Between 2000B.C. and 44 A.D., the ancient Egyptians entertained themselves with plays re-enacting the murder of their god Osiris, and the spectacle, history tells us, led to a number of copycat killings. The ancient Romans were given to lethal spectator sports as well, and in 380 B.C. Saint Augustine lamented that his society was addicted to gladiator games and “…drunk with the fascination of bloodshed.” Nowadays, before the age of eighteen, the average American teen will have witnessed eighteen thousand simulated murders on TV, it is to no surprise that First Lady Laura Bush, said that “American children, I’m afraid, are addicted to television.” And it has been considered that “TV is the single most significant factor contributing to violence in America” (Ted Turner). Violence in the media and particularly in film is not always considered a negative aspect since some think that it benefits people in ways that is hard to do in everyday life, especially young people, in everyday situations. The reason for violent films being box office hits could be for a variety of reasons, but one thing is for sure, people enjoy watching the ‘downfall’ of others.
‘Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior’ (2005) was designed to showcase as much action as possible. There are fixed fights, double-crosses, and city-wide chases and that makes the film have a charm that is winning. Lines like “Dispose of them and meet me in the cave” will encourage a mixed reaction and this allows different viewers to see the film in different ways. This is done due to the way in which the line is put across. It is done in a relaxed manor and could suggest the character is sadistic, or the tone could suggest that it is not the first time that he has effectively sentenced someone to death. This ambiguity could be drawn from the ‘experience’ one has in the particular genre. The particular selling point of this film is that it is advertised to have “No Stunts, No Wires, No CGI”. This unique selling point will attract an audience to go and see the film, particularly audiences that are already fans of the martial art genre. The sort of martial arts in the film is such that has not been seen before which gives it a break from the conventional martial arts used in these sorts of films. This could contribute to why violent films become box office hits.
The director, Prachya Pinkaew, uses many different media institutions to help the audience to really get involved with the film. Using these allows not only regular martial arts genre viewers to enjoy the film, but people who are new to it. One of these techniques is to use different camera angles. In countless moments in the film, low-angle shots are used on Ting (lead character) to represent the power and presence that he has. There is one instance when he is about to fight against a character who could be characterised as Ting’s rival and these shots are used a lot in the build up to the fight. This is to make the audience feel confident that he will win. In this particular moment, the equilibrium is broken because he actually loses the fight. This shows a new side to Ting and shows the audience that he is, like everyone else, only human. The fact Prachya Pinkaew (director) shows that Ting can lose makes the audience sympathise with him more when he fights from then on. The lighting used in the film also shows the audience something that one might not notice if the low-key, high contrast lighting was not used.
The fact that this lighting is used, and usually only before and during a fight scene, emphasises certain minute details. At one point in the film, when Ting is about to fight his rival for the second time, there is a close up of his body and low-key lighting is used. This lets the audience see the definition of his body and appreciate the extent to which he is strong. Another way in which the audience may be attracted to seeing his muscles is that this is homoerotic. Assuming that the audience is going to mostly be male to this violent martial arts film, his muscles will allude to the ideology of ‘toughness’. Especially in this film also, the violence which is displayed throughout could be a brutal representation of sexual release. Furthermore, the viewing of his muscles and the definition of them will allow the audience to understand the control he must have needed to get that body. It would have taken training for hours and eating correctly. This control could be something that the men in the audience, primarily, could be envious of. These techniques allow the viewer to understand more about the situation and thus let them enjoy it more than they may have without such techniques.
One negative view that an audience has of the effect of violence in film is the hypodermic needle model. This is when it is believed that the violence the people see in the media encourages viewers to imitate what they see. Jeffrey McIntyre, a legislative and federal affairs officer for the American Psychological Association, said “The evidence is overwhelming. To argue against it is like arguing against gravity.” and there is a lot of ‘evidence’ that supports this view. The only problem is, is that the only thing someone can do is assume that it was violence in films that provokes certain crimes. The most famous example would be the murder of James Bulger. Two children, both 11, abducted and killed the two year old boy. It is believed that the boys had access to one of their father’s violent film collection and watched them regularly. One of the murders on one of the films is allegedly very similar to the one committed by the boys.
