Tycoon ‘Furious’ over Thai star Tony Jaa’s defection


A real-life drama worthy of a movie in its own right recently unfolded in Thailand when Somsak Techaratanaprasert, owner of Sahamongkol Film, one of the country’s largest studios and film distributors, threatened homegrown martial-arts star Tony Jaa with legal action due to alleged breach of contract. Jaa, whose real name is Panom Yeerum, is rumored to appear in a major role in the forthcoming seventh installment of popular Hollywood movie franchise Fast & Furious. However, the actor is supposedly still under contract with Sahamongkol Film and therefore “not allowed to star in any foreign film without Mr. Somsak’s approval,” film director Prachya Pinkaew told local daily newspaper Khao Sod in an interview.

Jaa shot to fame with the Prachya-directed action comedy Ong Bak and the subsequent flick Tom Yam Koong, both of which were produced by Sahamongkol Film and spawned sequels. Originally, the actor allegedly told Somsak he had been hired to appear in a foreign TV commercial. But Somsak claimed that only a few days later he received a letter from the action star’s lawyer, informing him that his client now unilaterally considered his contract with Sahamongkol Film as terminated.

Prachya told Khao Sod that Somsak was now “fed up with the action star” and would treat him as a contract violator. The director criticized the actor’s “pursuit of wealth after his rise to international recognition” and accused him of betraying the very people who helped him on the way to stardom. “We trained him in acting and had him study English. But we are now at the point where he earns more than his director,” Prachya told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, the actor announced through his lawyer that he had terminated the contract with Sahamongkol Film, because he considered it as “business slavery” due to its allegedly overly restrictive terms and conditions. Although both parties’ lawyers are currently discussing the issue, Somsak has reportedly also threatened to sue the producers of Fast & Furious 7 if it should turn out that they indeed are going to feature Jaa in their film.

Largest Thai Cinema Chain Shuns 4K
Thailand’s largest cinema chain, Major Cineplex Group Plc, has made it clear that it does not consider upgrading any of its theatres to 4K at this point, while its competitors are already busy marketing their own 4K capabilities. The decision is a conscious one, though.

“Currently, only about 20 percent of all movies are shot in Sony’s 4K, so we are not going to [invest in it]”, Jim Patterson, the company’s director of business development and general manager of its flagship venue, Paragon Cineplex and IMAX, told FJI.

For 3D screening, Patterson prefers RealD technology. “Although each unit costs six times more [in Thailand] than other 3D systems, it brings double the brightness,” Patterson opined.

Major Cineplex Group currently operates about 450 screens across Thailand. Roughly 50% of those are in the capital Bangkok, and while they are all digitized, they screen movies at 2K resolution. The company also expects to have 100% of its screens outside of the capital digitized by year’s end. Additionally, the company is interested in laser projection technology once it becomes available. “The tests we have seen so far have been very encouraging and we really liked it, although it’s going to be tremendously expensive. We plan to initially install it in five of our theatres, and then see how it goes,” Patterson explained.   

Dalian Wanda Plans ‘Chinese Hollywood’
Dalian Wanda Group, owned by China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, announced plans to develop what it has termed a “Chinese Hollywood” near the northeastern coastal city of Qingdao at an estimated cost of $8 billion. Tentatively named “Oriental Movie Metropolis,” the development is to comprise 20 state-of-the-art stages (including the world’s largest one at 108,000 square feet) and a permanent underwater stage—a world first—to facilitate shooting underwater scenes. The complex also will include an IMAX research and development center, eight hotels, a yacht marina, an entertainment theme park and numerous other tourist attractions.

The plans were recently unveiled in Qingdao during a red carpet event attended by Hollywood royalty like Leonardo DiCaprio, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor and a slew of Chinese A-listers including Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang and Jet Li. The complex is to be erected in a bid to dominate China’s rapidly growing domestic movie production market, as well as to accommodate foreign filmmakers.

Without disclosing names, the company said in a statement it had already signed preliminary deals with “a number of global movie and television giants.”

The first construction phase is expected to be ready in June 2016 and the entire complex is planned to be fully operational by mid-2017. Dalian Wanda Group operates several department store, cinema and hotel chains across China, but last year also bought U.S. cinema chain AMC Entertainment for a reported $2.6 billion, its first major international venture.

Bhutanese Film Raises Curtain at Busan Fest
Virtually a white spot on the global filmmaking map, the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan nevertheless had the honor of opening South Korea’s prestigious Busan International Film Festival, which ran Oct. 3-12. The feature film Vara: A Blessing is the third movie by amateur Bhutanese filmmaker Kyentse Norbu, a Buddhist lama, and is based on the ancient Indian folk tale Rakta Aar Kanna (Blood and Tears). It tells the story of a woman’s strength in adversity and the noble goals of love and self-sacrifice by making ingenious use of South Indian classical dance elements. “The movie is very beautiful and shows the great potential of Asia’s film industry,” said festival director Lee Yong-kwan prior to the event’s kick-off. Norbu’s curtain-raiser was well-received and was an appropriate introduction to this year’s lineup of 301 movies from around the world, of which an unprecedented 95 celebrated their world premiere in Busan.    

For inquiries and feedback, contact Thomas Schmid at thaitom03@loxinfo.co.th