to be grouped together for reviews. Just that I felt that one was a movie for lovers of acting while the other was a movie for lovers of action...
Thanmatra is an affecting tale of a man afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and his family’s handling of the situation. Held up by an amazing performance by Mohanlal, the film is an intimate and close look at the effect of the terrible disease.
Like some of the best Malayalam films of the past, Thanmatra is effective because it is not showy. Mohanlal is an everyman with a loving family, a regular government job and grand ambitions for his son. His downward spiral because of the disease is captured naturally and when he is under the grip of the illness, there are no artificial situations or cinematic circumstances created to illustrate its effect. Things are presented as they are.
We’re used to acting being expressive. Loud expressions, voice modulation and grand gestures are what usually make a performance memorable. But Mohanlal here is required to do the opposite. He needs to be stone-faced and inexpressive. He needs to be almost immobile. His character’s mind is blank and he needs to reflect that in his performance. It is possibly the most difficult thing to do in acting and that is why it is such a great performance. With a blank expression, a fixed smile, slurred speech and sagging shoulders, Mohanlal is scarily believable as someone who has no idea what is going on around him. It is one of those performances where you go beyond admiring the performance of the artist and you feel for the character instead.
Thanmatra is so effective because it doesn’t exploit tragedy. Yes, Mohanlal is afflicted with a terrible illness but the film doesn’t try to squeeze any more sadness out of it than what naturally happens. It surrounds him with people who love him and would do anything for him. Atleast in that, he is lucky. As his son tells him a happy news only to be rewarded with a “Who are you?” or his father tearfully wishes he could have his son back for a single second, we feel for them as much as we feel for Mohanlal.
Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior
If you are tired of the obviously-fake, wire-fu stunts(however good they may look) of recent Asian films and the special-effects-filled stunts of the Hollywood films and want a throwback to the raw stunts of the Bruce Lee films, then Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior is the film for you. Filled wall-to-wall with fight sequences, it’s the film martial arts lovers were waiting for.
The “no wires, no stunt doubles, no computer graphics” proclamation that the film proudly makes is its biggest strength. All the jumps, leaps, falls, hits and kicks are performed by the film’s hero Tony Jaa himself and there are enough slo-mo repeats and multiple camera angles to prove it. That adds to the thrill.
Like District B13, this film too has an exhilarating chase sequence. Designed to showcase Jaa’s agility and skill, it has him jumping through barbed wire, stepping on people’s heads, leaping over cars and sliding under trucks on the streets of Bangkok, all accompanied by thumping techno music. Quite exhilarating.
But unlike the French film, the chase serves as an appetizer rather than the meal here. After the chase, its simply one stunt sequence after the other. Jaa’s favorite move consists of leaping up and smacking into to his opponent with his knees and we almost feel the blows land. The fights do build up in bloodiness and intensity from one to the next so that every one of them manages to be arresting. Expectedly the fights at the end, like the one in the cave and the climactic showdown, are the best.