The 15 Greatest Modern Action Movies

This best-of list — the 15 best action films of the 21st century — by the always insightful Tim Robey, made me nod and smile.

And I was pleased to see Ong Bak make the list, too! 

Ong Bak is kind of film which makes other martial arts films look tame. It’s the story of a young man from a Thai village come to the big city to right a wrong. 

On the one hand, he possesses devastating Muay Thai skills; on the other, he refuses to fight because those skills are meant to be sacred.

Of course, the viewer knows his vow is going to be broken, and as gangsters and Western thugs intensify the pressure, the hero’s breaking point grows ever closer, but even for a jaded martial arts aficionado, the resulting beat down is spectacular.

9. Ong Bak (Pracha Pinkaew, 2003)

Thai martial artist Tony Jaa had spent 14 years as a stuntman – he helped out on 1997’s Mortal Kombat: Annihilation – before this launchpad feature gained him international fame. He’s mind-bogglingly acrobatic in it, and rather sympathetic for someone almost never shown smiling. The whole film’s built, Bruce Lee-style, around his talents, which are prodigious enough that no wires, computer effects or stunt doubles were deployed: it’s all him.

Jaa got off lightly during the shoot with an injured ligament, sprained ankle and burns to the face when his clothes caught fire. Following giddily behind him, this breathless Muay Thai beat-em-up knows how to punctuate the melees with comic relief – take the wonderful moment when a jumping Jaa gets hands and legs through a barbed-wire hoop, whereupon the goon behind him runs headfirst into a bucket.

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