Emmy Iyerwrote on May 9 2011 6:27PM
In Ban Nong Pradu, a rural village in northeastern Thailand, villagers covered in mud climb a tree. Ting, the village's best athlete, grabs the flag at the top and descends, deftly avoiding the other climbers. A few days before a local celebration, a group arrive from Bangkok and ask the caretaker to sell a statue to them. They are refused.
Ting is anointed by the local monk. Though extremely skilled in muay Thai, as he demonstrates for Mao ("Uncle Drunk" in Thai), he has vowed he will not use it for personal gain. It is a poor village - The village's most prized possession is an ancient Buddha image, named Ong-Bak. During the night, Ting's Uncle stumbles into the temple. He witnesses and yells at intruders but is knocked out with a piece of wood. He awakes to find the statue's head missing. The villagers are worried. Ting promises to recover it. The villagers help pay for his trip to Bangkok, where he is to meet his scumbag cousin Humlae and get help in tracking down the thieves.
In the city, Humlae has dyed his hair blond and calls himself George. He and his friend, Muay Lek, are street-bike racing hustlers who have fallen in with a bad crowd of yaba dealers. They find that they speak the same Isaan dialect.
Humlae is at first reluctant to help Ting, but when he sees the small fortune in coins that Ting has collected from his village, Humlae takes an immediate interest. And, when Ting is in the bathroom, Humlae grabs the sack and heads for a bar on Khaosan Road where an illegal boxing match is going on. Ting tracks Humlae down, but instead of getting his money back, he ends up fighting and being named the new champion - Ting PADIU PIU after one high knee smash waylays the old champ.
Ting (Tony Jaa) is ready for another showdown.
This makes Ting an enemy of Komtuan, a gray-haired, wheelchair-bound crimelord who needs an electrolarynx to speak. He's been watching the fight from his private room, and losing money because Ting keeps beating his fighters. It is discovered that Ong-Bak was actually stolen by one of his henchmen, Don.
Meanwhile, back in Ting's village, there is bad luck indeed. The ground is dusty and full of cracks and all that's left in the village well is muddy water. They need the Buddha's head back for the drought to end and good luck to return to the village.
George keeps working shady deals, with he and Muay Lek working a scam at a baccarat game in an illegal casino. Eventually, the scams catch up with him, and the drug dealer shows up to give George a beating. Ting ignores George's cries for help, but when the drug dealer starts smacking Muay Lek around, Ting takes care of things. But then the drug dealer's friends and the cheated casino boss show up and a footchase through the alleys ensues. Ting helps George escape in exchange for his assistance in helping to find Don.
That night, there is another fight at the bar. Ting is egged on by Big Bear, a vulgar Australian fighter. At first, Big Bear attempts to provoke a fight with Ting by insulting Thai people. But after Big Bear beats another Thai man and assaults a waitress, Ting takes up the fight and easily beats the hulking man. He then must fight Toshiro, a very fast and flexible Japanese fighter. His final opponent is Mad Dog, another farang, who favors the use of such objects as chairs and tables to fight with. The fight takes them up to Komtuan's private booth. Komtuan hands Mad Dog a knife, but Ting quickly disarms him and then throws Mad Dog out of the viewing booth's glass right back onto the battle area. An African man steps into the ring to throw a coin at Ting's feet and at the same time, he gives Ting a thumbs up. This starts loud cheering from everyone who's just seen the fight go on. They also throw coins at Ting, much to the delight of George and Muay Lek.
Muay Lek, meanwhile, has been struggling to keep her older sister Ngek from using drugs. Ngek has fallen in with Don. On the bed, Ngek, following her sister's advice, says she wants to quit drugs. Don, in his anger violently suffocates her and stuffs her mouth with drugs. Muay Lek shows up at Don's apartment with George and Ting to find her struggling sister overdosed and near death. George and Ting take off and chase the boyfriend in tuk-tuks, with several of Don's men joining in. The tuk-tuks take to an elevated expressway, and the scene climaxes with many tuk-tuks driving off the edge of an unfinished portion of the highway.
Ting follows the bad guys and ends up at the port and in the Chao Phraya River, where he discovers a cache of stolen Buddha images. This leads back to the gangster Komtuan, who makes Ting fight one of his bodyguards who is a Burmese boxer and has been treating himself with drugs, making him full of rage and impervious to pain. Ting painfully loses the fight to meet Komtuan's demand for him to throw the fight in exchange for Ong-Bak's head. The following day, George, Ting and Muay Lek are kidnapped by Komtuan's henchmen. After Komtuan leaves and orders the henchmen to kill the three, Ting attacks the men with the assistance of George.
Ting and George follow the gangsters into a cave in a mountain, where the head of a giant Buddha image is being chiseled away. There is a final showdown, with Ting fighting off all of Komtuan's henchmen with George, who tries his hardest to fight them, but is still beaten badly. Komtuan's bodyguard injects himself with several shots of drugs at one time and attacks Ting. The bodyguard is defeated and seemingly killed by Ting. Komtuan then shoots Ting and attempts to crush Ong-Bak's head with a sledgehammer. George covers Ong-Bak's head with his body, taking the beatings from the sledgehammer to save Ong-Bak's head. At that moment, the giant Buddha head falls over, crushing Komtuan to death while George almost rolls away from its path, but he is crushed underneath. Although crushed from the head, Ting and Muay hear his last wish, for Muay Lek to graduate school and for Ting to look after her.
The head of the Ong-Bak Buddha statue is restored in the temple of Ting's village. Ting, now ordained as a monk with shaven head and white robes, arrives into the village in a procession on an elephant's back while the villagers and Muay Lek.