ONG BAK Star Tony Jaa Joins The Monkhood.

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)
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ONG BAK Star Tony Jaa Joins The Monkhood.
Tony Jaa has exited the film industry. We don't know for how long and can only speculate on the reasons why but yesterday - Friday, May 28 - Jaa rode an elephant to a Buddhist temple in Surin, Thailand, where he shaved his head, took vows, and was officially ordained as a Buddhist monk.

Now, this is not necessarily forever. Joining the monkhood for set periods of time is a fairly common practice in Thailand and the expectations are not that he will remain in the monastery forever. In fact, Jaa's mother has already been quoted saying she hopes her son will find a nice woman and get married once his time as a monk is complete. This does, however, completely eliminate any chance of Jaa being involved in the film industry for the time being and this, I think, is entirely the point. In fact, I actually predicted this move back in August of 2008. Here's what I think is happening:

Following the success of Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong, Jaa insisted he be allowed to direct his next film himself - a desire largely responsible for destroying his relationship with director Prachya Pinkaew. Jaa got his way, though, and the reins of Ong Bak 2 were handed over to him. The initial footage from that film looked fantastic but it didn't take long for strange stories to emerge from the set - stories of Jaa sacrificing chickens before shooting for the day could commence - and things rapidly fell behind schedule and way over budget. And then, with pressure mounting and debts adding up, Jaa simply crumbled under the pressure and disappeared. He was gone for two solid months - during which time the wilder stories explaining his absence involved black magic in Cambodia - before his mentor Panna Rittikrai managed to track him down and bring the wayward star home. And then, believe it or not, things got even messier.

First Jaa appeared on TV, weeping and vowing to complete the film. Then he publicly issued a set of demands to production house Sahamongkol, threatening to disappear again if they were not met. Among the demands were the insistence that he be released from the long term, exclusive contract that he signed with the production house. Shortly after this Jaa was whisked away in a car full of Sahamongkol 'heavies' prompting speculation that he had been kidnapped. Not true, Jaa said when he reappeared, but whatever happened was unsettling enough to him that he took refuge in a police station, where he later met with Sahamongkol boss Sia Jiang. That meeting resulted in Jaa's demands being dropped, Jaa agreeing to split Ong Bak 2 into two movies to allow the company a chance to recover the cost over runs, the creation of a major new role for Sahamongkol's other star Dan Chupong, and directorial duties for the remaining shoot were handed over to Panna Rittikrai.

Well, the results of those shoots have both been released now. Ong Bak 2 - mostly Jaa's film - is flawed but was a success thanks to the incredible fight work. Ong Bak 3, however - assembled fast and cheap from a quickly revised script by an assembly of Sahamongkol execs and Rittikrai - became the first Jaa film to ever fail to top the Thai box office and, frankly, stinks of contractual obligation. The passion isn't there, the fire is completely gone from Jaa as a performer, he's put on weight - not to Segal levels but he's lost all of his definition - and all of the films best moments belong to the charismatic Chupong, not Jaa. With Ong Bak 3 it seems that Tony just doesn't care any more.

So here's my take on things. Jaa, clearly, meant what he said when he threatened to walk away and disappear again. My guess is Sia Jiang laid down the legal and financial consequences Jaa would face if he failed to fulfill his Ong Bak 2 contract, effectively forcing him back to work on that film, but now that that particular film is done and that particular debt is paid, Jaa has gone to where their contracts couldn't touch him. How long will he remain a monk? My guess is until one day after his original ten year exclusive contract with Sahamongkol expires.
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via Wise Kwai
MartyMay 29, 2010 2:25 PM

Suck it up, Jaa!!

Rhythm-XMay 29, 2010 3:01 PM

If this is what he feels he needs to do, more power to him.

JimmyMay 29, 2010 3:23 PM

He seems a little strange this man Jaa.
Shouldn't he just be thinking of his movie career and fans all over the world.
We want him to do good movies orelse he need to retire totally, not dissapear as a kid all the time.

