Jaa awaits Hollywood close-up

'Ong Bak' star hopes to ride film trilogy to US stardom

HONG KONG -- Thai action star Tony Jaa says his Hollywood debut is a "matter of time" after his latest movie, "Ong Bak 2," was released in the United States last week.

Thailand's answer to Jackie Chan and Jet Li has built up a solid boxoffice record in the U.S.

His last two movies, "Ong Bak" and "The Protector," earned $4.6 million and $12 million there.

"Ong Bak 2" marks the 33-year old's debut as director. The Thai-language movie, with English subtitles, opened Friday in 10 theaters and made nearly $26,600 in its first weekend, according to figures from the box office tracking Web site Box Office Mojo.

"I'm happy to know that there are people in the States who like my movies. Hollywood is the capital for the movie industry. It would be interesting to go there. It's a matter of time," Jaa said in response to written questions from The Associated Press.

Praising Jaa as "the most well-rounded of all action stars," Chan said in 2006 that he pitched for Jaa to take a role in "Rush Hour 3" but the Thai actor had a scheduling conflict.

"Ong Bak" was the story of a young villager who ventures to Bangkok to retrieve a stolen Buddha head — a no-frills production centered on a righteous character who hesitates to kill.

The sequel takes a different track. An orphaned son from a well-to-do family tries to avenge their deaths after receiving martial arts training from a group of guerrilla fighters. Set in centuries-ago Thailand, the movie features lavish sets and costumes. Jaa plays a more brutal character than in "Ong Bak," which features a variety of martial arts besides "muay Thai," or Thai-style kickboxing.

Jaa alarmed studio executives by taking a break from shooting "Ong Bak 2" last year. He said he needed time to rethink the movie.

"I took a break to do more training for the stunt scenes and also to clear my mind. It is important to take more time to make a movie than just rushing it and at the end the movie is not the way you want it to be," he said.

Jaa said he is already shooting "Ong Bak 3."
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