Directed by Prachya Pinkaew, starring Tony Jaa, Petchtai Wongkamlao, Pumwaree Yodkamol and Sukhaaw Phongwilal.

Four years in the making, plenty of blood, sweat and tears, a whirlwind of hype and plaudits - all justified - moving from the East...and now western audiences have the chance to see how jaded and cynical Hollywood action movies have become.

Orphan Ting (Jaa) has grown to manhood in the idyllic Thai village of Nong Pra-du, where he was raised by an elderly monk and schooled by him in the ancient fighting system of Muay Thai. Ting's mentor has taught him never to use force, but the young man must cast aside this lesson when the village's Ong-Bak Buddha statue is stolen. With the villagers terrified that Nong Pra-du is now doomed, Ting tells them he will go to Bangkok and get the statue back.

Once there, the wide-eyed Ting finds George (Wongkamlao), a Nong Pra-du local who came to the city to become a monk - until gambling and hustling got the better of him. Initially seeing Ting's fighting prowess as a money spinner, George and his sidekick Muay Lek (Yodkamol) later agree to help, bringing the trio into conflict with a legion of Bangkok thugs and the crime boss Khom Tuan (Phongwilal).

From the moment you see Jaa throwing shapes at the start, it's obvious that he has a bit more to him than your average celluloid beefcake, but no amount of advance warning can prepare you for quite how special he is. Put simply, he's up there with Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.

With no wirework, CGI or stunt doubles, Jaa, his trainer and Thai screen legend Phanna Rithikrai and director Pinkaew have created a new benchmark for martial arts movies. Here, every setpiece surpasses the previous one, with Jaa's athleticism and fighting skills resulting in some of the best onscreen mayhem in a long time.

Be prepared to shake your head in awe the whole way through - if you're not missing heartbeats during the chase through every stall in Bangkok, then the one involving every three-wheeled taxi in the city should do the trick. And that's saying nothing about the bone-crunching fight scenes - how Jaa has a skeleton left is a mystery.

The script needed more work and more humour could've been wrung from the situations the mismatched trio find themselves in, but they're small complaints when you've got a film that will leave you giddy - and wanting to jump off the bed at home.

Suddenly 'The Matrix' looks about as relevant as VHS tapes.

Harry Guerin