Kurt HalfyardMay 29, 2010 3:41 PM

Well, Jaa never lived up to his promise in the end. Ong Bak (the first one) took the world by surprise, as much for the punishment willing to be endured by the stunt-team and the novelty of Thai Styles in huge set-pieces.

Jaa himself showed after several films that he has the screen charisma of a wet blanket, and nobody seems willing to throw in a screenplay worthy of the best of Lee, Li, Chan or Yen. In fact with each passing films the screenplays got worse (and considering how thin Ong Bak is storywise, that says something)! The last couple of Jaa films are little better than pornography insofar as they are only worth watching by skipping to 'the good stuff.'

I am not saying that Jaa has not the chops of the worlds best on-screen fighters, clearly the guy is bloody amazing, indeed world-class. But technical prowess still needs to be balanced by some sort of screen presence and selectivity of project. Are not Van Damme and Segal known by their early damn-near A list films or their junky late period DTV crap? It seems that Jaa was at the DTV level by about his third film.

Perhaps he will come back from the Monkhood with a fresh take on how to come across onscreen. I hope he overcomes all of his off-screen obstacles.

conbarbaMay 29, 2010 5:04 PM

Great athlete, crappy filmmaker.

Will miss his moves, won´t miss his films,

EvilDollaRMay 29, 2010 5:30 PM

OMG hope this no for long

DangerManAwesomeMay 29, 2010 7:14 PM

Good Riddance.

har, just kiddin. I hope he gets another shot, but he needs to man up and deal with it. Donnie Yen and Jet Li did their time as studio dogs, but now they get top choice projects.

I feel that if Tony Jaa ever got a good director and a good Stunt Team (come up with new shit, man), he could put out something mindblowing like Fist of Legend for Jet Li and Flashpoint for Donnie Yen.

TeslaMay 29, 2010 7:32 PM

He already has mindblowing films, just tell me what movies Donnie has and Li that have good stories, I mean did ya see some of earlier movies of Donnie Yen, jeez bullshit and the only movie that had something of a story was IpMan, did ya see 14 blades, what the hell was that, we watch those movies because of fights, also fist of legend had a cliche story like any other Jet Li movie, now am not telling or stating here that the scripts for Tony Jaa movies were acceptable, they were worse then anything ever but they were still full of awesomeness.

Also adding on the Kurts post here, please man, Tony Jaa has done something in one movie that Van Dam (only movie worth was JCVD, I never liked his fights in movies, always the same) and Segal (had good fights but they cant even come near Ong Bak or other Tony Jaa movies) dont have in all of theirs out together, of course he will feel pressure did ya see the stuff hes doing, how to come up with more, its nearly impossible.He burned because of the pressure and media it was very bad for him, and as we know almost destroyed him, still he will stay a man that left some awesome fights put on camera.Lets hope he'll get back.

DooKMay 29, 2010 8:48 PM

There are people who actually care about story and acting in action movies. Being an action junkie is OK so I won't blame you. But it has to be said that action movies doesn't have to be watched for just one particular reason and downing the overall technical prowess for that reason alone.

kungfueurotrashMay 29, 2010 8:55 PM

Dude that sucks... Who is going to fill in his shoes??? I haven't seen a good action movie on the big screen since Kick Ass...

ImprovisationMay 30, 2010 1:00 AM

Somewhere in Thailand, Dan Chupong is giddily saying, "hello, spotlight, come to papa."

ChevalierAguilaMay 30, 2010 4:18 AM

The martial arts movie field is still in pretty bad shape overall. Jaa and his movies brought back a lot of hard hitting action that was missing. But again, things are pretty much dry, it's not because there's new blood lacking, but good directors with actual vision to shoot good MA epics. Dan and Jeejaa can't do much if they are offered more recycled films with no real identity. Jet and Jackie are really more out than in, same for Sammo, Donnie would eventually had to slow down.