“There’s nothing wrong with adults having access to adult entertainment, but there’s a problem when kids do” (Bakari Kitwana) This would support the argument that violence does cause people to imitate what they see but as is argued against this, despite what films show, the bottom line is that people have the ability to think for themselves. If people do imitate what they see, it is down to the person, not the ‘indoctrination’ by media violence. The idea that one might imitate what they see around them is shunned in ‘Ong Bak’ when the ‘helper’ of Ting suggests that he fights for money but Ting, despite the fact that it was happening all around him, says no. This denial, to what could be seen as a form of peer pressure, from the ‘hero’ passes a message to the audience that even if everyone is doing something, or someone you might look up to, this does not mean you have to do it. This sort of message in the film and similar films in the genre, could account for some of the popularity of them due to the subliminal messages in them, thus leads it to be box office hits.
All films nowadays come with a certificate and details of what is in the film, written by the British Board of Film Classification. With this, one can determine what is in the film before hand so is not forced to watch it. It is up to the consumer to decide what they want to watch and if they decide to watch it, they should feel that they are able to see violence in film and not be affected in a negative way. People cannot see the type of violence that they see in films, in everyday life and, even if it sounds sadistic, this is a ‘release’ for people. This just means it is something different that one can basically only experience through the media. ‘Ong Bak’ has a different fighting style than your conventional martial arts film and therefore allows people to see something different. This difference to the norm and the release that violence in film may bring could contribute to the fact that a lot of violent films are box office hits.
The way in which the actual martial arts are presented to the audience is different also. The majority of films in this particular genre just show the fights as the come. ‘Ong Bak’ experiments with different techniques to emphasise what has just been done. One such example of this is the use of slow-motion. After Ting does a particularly hard bit of fighting skill, it will show it again in slow motion and in some instances, repeats it several times. This will allow the audience to really get a feel to what has happened and just how hard it is to do. When asked, the director said that the reason this was done was to ‘show off’ what Tony Jaa (Ting) could do. The convention of using slow motion opens up many opportunities for director to emphasise not only the achievement in the film, but Ting’s body as well. Yet again, this is homo-erotic and the audience will take pleasure in seeing the muscles work and the strain and stress of the action performed. There is one scene in the film that is actually only put in so that the audience could see the extent of Tony Jaa’s abilities.
This scene is a chase through market and Jaa is seen to be jumping over cars and through loops of barbed wire. This scene brings a lot of action early on so that the audience will stay interested throughout. During this part, slow-motions and repetitions of the action is used somewhat excessively to highlight to the audience what they have just seen. When a feat is seen again, it is usually from different angles as well which shows the audience certain aspects of it that they may not have picked up on the first time around. This bombardment of action would be likely to entice the audience to pay much more attention to the film than they might usually do. This increased attention would be needed in violent films as violence itself is very simple. If someone annoys someone, they hit them. This is something that can be done in film but life is not like that and there would be consequences. This simplicity could lead to them enjoying it more, promoting it through word of mouth and thus accounting for the popularity of the film.
There are other arguments against violence in film and one such argument is that it de-sensitises the audience to violence in general. This is called the culmination effect. According to this theory, violence in film excites children but the more they see, the more they need to excite them, this result in them becoming less shocked by real life violence. Donald Roberts, a professor at Stanford, disagrees with this and says that “…the industry insisted that viewing had little or no effect on youngsters”. Having said this, the CBS (popular television channel) President, Les Moonves, says that “Anyone who thinks the media [have] nothing to do with [youth violence] is an idiot”. This is a very bold statement from someone of his position and someone who has his influence is likely to be listened to and he is suggesting that violence in film does have a negative affect on society in general and thus makes it debauched.
