On Friday, May 28, actor and renowned martial artist Tony Jaa rode an elephant to a Buddhist temple in Surin, Thailand. He then shaved his head, took vows, and was officially ordained as a Buddhist monk. Anyone who has seen his most recent film Ong Bak 2 will not be surprised by this news. The guy has a thing for elephants.
First reported by Twitch here on the web, this news comes just as the final chapter of the Ong Bak saga is preparing for release her in the States. But as Todd Brown reports, things have not been copasetic between the star and his production company Sahamongkol, and its boss Sia Jiang. Over the years, wild yarns have been spun about this torrid relationship between Jaa and Jiang, including Jaa making demands about directing his own films — which he did with Ong Bak 2 — and disappearing for weeks at a time when he didn’t feel things were going the way he’d like — which he also did during the production of Ong Bak 2.
Currently, Jaa is under a ten year exclusive contract with Sahamongkol, a contract he’s clearly not happy with. And in order to escape the legal and financial clutches of his contract, he’s entered the monkhood. This is the abridged version, of course. A more fleshy theory resides over at Twitch, where Todd Brown expertly maps out the dispute between Jaa and those who pay the bills on his film projects.
What’s important here is that Tony Jaa is done making films for a while. And if word on the street is to be believed, his performance in the forthcoming Ong Bak 3 will be a grand disappointment for his fans in the United States, just as it was for his fans in Thailand (it recently became the first film in the Ong Bak series not to hit #1 at the Thai box office). With Jaa’s resolve strong and future in film growing more unpredictable by the day, it’s almost safe to assume that he may not make another film in this decade.
So what do we do, without Tony Jaa? We look for the next great martial arts star, and allow the cycle to begin again. While I’m sure we’ll explore this topic in detail over the next several days, my gut points to Indonesian actor Iko Uwais, who is electrifying in Gareth Evans’ Merantau, a film that debuted at Fantastic Fest last year. Need more proof? Read Cole Abaius’ review.
Will you miss Tony Jaa?