Ekachai Uekrongtham has Dolph Lundgren's daughter to thank for his biggest film project to date.
After a six-year hiatus, the Thai director, whose last movie was the 2009 rom-com The Wedding Game, starring local celeb couple Fann Wong and Christopher Lee, has returned to the big screen in a big way.
His new movie, Skin Trade, which opens here on April 16, is an action thriller starring Hollywood actors Lundgren and Ron Perlman, as well as Thai action star Tony Jaa.
Ekachai, who is in his early 50s, told The New Paper over the phone from Bangkok, where he is based: "The whole thing started when Dolph Lundgren contacted me through my friends in Los Angeles.
"He said he had let his daughter watch (my 2004 Thai feature film debut) Beautiful Boxer and she told him, 'Dad, you have to work with this director!' So they flew me to LA to work on the script."
Ekachai lived in Singapore for more than 20 years before returning to Bangkok about six years ago.
Best known for directing local musical Chang & Eng in 1997 and being the founding artistic director of local theatre company Action Theatre, Ekachai went on to helm sex docudrama Pleasure Factory (2007) and horror flick The Coffin (2008).
"(Skin Trade) is the biggest (project) and very different (from what I've done before) as it's a collaboration between Thai and Hollywood actors and producers," he said.
"I choose my projects such that I get to do something different every time. It has been a fruitful experience for me, getting to work with all these talented people from the US.
"We're so used to seeing movies from the West being exported to Asia.
"I hope this film showcases how Thailand can also make a film that has the quality for the international market."
Skin Trade follows detective Nick Cassidy (Lundgren) on a revenge mission to Thailand after his family gets murdered.
He teams up with a Thai detective (Jaa) to bring the culprit (Perlman) to justice and take down his human trafficking ring.
Filmed in Thailand and Canada, Skin Trade was produced and funded by Thai company SC Films International.
On his leading man, 80s Swedish action star Lundgren, Ekachai said: "Dolph is such a funny guy. He's known for action movies and his image is that of an action hero who doesn't talk much.
"But he's actually very eloquent in real life. He's also very thoughtful in (the way he approaches) the script. He has a lot more layers than his roles often allow him to show."
He also heaped praise on fellow countryman Jaa, who is famous for the Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong movies.
"I enjoyed working with him a lot. He's very focused and cooperative. He's such a great martial artist... almost like there's nothing he can't do," said Ekachai, adding that Jaa is very jovial in real life and often cracks jokes on set.
After relocating to Bangkok, Ekachai became the executive adviser for GMM Grammy, Thailand's largest entertainment conglomerate, and also worked on stage show Muay Thai Live: The Legend Lives.
"My family is in Bangkok so I try to stay put.
"But I miss Singapore. I miss speaking Singlish, my Singaporean friends and working with Singaporean actors. Singapore used to be such a big part of my life."
FANN & CHRISTOPHER
He said he still keeps in touch with Wong and Lee, who filmed The Wedding Game before they got married, via WhatsApp.
"I always tease her and ask her why she's looking younger and younger every day. Last year, Christopher won (Best Lead Actor at the Golden Bell Awards in Taiwan) and I congratulated him.
"I'm very happy for them. I hope I get to work with them again."
Ekachai, who revealed he might work on a stage show in Singapore next year, has also been keeping tabs on the Singapore film industry and commended "young and exciting talents coming up" like award-winning Ilo Ilo director Anthony Chen.
He also enjoyed the Ah Boys To Men movies and musical.
"(Ah Boys director) Jack Neo has his finger on the pulse of what matters to Singaporeans. Because of that, his movies have been so successful. He understands the issues that make Singapore tick."
This article was first published on MONTH DAY, 2015.
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