Even with all the ‘evidence’ against violence in film, arguments still exists to protect media violence and one of these is the argument that it is a form of free expression. It is a common view that even if all media violence was censored, it will not solve the root causes of violence in society. Deciding what is “acceptable” content is a subjective exercise and should not be done by the government but by the parents of, or the people who watch the films. Many of the films banned in the past are considered classics today. This could be because the audience has been de-sensitised to the violence over the years, however, this does not change the view that one should be offered free speech. If media violence is one such free speech, then it should be allowed. The fact that these previously banned films become popular in the future could be because of the fact that they were banned. It is human nature for people to want what they cannot have and by banning the films; it entices people to see it. This could explain the popularity of some violent films.
Despite the arguments that violence in film de-sensitises the audience, some say that it actually sensitises people to the effects of violence. Some violence in film can be so horrific that it actually puts people off violence and makes them more aware of its consequences. Some people relate to this theory and could go and see violent films for this reason, thus making them box office hits. To further this idea, the majority of violence in film is done against the ‘bad people’ in the film by the heroes. ‘Ong Bak’ is filmed in this way and shows the lead character, Ting, only using violence when he feels he has to. This judgement, some might argue, cannot be made by someone, but since the audience becomes so well acquainted with Ting and his apparently selfless ways, we accept his decision to be correct. At first he refused to fight but does so after the man taunting him hits a woman.
He does not go as far as defending her because it was only when he hit her he helped, before that he was throwing her around and Ting did not bat an eyelid. Throughout the film, Ting is constantly faced by people who are trying to kill him but when we see him defending himself, he does so in a manner that merely neutralises the enemies. This is another element of fantasy because when faced with someone who wants to kill someone else, just neutralising them would very likely be difficult to do, to say the least. Through this, he is not justifying that knocking someone out is the right thing to do because he only fought when he had to, like at gun point and for the fate of his village. This represents that killing is an act done by evil people and is not a good thing. After he has succeeded in what he set out to do (save his village), Ting returns home and becomes a monk. We see him as a monk and accept that he has become a better person due to saving the village. This shows that even though he has committed acts of violence, he has become a better person.
This is another idea of fantasy that he can just return from all the violence and go back to being a monk. This shows composure and independence on Ting’s part but if prevoked, can defend himself. This fantasy could be another appealing factor of violent films. This brings back the idea of control. In order to become a monk would take years of discipline and training, like learning the art of Muay Thai would be, and this control could be an attractive attribute for the audience. On top of the representation of killing as a negative thing, the fact that the type of fighting used is unique and has rarely been seen before, it may make people more interested in the particular culture. Muay Thai, which is the fighting style used, is a big part of Thai monk lifestyle and this film is educating the audience about this. This is a type of free speech as it is allowing the directors and writers to tell a story to educate. The Director himself, Prachya Pinkaew, said that he made the film to “…not only show the unique and magnificent art of Muay Thai, but to teach people about the beliefs that the Thai community encompass.” Even though not all violent films do this, the fact that this film does, could account for its popularity, along with other martial arts films, or violent films in general.
Whether the violence in films is presented as a good or a bad act, it is very rare, if ever that the film shows the consequences of the acts of violence. This theory suggests that inhibitions about violent behaviour are broken down due to the fact that it goes unpunished in films on the most part. It is not just a punishment that is lacking in the films but when “…someone gets shot, that someone is paralyzed, that these people have families. There’s no one, unless they’re totally isolated, who isn’t affected by that”. (Robin Williams) This would not make the audience, especially children, aware that there are any consequences and make them more likely to be violent to others.