So again, where is all the talent the MA movie industry needs? Both infront and behind the camera.

Todd BrownMay 30, 2010 1:32 PM

In front of the camera I'd say the next wave is actually coming from outside Asia, for the most part. Marko Zaror, Scott Adkins and Lateef Crowder are all more than ready for some big time roles. In Asia, Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian from Merantau both have multiple projects int he works. And - as always - I'm a big believer in Dan Chupong. I'm really happy to see that Panna Rittikrai is directing again this year and Prachya Pinkaew has a bunch of projects on the go including at least two outside of Sahamongkol, which means the scripts will hopefully be better. I work with the guys who are producing one of them and that script is definitely shaping up nicely.

As far as behind the camera talent, Rittikrai and Pinkaew are the big guns still, I'd say the guys who made Gallants have big skills, I'm obviously a big believer in Gareth Evans and Isaac Florentine is HUGELY ready to have someone give him a chance to break out of the B-movie, straight to video world he's been tied to so far. There's talent out there, the big thing is one of these films is going to have to break through and make significant profit to convince producers, investors and distributors to buy in in a serious way.

Todd BrownMay 30, 2010 1:35 PM

Oh, man ... I totally left out the Vietnamese crowd, there. Big stuff happening there with lots more brewing. The need one more serious fighter to match up with Johnny Nguyen, I think, but it's definitely an area to watch ...

xinoMay 30, 2010 1:42 PM

what is wrong with all these trolls?
Tony Jaa doesn't make movies for you.
i hate it when people don't think about film makers feelings, all they care about is that person should be making films for them.

To me, I just think it's ironic, because of the ending in Ong Bak 1 is exactly the same thing he's doing. but I'm proud he became a monk

wisekwaiMay 30, 2010 4:27 PM

Y'all are over-reacting. But whatever. Enjoy.

Todd BrownMay 30, 2010 4:54 PM

Maybe. And, really, even if I'm right, it's not like he'll be out of commission for an incredibly long time. Ong Bak released in 2003, meaning Tony probably entered into his contract sometime in 2002, which means he's free of it sometime in 2012. So, less than two years before he's free of the Sahamongkol contract.

I'd kind of like to be wrong about his motivations - and this very well could be Jaa just taking six months or so to get away from the stress of the PR junket and get his head straight - but given the meltdown during Ong Bak 2, making release from his contract one of his demands to finish the film, his threat to disappear again, having had OB2 (his baby through and through) taken from him, etc, I really think this is - at least in part - Tony going where Sahamongkol can't touch him. He has clearly soured on the company - I don't really think there's much of a path to go back after you feel the need to hide out in a police station for fear of your own safety, whether that was a called for and appropriate response or not - and I'll be very, very surprised if he ever works for them again. I'll also be surprised if he never works again and this turns out to be a permanent retreat from the industry, I just think when he comes back it'll be with someone else. 30, 2010 9:21 PM

the future looks bright, the future looks nic tse and endless production line pop stars. who in turn will have a huge glam get together of preening and modelling , break into hollywood, team up with rain in a bodybuilding gay film, star in a movie directed by ang lee called 'ballet candy floss lite', open next china olympics and by then everyone on this comment board will be dead, buried and a memory. exclusively sponsored by iphone.

ChevalierAguilaMay 31, 2010 1:07 AM

I see what you did there, mr last user.

It sucks that Hong Kong seems to be doomed to have no real martial artists in the big screen in some years. Really sad.

As for the people you mention Todd, Crowder is going to be in...the Tekken movie? Hardly the hottest ticket for stardom. Pinkaew is not the best director i can think for a solid martial arts epic. Dan, Iko and the others you mention are ok, but they are still missing a better movie. Again, talent behind camera for this kind of material seems to be missing, and big time.

ImprovisationMay 31, 2010 1:44 AM

Yeah, Cung Le for sure. He and Marko Zaror are so big and athletic. I'd like to see them duke it out sometime.
I also think people like Dan Chupong and Andy On are actors great at balancing charisma/charm with martial arts skills.

