Thai actor Tony Jaa talks about making movies in Hollywood and Kong

Thai actor Tony Jaa talks about making movies in Hollywood and Kong

It's been two years since Thai action star "Tony" Jaa Phanom Yeerum agreed to chat with the local press and he was surprisingly relaxed when he sat down with reporters last week to talk about his upcoming film "Skin Trade", which is set for release in Thailand on April 23.

He did however make it clear that the conflicts with his family, his mentor and Sahamongkol Film were strictly off limits, merely saying that the past is the past and that he is grateful for the "boonkhun" (favours) from his parents, Sahamongkol Film chief executive Somsak "Sia Jiang" Techarattanaprasert and his late mentor, director Panna Rittikrai.

He might well have had more to say had the interview taken place a few hours later. That's when it was announced that Sahamongkol Film aimed to torpedo Jaa's Hollywood debut in "Fast and Furious 7" by getting an injunction against the fim's release in Thailand.

However, yesterday, distributor UIP was successful in getting the injunction lifted, so Thais will get to see the movie along with the rest of world.

Jaa, who headed back to Los Angeles for tonight's US premiere of "Furious 7", is staying on in LA to deal with other projects.

Last Thursday, the smiling star was only to happy to talk about his experiences filming for the latest release in the "Fast and Furious" franchise as well as the ambitious flick "Skin Trade", which is co-produced by his current manager Michael Selby.

Jaa said yes almost immediately to the offer of playing Kiet in "Furious 7" and wasn't in the least concerned that he wouldn't be at the top of the billing.

"It was a childhood dream to go to Hollywood and it's never been far from my mind. But I couldn't share that dream with anyone, especially when I reached the top in the local film industry," he says.

That's because he - or at least the studio - had been approached by Hollywood on a number of occasions, including a part in the Jackie Chan vehicle "Rush Hour 3", but Sahamongkol boss Sia Jiang turned them down because his star was only being offered minor roles.

But the chance to be part of the "Fast and Furious" family was one Jaa simply couldn't refuse, though he says it was still a tough decision to make.

At 39, he doesn't feel too old to be an action star. "I felt like a student studying overseas. All the new experiences were like my classroom," he enthuses.

"I was fortunate to have the perfect role to showcase my talent," Jaa says.

When Jaa arrived in Tinseltown, "Furious 7" director James Wan was ready to shoot. He handed Jaa a show reel of his part and told him to review it. The actor did so and added his own ideas to the action scenes.

The Thai sent a total of eight weeks shooting in Atlanta, and says he had no problems getting into his scripted fights with the other members of the cast, among them the late Paul Walker, who plays Brian O'Conner in the franchise.

"Skin Trade", meanwhile, was shot in Thailand with a Thai crew, including "Beautiful Boxer" director Ekachai Uekrongham and art director Ek Iamchuen who worked with Jaa on "Ong-Bak 2" and "Ong-Bak 3". In the film, Jaa plays Interpol officer Tony Vitayakul who joins with tough New York cop Nick Cassidy (Dolph Lundgren) to bring down a Russian mob involved in human trafficking.

Jaa and Lundgren met on the set of the unfinished project "Ai Noom Gangnam" ("A Man Will Rise") produced by Sahamongkol Film and which is at the heart of the a contract dispute with the studio.

Announced in April 2013, with Jaa also named as co-director and already in the shooting phase, "A Man Will Rise" came to an abrupt end in July that year with just 20 per cent in the can. Sahamongkol has demanded that Jaa pay back the Bt26 million he is said to have been paid for the project.

But while Jaa undoubtedly has woes, his acting career has been going from leaps to bounds. He shot Cheang Pou-soi's "SPL 2" in parallel with "Skin Trade" and it was released in Hong Kong last week. Thai viewers should get to see it June.

The experience gained from the three films has imbued the action star with confidence.

"In the past I used to get so anxious. It was like being in a locked room and too scared to unlock the door," he says. "But once I got the key, it all became a fun adventure. I feel like Indiana Jones! I had never travelled and worked alone before. Certainly I was nervous when I went on the set for the first time but everyone was so welcoming. They invited me to hang out and exchange ideas and that really helped me," he says.

With three films in two years, Jaa is no longer in a hurry to reach for the stars. Right now, he's focusing on thinking positively and embracing the good things in life, among them the brand new Lamborghini he's just bought.

He refuses to reveal his fee for "Furious 7", saying merely that he is in the international system and that everything goes through his manager and an agent in Hollywood.

"I am focused on work and don't want the money stuff to distract me," he says.

The actor also adds that he will no longer limit himself to just action roles and is open to playing in other genres, from drama to romance and thrillers.

"But I'm not in a hurry, I want to do it step by step. If I can achieve my goal then perhaps I can also pave the way for other Thais with the same dream," says Jaa.

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