Media violence is qualitatively different to real violence and this is the view of people who see violence in film as a type of artistic expression. Gerard Jones, a comic-book creator, says that violent films allows people to pull themselves out of emotional traps “…integrating the scariest, most fervently denied fragments of their psyches into fuller sense of selfhood through fantasies of superhuman combat and destruction”. What this means is that people can relate to the hero in violent films and by relating to them, or as a child, pretending to have superhuman powers, could help them conquer many different aspects such as the feeling of powerlessness or social competition. “Children need violent entertainment in order to explore the inescapable feelings that they have been taught to deny” (Melanie Moore, Ph.D., psychologist) This makes violence in films very beneficial and helps both adults and children in events that they may have felt uncomfortable doing beforehand. This would defiantly work with ‘Ong Bak’ as Ting uses his violence only for good and as a necessity or defence to achieve his aim. The audience could relate to this character. This help that this, and likely, many other martial arts films and violent films brings, could be another factor to why this genre of film is particularly popular and are successful as box office hits.
As in every film in this genre, there are characters that are delineated to be bad. These characters are represented, through obvious techniques to be evil so that the audience can identify them easily and know who to dislike. The techniques that they use are that they simply contrast the character of Ting onto another. Everything that Ting is good for, (honour, loyalty, selflessness) the bad characters are the opposite. They are presented to be hurting innocent people, performing acts of meaningless vandalism and most of all, hating and hurting the character that the audience feel connected to the most, Ting. If the hero in any film is hurt by another character (the villain) then this character will be disliked by the audience. This technique is used most but more subtle techniques are used as well. When the villains are seen, they are seen to be obviously different from the hero. One villain is British, for example, and starts to taunt the art of Muay Thai.
This character also has long black hair that covers the majority of his face. This technique of hiding the characters face suggests he has something to hide which is usually an attribute to a villain. There is another character that is presented to be evil by his fighting style and the way in which people react to him. When the character is seen, others move away and cower as they are afraid of him. The reason for this soon becomes evident as he fights viciously with broken bottles and chairs. Unlike the previously mentioned villain, this character is not shown to be British, or anything else for that matter as all he does is scream and ‘growl’. This simple technique of not giving a character lines and simply making him scream will automatically give the audience the impression that he is evil. The fact that ‘Ong Bak’, and martial arts films in general, are made so that the evil characters are easily identifiable, will not force the audience to consider the ulterior motives of characters that appear quite often in modern films, and just enjoy the martial arts action that people would have gone to see.
Even considering that violence in films may help some people by relating to the hero in the story, there are still many negative effects it can bring, and not all of them are violence based. Racism can also be brought about by the violence that is seen in some films. Some of these films focus on crime committed by black people and lead people to believe, especially in America, that it is all true, that black people are the sole reason for crime and that they all carry guns. This leads to racism by the people who believe this and could even lead to more violence. Actor Tim Reid says that he’s “…not sure black folks fully understand the power that media has in our life.” He is talking about the power of indoctrination that it has. The fact that people will see violence being committed by a black person in a film and assume that that is what they are like.
There is neither substantial evidence for or against the accusation that violence in film has a negative effect on its audience but there are many reported incidents that appear to have been the result of witnessing violence in film. It has been said that “…consistent exposure to stories and scenes of violence and terror can mobilize aggressive tendencies, desensitise some, isolate others, intimidate many and trigger violent action in a few.” (George Gerbner, Author of Terror in the Mass Media) On top of this, it can help some through difficult times and give others confidence to act on something they felt intimidated by previously. One cannot place a label on violence in film being a good or a bad thing, but each individual person is entitled to their opinion on the matter.
David Link, for example, says “What is really the issue here is the war within human nature, the conflicts between what we know to be the law and what we feel”. This suggests that some people watching media violence might not appreciate what they feel within themselves, they could be worried about there own violent feelings. However, others might have enjoyed it for what it was, a simple film with inconsequential violence. Violence affects everyone differently and could be bad for some, but good for others. It would be safe to assume that the majority felt it as a positive thing and this could account for the popularity of violent films and explain why they are commonly box office hits.