ImprovisationMay 31, 2010 2:10 AM

I wonder how big Thailand's film industry is? Would he have a lot of other options in terms of studios/production companies he could sign on with? It's still too early in his career for him to break into the film industry of another country...Asia, maybe (since he already doesn't do a lot of speaking, anyway), but I feel like Hollywood wouldn't truly accept him until he improves his English dramatically.

pddaumMay 31, 2010 2:31 AM

Aw shucks... and I just read that Donnie Yen was possibly teaming up with Jaa for a film. I guess that won't happen too soon. It would have been nice to see him outside of that setting. I feel like he would benefit from that, so I really hope he makes more films and not with sahamongkol.

These Thai martial arts films are just getting weaker. Raging Phoenix had maybe one cool fight between the two women, but everything else about that movie was horrible. So I think the actors just aren't given much to work with. Merantau was decent, but definitely lacked the complexity some proclaimed it had. Beneath the surface it was really just as simple as Ong Bak, and not as good.

SantelMay 31, 2010 3:27 AM

I am a bit sad to hear this but it's good sometime to return to the source where we began to recover and find the right way.

I still like his fighting style but at the same time the story lines need to be meaningful and understandable.

I think Ong Bak one is the best and would never be extend to any Ong Bak 2 or 3.

People always do the same mistake.

wisekwaiMay 31, 2010 12:00 PM

Honestly, it never crossed my mind that this was anything more than the traditional routine entering of the monkhood for a short time to chill out. The ordination ceremony coincided with a major Buddhist holiday.

It's difficult to see him leaving the Sahamongkol fold, where his support system has been, and it's where the people are who can help him land his deals to direct and star in more movies, and work in Hong Kong or even Hollywood.

Otherwise he'd have to go totally independent and work outside the Thai industry and pursue his own deals for financing and distribution, much like Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Only he ain't Apichatpong, and his efforts to create his own circle of support crumbled during the making of Ong-Bak 2.

Todd BrownMay 31, 2010 12:17 PM

I just can't picture that he feels supported by Sahamongkol any more after the OB2 debacle. He felt he needed police protection from them!

I know he's already fielding international offers, so all Tony really needs to do to move on is get an agent to sort through them and figure out which ones are the good ones. And if he puts out word that he's in the market for an agent or a manager, it'll take him about five minutes to find one. If he wants to keep working in Thailand outside of Sahamongkol I'm sure he could get a much better deal from GTH or Five Star once the Sahamongkol deal is done and both of those companies do a much better job with their scripts.

But anyway, it's all speculation at this point ... all we can do is wait and see how long he stays in there ...

wisekwaiJune 1, 2010 3:34 AM

I think he was being paranoid when he went to the police.

But you're right. It is all just speculation. He might stay in the monkhood. Or retire to the farm in Surin to raise elephants. He could teach physical education classes at the local college. Or maybe join a traditional dance troupe and travel around the northeast performing at temple fairs.

Though the thought of him going to work for GTH is hilarious. Tony Jaa starring in teen romantic dramas and horror thrillers. Because that's all they do. They've never done big action movies. It would be a bold new step for GTH.

Five Star would be fun, and they have the talent to write him great stories, but could they afford him?

And then there's Phranakorn, but Tony doesn't work fast enough or cheap enough to feed their machine. Plus, he would have to co-star with whatever hot young actor Poj Arnon is championing at the moment. And do we really want to see cross-dressing comedians as Tony's comic relief?

If he goes inter, I hope he gets a good, honest and hard-working agent who doesn't rip him off. And I hope Tony listens to the guy, whoever it might be.

