Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning opened for a limited theatrical release in the U.S. last weekend, giving fans there the chance to see Ong-Bak 2 as it should be seen -- on a big screen in a cinema.
It earned $26,500, which Kung Fu Cinema compares to Magnolia's U.S. release of the first Ong-Bak in 2005. The English dubbed version was released in 387 theaters and it earned $1.3 million on its opening weekend. For Ong-Bak 2, Magnolia's Magnet label experimented with a video-on-demand release a month before the theatrical opening. I don't know how that worked out.
But more importantly the movie and its star-director Tony Jaa have gained lots of exposure from the U.S. media.
The Associated Press got Jaa to answer a few questions. The quote:
"I'm happy to know that there are people in the States who like my movies. Hollywood is the capital for the movie industry. It would be interesting to go there. It's a matter of time."
Jaa has long flirted with the idea of working in Hollywood, and was recently rumored for a Hong Kong project with Donnie Yen.
New York Magazine also did an e-mail interview. What about when Jaa pulled a Colonel Kurtz and went missing during production of Ong-Bak 2? The answer:
This is my first time as a director, and it is common to face some difficulties and pressure. I think it is important to take time to produce a good film [rather] than just to hurry — [then] the quality of the movie is not as good. I gave myself time to think over things, to see everything as clearly as possible, or just see things as they are.
If anything, Jaa's meltdown have heightened his mystique and built up buzz for the film.
Capturing that best, while also giving U.S. readers a primer in all things Jaa is none other than former Kaiju Shakedown artist Grady Hendrix, writing for Slate. An entertaining snip:
Jaa shot the majority of this movie himself, and it's staggering to see just how much crazy is inside his head. Filmed in every color of the fungus, from lichen-gray and mushroom-brown to rich, moldy black and rotten-mildew green, the screen is soaked in liquids. The few times it actually stops raining, someone immediately spits, bleeds, or drools on the camera. The visuals are primitively powerful, as bold and savage as pounding tom-toms, all warped short lenses and bizarre Dutch angles. Half the dialogue is maniacal laughter; the other half is savage screams.
The reviews in the U.S. tend to have a more favorable flavor than the ones in the U.K., where what was called Ong-Bak: The Beginning was released on October 16. There, it was genre-friendly Empire that give it a positive review, as did Epoch Times. The rest I've scanned were generally put off by the narrative and typically reserved when it came to getting excited about the action.
Like their British counterparts, the U.S. reviewers are pretty down on the story and the fact that ancient-times Ong-Bak 2 is a prequel in name only to the modern-day streetfighting of the original.
But out of all the U.S. reviewers, one that might actually help get Jaa into Hollywood is the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan (also on National Public Radio). It helps that he "gets" Thai film. Turan sums up:
Ong-Bak 2 is slicker production-wise than the original, and it has so much noisy action that Thai foley artists must have made a fortune inserting thuds and grunts. According to the press notes, it features kung fu, judo, several kinds of Thai boxing and something completely new, a combination of Thai dancing and martial arts called Natayuth, which Jaa invented just for this movie. No wonder he had to take time off and meditate.
After the actor proves his ability to take a licking and keep on ticking, Ong-Bak 2 sets the stage for a yet unnamed sequel -- Ong Bak in Boyle Heights or even Ong Bak in Brentwood perhaps -- but even if that doesn't happen it's nice to know that Jaa has added skills to fall back on. "Works and plays well with elephants" does not appear on every résumé, not even in Hollywood.
No news being good news, Jaa is at work on Ong-Bak 3, which is now tentatively slated for release in early 2010. After that, Hollywood?