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, without its star 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-Bak. Tom-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.
In 3D. Rated 15+
The Kings of Summer – Three boys run away from home and build a house in the woods in this coming-of-age comedy-drama that premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The boys are the awkward Joe (Nick Robinson), who is being raised by his sarcastic widower dad (deadpan Nick Offerman from Parks and Recreation) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso), who is tired of his parents' overbearing niceness. They make a pact to run off together and fend for themselves by living off the land. They are joined on their journey by a strange kid named Biaggio (Moisés Arias). Weeks pass, and the disappearance of the boys becomes a story in the local media. Meanwhile, a girl (Erin Moriarty) enters the picture and tests the boys' friendship. Jordan Vogt-Roberts directs, making his feature debut. Alison Brie, Offerman's wife Megan Mullally, Marc Evan Jackson and Mary Lynn Rajskub also star. Critical reception is generally positive. It's at Apex Siam Square and some Major Cineplex branches, including Paragon and Esplanade Ratchada. Rated 13+.
Oshin – A remake of a 1983-84 NHK television series, this fact-based Japanese drama depicts the hardships endured by a seven-year-old girl from a poor family who is sent to work as a babysitter in the household of a timber trader during the Meiji period in 1907. It's at House on RCA, SF World Cinema at CentralWorld, SF Cinema City Terminal 21 and SFX Central Rama 9. With English and Thai subtitles. Rated G
Planes – Up in the sky in the world of Disney/Pixar's Cars, there are more talking machines. Released by DisneyToon Studios, the outfit responsible for countless direct-to-video sequels of Disney features, Planes deals with the world of airplane racing. Dane Cook voices the lead character, an agricultural aircraft named Dusty Crophopper. Despite his fear of heights, he hopes to become a top racer. Other voices include Stacy Keach, Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher, Cedric the Entertainer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Priyanka Chopra. Critical reception is mostly negative – this is strictly to sell toys to the kids. In 3D in some cinemas. Rated G
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods – Son Goku and the Z fighters must contend with Birus, the God of Destruction, who is seeking a worthy opponent. The first movie from the Dragon Ball manga series to get a theatrical release in 17 years, this is also the first to be released in IMAX cinemas. Unfortunately for the Thai fans, it's only at SF cinemas, so no IMAX. With Japanese soundtrack and English and Thai subtitles at CentralWorld, Emporium and Terminal 21. Rated G
The Friese-Greene Club – Tomorrow night's man in crisis is Bill Murray in Jim Jarmusch's dry-witted road comedy Broken Flowers. He's a guy named Don Johnston who finds out he might have a son and sets out to track down his old girlfriends. On Friday, go behind the scenes of one of the most epically disaster-plagued film productions, Apocalypse Now, in Hearts of Darkness. And on Saturday, it's 1987's classic teen comedy Some Kind of Wonderful, scripted by the late great John Hughes. And on Sunday, the month's final Bette Davis offering, watch her and arch-rival Joan Crawford tear each other apart in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Next Wednesday's "precocious" girl is Brooke Shields in Louis Malle's controversial drama about a girl in a New Orleans bordello, Pretty Baby. Shows start at 8pm. The FGC is down an alley next to the Queen's Park Imperial Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22. With just nine seats, the screening room fills up fast, so please check the website to make bookings.
Mirch Masala (Spice) – A determined housewife (Smita Patil) rebuffs the advances of a lusty subedar (tax collector, played by Naseeruddin Shah) in the solidly dramatic 1987 social-problem film by Indian director Ketan Mehta. Winner of three of India's National Film Awards, including best feature and supporting actor for Suresh Oberoi as the mukhi (village chief), Mirch Masala screens at 8pm on Wednesday, October 30 at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. Admission for non-members is 150 baht plus 100 baht for anyone wanting the Indian wine, rum, whisky, and snacks laid on by the Embassy of India and the Indian Cultural Centre.