Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tony Jaa is fast and furious as Tom-Yum-Goong 2 premieres

Actors have excused themselves from doing the promotional campaigns for their films before, but perhaps none have done so in quite the dramatic fashion as Tom-Yum-Goong 2 (ต้มยำกุ้ง 2) star Tony Jaa has.

The latest martial-arts epic from Jaa hits Thai big screens in the midst of a feud between the star and his studio, Sahamongkol Film International. In the runup to the release of Tom-Yum-Goong 2, a contract dispute arose when it was announced that Tony Jaa had been cast in a sequel to the Hollywood car-racing franchise, Fast and Furious 7.

Sahamongkol honcho Somsak "Sia Jiang" Techaratanaprasert asserted that Jaa was under another 10-year contract with his studio and had to get his permission to take part in an outside project. He's threatened a lawsuit.

But Jaa, newly emboldened by the backing of a new Westerner manager, retorted that the contract was null and void and he was no longer a slave to Sahamongkol.

So Tom-Yum-Goong 2 opens today, the Chulalongkorn Day public holiday, which is ironic because Chulalongkorn, King Rama V, is celebrated for his role in ending slavery in Siam. And the film's star isn't present to appear at premieres or make the rounds of press interviews. Instead, Jaa is in the U.S., filming Fast and Furious 7 and posting Facebook pictures of himself teaching Muay Thai to Fast and Furious leading man Vin Diesel.

Years in the making, Tom-Yum-Goong 2 is a sequel to a 2005 movie that was Tony Jaa's second major studio effort following his breakout hit Ong-BakTom-Yum-Goong, a.k.a. The Protector, took Jaa to Australia, on the hunt for his baby elephant that had been abducted by gangsters. It was an aim to broaden Jaa's international appeal, setting up fights for him around Sydney landmarks with Vietnamese-American stunt performer Johnny Tri Nguyen and towering Australian wrestler Nathan Jones.

Tom-Yum-Goong 2 stays in Thailand, but still keeps the international flavor, bringing in hip-hop musician and kung-fu aficionado RZA as the main villain as well as American martial artist Marrese Crump. Jaa also meets on screen for the first time with Sahamongkol's other major martial-arts star, Chocolate actress Jeeja Yanin. She's paired up as a twin sister to another female fighter, Teerada Kittisiriprasert. Another featured fighter is Only God Forgives siren Rhatha "Yaya Ying" Pho-ngam, in her first action role. And Jaa's usual comic-relief sidekick Petchthai "Mum Jokmok" Wongkumlao reprises his role from the first Tom-Yum-Goong as a Thai-Australian police officer, now seconded to a major Interpol investigation.

The story again involves a stolen elephant, with Jaa's character on the run after being blamed for the killing of an elephant-camp owner.

Also, it's in 3D, the first by Sahamongkol and director Prachya Pinkaew.

The contract dispute between Jaa and the studio is just the latest bump in the film's rocky road to completion. The production has been beset by delays, including flooding in 2011 and Jaa's marriage to his pregnant bride last year. Also, Jeeja hooked up with an assistant director during filming, and is now married and a mother herself.

Other behind-the-scenes drama comes from Jaa's tumultuous family life becoming fodder for the Thai press, which has reported news of Jaa's fiesty wife getting into fights with her in-laws.

Fortunately, the action-packed trailer, embedded below, helps you put all this nonsense out of your mind.

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