FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT
Thailand's action hero prepares for his latest role - melding the grace of traditional masked dancing with the aggressive moves of muay Thai
More than a year has passed since action hero Phanom "Tony Jaa" Yeerum spiced up the big screen with his death-defying stunts in mega-hit "Tom Yum Goong".
But his fans needn't worry. The high-kicking superstar has confirmed that he'll be back, perhaps as early as the end of next year in "Ong Bak 2", the third flick starring him as the protagonist and the first to showcase his talents as a director.
Despite its title, the film is not a sequel to "Ong Bak" and Jaa won't be searching for lost treasure. It's a remake of "Ai Noom Saraphad Phid", a film he made with his mentor Panna Ritthikrai several years ago, before morphing from stuntman to superstar.
The film was never released and none of the old footage will be used, because when Panna and Jaa took it to the lab to be developed, they were informed it had expired.
The story, which literally means the man with poison, is about a man with two sides - good and evil.
Conceited about his talents, he lives in a world of darkness until he discovers the beauty of khon, (Thai masked dance), and transforms it into a gracious fighting skill.
"The original film was heavily influenced by Hong Kong action flicks. The new version has much more of a Thai feel," Jaa explains.
For "Ong Bak 2", Jaa and Panna are working on a complex choreography that melds muay thai (kick boxing) with khon. Jaa says he got the idea after meeting performance artist Pichet Klunchun during the Subhanahongsa Awards ceremony last year.
At the ceremony, Jaa and Pichet thrilled guests with a stunning show of khon and muay thai moves.
"I was surprised at how well each of the khon characters could be adapted for martial arts," says Jaa, who last week was at the National Theatre to attend a krob kru ceremony, the traditional rite paying respect to khon teachers.
"Khon's main characters - phra [prince], yak [giant] and ling [monkey] represent different gestures. The phra character has a gracious, subtle style, while the yak is stronger, more aggressive and the ling is swift and agile. I will incorporate all three in my character."
The martial arts star will also be bringing more than his bare firsts and feet to "Ong Bak 2".
Fans will see him fighting with a range of weapons, including the sword and the spear.
After returning from a US tour he took to promote "The Warrior King" as "TYG" is known there, Jaa headed to a jungle temple in Ubon Ratchathani to meditate.
"It's my way of absorbing power before starting a new project," the actor says.
He's also donned his director's cap and shot a few scenes. "It's fun, I can do it."
Right now, Jaa says, the scriptwriting team is putting the final touches to a screenplay that provides a strong story to support the action scenes.
Jaa clams up when asked about his conflict with "Ong Bak" and "TYG" director Prachya Pinkaew, who is noticeably absent from the krob kru ceremony.
Rumours about a split have been circulating ever since it was announced earlier this year that Jaa would be directing his own movie.
While the action hero was busy promoting "TYG" overseas, Prachya tried to explain that they still had a good relationship but he had a lot of projects in hand.
He also noted that the script for their upcoming collaboration "Daab Atamat" was being developed by well-known writer Prapas Chonsalanon and suggested that Jaa run the project with Panna under their new company Aiyara Films.
Jaa also has the support of the producer, as witnessed by the presence at the ceremony of Sahamongkol Films Company chief, Somsak "Sia Jiang" Techaratanaprasert.
Shooting for "Ong Bak 2" will begin in the new year and is scheduled for completion by the end of 2007.