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Tony Jaa’s on-going Ong Bak 2 saga

Tony Jaa upset

As reported on Bangkok of the mind,, thaifilmjournal, twitchfilm and others, Tony Jaa’s much anticipated movie Ong Bak 2, the sequel to his 2003 hit Ong Bak, may not even see the light of day because of rumors, inneundo and Tony’s distressing public TV meltdown.

Back in August Tony Jaa appeared on a ‘Channel 9’ news, after disappearing from the set of Ong Bak 2 for a period of 2-3 months, citing contract and financing issues.

Whilst away from the set rumors circulated that Jaa had he had retreated to the forests and remote caves of Northern Thailand and started to become obsessed with “black magic”, and had been “exhibiting strange behaviour on the set”, including dressing as a “shaman” (ref: Some even accused Jaa, who had taken on full directorial responsibility of Ong Bak 2, of using his “meditation excuse” to escape the spriling movie budget, estimated at over 117 million baht.

“It’s untrue,” Jaa said on the Channel 9 news, dismissing claims of “black magic”, adding, “I know what I am doing. I am a director. I have to research what’s in the film…”

Jaa also denied rumors that he had fallen in with Korean mafia types, though has declined comment on a mystery Korean financer who has apparently joined his hangers-on (Ref: Bangkok of the mind), indeed Tony’s parents have even filed a police report alleging that their son has been abducted and is being controlled by some “heavies” who are connected to a Korean financier. Tony made another brief appearance for TV cameras to prove he’s okay, but he refused to answer questions about the Korean connection.

Jaa’s retreat to the forest went over the line with many of the executive producers as well as US/European distributors. Distributors refused to buy the movie until Jaa returned; but Jaa wouldn’t return unless his demands were met, resulting in a political stalemate.

The company claimed that the budget for Ong Bak 2 is now went over 300 millions bahts ($8 Millions) which is exceed original budget which was set at 100 millions bahts. There is also a rumor that some part of money was misuse for personal purpose and Tony Jaa is not happy with his long term contract, which he claims is a “slavery contract”, which prevents him from appearing in other movies, including any potential Hollywood movies.

Jaa also dismissed claims that he misappropriated funds, citing that the he’s only used 2/3 of the films budget and is out of money and has resorted to using his own funds to prop up the movie, and cannot afford to pay utility bills.

Jaa also defended his decision to direct the movie himself, saying that his “artistic quality” cannot be compromised.

Despite the rumors surrounding his very public meltdown, Jaa claims that the film is about 80 per cent in the can and has issued seven demands which will see him return to finish the movie, which included;

  1. An extra 55 million baht to finish the last 20 percent of the film. That does not include the cost of the film, actor hire, studio hire, theatre run.
  2. Jaa to choose his own production crew, which would include Jaa’s personal mentor, Panna Rittikrai
  3. Jaa’s personal manager … to oversee the accounts for the total production
  4. The film to be finished by November 30
  5. Full disclosure of actor’s fee, and his director’s fee
  6. Jaa would like a 50-million-baht share of the profits from distribution and ticket sales. Previously, Jaa and Sahamongkol Film agreed that he would get a 25 percent share of net revenue from those sources
  7. An end to his ‘exclusive’ contract that Jaa signed for acting services with Sahamongkol.

Above list from ThaiFilmJournal.

A few bloggers and IMDB posters see Jaa’s current contract as being the real problem, and not the budget. I’m inclined to agree. It is rumored that Jaa is under a 10-year contract with Sahamongkol, and they can’t bear to see Tony working for another studio.

The 10-year long contract is a reminder of Jackie Chan’s early career contract with executive producer “Lo Wei” who wanted to mold Chan as the “next” Bruce Lee. Chan eventually got out of his contract and set up his own company as well as working with Golden Harvest.

As ThaiFilmJournal puts it,

“Mark Pollard of puts things into perspective, comparing Tony with another stressed star who walked away — comedian David Chappelle. Pollard says Tony has taken on too much responsibility too soon, given his meteoric rise to fame, as opposed to stars like Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan, who toiled away for decades before they reached international superstardom. Pollard goes as far as suggesting that Tony give Hollywood a try, where though his action would be dumbed down, he might learn something.”

I also agree with thaifilmjournal’s point that Jaa may have taken on too much responsibility in the form of full-time directing, which may have contributed to his public meltdown and that working with Prachya and his old mentor and action choreographer Panna, both veteran filmmakers, can help resolve the situation.

Despite all this, Jaa’s bosses at Sahamongkol Films (SF), who arer financing Ong-Bak 2 have no intention of taking legal action against Jaa for fleeing the set of the movie, and have forgiven him; bringing him back into the fold to finish the movie.

Ong Bak 2 may also be saved with an agreement between Tony Jaa and SF boss Somsak “Sia Jiang” Techaratanaprasert which will see Tony return to the production of Ong-Bak 2 as lead actor and director, however it is unclear if all Tony’s demands have been met; or whether this will be his last movie for the Sahamongkol Films (SF) production team.

My own view is that both Tony and SF needs to come an agreement that suits both parties, and hopefully put Jaa in a position to have a competitive contract that allows him to do the projects he wants, whether they are with SF, a rival production company, Hollywood; or ultimatley, with his own production company.

Either way, it’s expected that the production will wrap up in time for Ong-Bak 2 to be released on December 4 or 5 (2008) as planned.

To follow this story, I recommend reading the blogposts of thaifilmjournal, and Bangkok of the mind.

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