A hallucinatory vision of mine has him joining Apichatpong's stock company to make a weird new hybrid of action and art films and video installations that would be more brilliant than anything anyone's ever done.

jasongJune 1, 2010 12:00 PM

It seems as if your analysis has been picked up in the Japanese media on a site called Cinema Today:

The last three graphs coincide with the last three of your story above, without the Chupong comparison but right down to the speculation that Jaa will stay at the temple until his contract with Sahamongkol times out.

I'm sure Jaa's career will continue in the future.

Todd BrownJune 1, 2010 12:11 PM

Crazy. Thanks for pointing it out!

Ard VijnJune 1, 2010 1:24 PM

Hahaha I thought the same thing the moment you mentioned Apichatpong in your earlier post. Seeing the two of them work together might be good fun.

Or Wisit Sasanatieng!
Just imagine: a "Tears of the Black Tiger" type film with absolutely kick-ass fights...

Ard VijnJune 1, 2010 1:27 PM

Jaa looks disconcertingly like Michael Jackson in that article, by the way.

Todd BrownJune 1, 2010 1:36 PM

That'd be Armless, if he ever gets to make it.

GaryJune 2, 2010 3:58 AM

I disagree. Merantau was better executed and had a much better plot than Ong Bak. The only similarities is that they both leave their village to enter the city; albeit with very different reasons.

Action-wise Merantau flowed better, each fight builds up well to the next set-piece. Editing was paced well with long takes and wide-shots. Though you may argue the intensity of the fights isn't as hard-hitting or brutal like Ong Bak, it did not make me feel like I was watching someone's demo reel i.e the multiangles

That said however I am a big fan of Ong Bak 2, though I can understand why many people did not like it.

(P.S - The version of Merantau I watched was the international version)

DangerManAwesomeJune 9, 2010 7:05 PM

"He already has mindblowing films, just tell me what movies Donnie has and Li that have good stories, I mean did ya see some of earlier movies of Donnie Yen"

actually, yes. Yes i have seen early Donnie Yen and Jet Li movies. That was exactly the point i was making. They did their time as studio dogs, meaning they did what they were contracted to do. And most of their early stuff was forgettable / mediocre. It certainly wasn't for lack of talent, cuz these 2 showed great potential back then too... it was truthfully the studio schlock that they were forced to be in.

My point is, they sucked it up, and after breaking through big time, they were able to do movies that were more engaging. I've said it before and i'll say it again, a good fight scene does not equal a good movie. And also, a good story does not equal a good MA movie. Conversely, a BAD story does not equal a BAD movie. I don't care if the story is original. It just has to be fun and engaging. Give me characters who i love to watch, villains i love to hate.

as of right now, Tony Jaa has only made 2 mindblowing films before it became repetitious: Ong Bak 1 and Tom Yum Goong. Ong Bak 2 was just a fight real and was what some would call "Empty Exhibitionism".

DangerManAwesomeJune 9, 2010 7:11 PM

We need more Scott Adkins and Marko Zaror, but i feel Lateef Crowder needs one or two more "meatier" roles. As of now, the characters he's played have all been "cannon fodder" or "mini-bosses", so i haven't seen any leading man potential. I like him well enough though and i always look forward to watching him fight.

And don't get me started on Michael Jai White, hehe. I love the man and its sad that he never seems to get a break. Donnie Yen's send off should be a movie featuring an international cast: Adkins, Zaror, Jai White, Nguyen, and Chupong. It would bring the lot of this underappreciated awesomeness to light.

bodybuildingJune 24, 2011 10:28 AM

Love Ong BaK. A movie vith great efects!!!!

JordanJune 26, 2011 1:43 PM

Having just happened upon this through below necropost and as much of a Back to the Future Part II-like hell of a possible near future this would be – I would love you forever if you could hop into a DeLorean and bring back for me just the sexuality-altering psychological weapon of ultimate campness that is that one particular Nicholas Tse/Rain, quite possibly Wong Jing-directed gay bodybuilding pic, before feeling free to do whatever one can to prevent it happening. You know, for laughs (failing that Star Runner/The Kumite from '03 might do too).