Tony Jaa: Rise To The Top or Fall From Grace?

BlogsMatthew Torti2 Comments

You know that analogy people use when something is so horrifying that you can’t close your eyes?  The one about the train wreck and wanting to look away but can’t because your curiosity got the best of you?  Well, as of late, I’ve been feeling like that when it pertains to the peculiar story unfolding out of Thailand about Tony Jaa’s next picture.

Over the past couple of weeks, news broke out on a number of websites (click here and here for the best articles on the matter) that Jaa’s sequel to his Muay Thai epic Ong Bak was in trouble due to the bizarre behavior the actor was exhibiting.  Normally, the odd behavior of an actor isn’t something new or all that shocking.  But when the actor is also the director, with a ballooning budget and shooting schedule, then you’ve got a problem.

I’m not going to go into details about what exactly has been going on the set of Ong Bak 2 or Jaa’s increasingly erratic behavior because it would be like beating a dead horse.  Besides, the aforementioned links do a great job at bringing you up to speed.  What intrigues me about this whole situation is that we are either witnessing the deconstruction of an action phenom before he can even reach his prime or there is something much more interesting happening behind the scenes.

Being billed as the next Bruce Lee would put pressure on anybody.  After Ong Bak made a splash on screens, Jaa quickly became a name to look out for in the action genre.  Here was a young man who bled charisma on screen and had the skill to rival Bruce Lee.  Not to mention the fact that he had the almost supernatural ability to make even the most heavy-handed lines of dialogue sound natural and believable.  He transcended the language barrier, which very few foreign performers can do.  For once, the praise was warranted.  And of course, Hollywood came calling.  But Jaa, proud performer that he is, decided to stay in his native Thailand and work on a couple of more pictures before making his way to the states. 

When he took the reigns to work on Ong Bak 2, that’s where everything fell apart.  Which leads us to where we are now.  Are we truly witnessing a career dissolve right before our very eyes?  I don’t think so.  As bizarre as the story is, it’s making waves throughout the online film community.  Yes, in Thailand such behavior is looked at under a more critical (some may say even negative) eye.  And rightly so, because it is putting the film, as well as the cast and crew at risk.  But, to be quite honest, I wasn’t interested in seeing this film until I heard about all the controversy.  Controversy sells.  It’s a cliché because it’s true.  It’s tragic that we are watching a movie star fall from grace, but for some reason I think there is more happening behind the scenes to make all of this completely true.  Disappearances into the forest, practicing black magic for long periods of time, being followed by strange men, crying on national television, threatening to disappear and never return if demands aren’t met.  This sounds like a movie in and of itself.  Of course, this may all be true; and if it is… wow, I don’t know what to say.  But for whatever reason, this smells like some of the best marketing a studio could ask for, real or otherwise.  I’m not saying it was premeditated.  What I am saying is that, to the most twisted of mind (such as my own), it can be seen as a selling tool for the film.

I’m sure Jaa’s career may be dead in Thailand as a result of this.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a producer somewhere in LA frothing at the mouth to pick up the film or sign Jaa to a multi-million dollar contract.  And I would pay good money to see this man in action.  I’m a sucker for a good ol’ bizarro story and this is one for the books.  I don’t want to come off insincere to Jaa’s plight, because if this is all true, he better make his way over to the states pronto.  This is the type of stuff that sells tickets and makes names. 

And yes, the past couple of sentences were infused with sarcasm.

That just goes to show you what kind of society we live in.  But I’m not going to preach about it, because I fall in that group as well.  When I see train wreck happen in slow motion, I will watch with my undivided attention so I can see every detail as it happens.  And that is what I’m doing right now.  It’s too early to tell whether or not Jaa (and the film, for that matter) will come out of this situation unscathed, but one thing is for sure- for better or worse, Jaa is becoming less of an action star and becoming more and more or a movie star.  Let’s hope he can come out of this experience and show the world what he is truly capable of.  While being compared to Bruce Lee is a daunting compliment, it is also one that is made out of respect for one’s talent and ability to entertain.