'Furious 7' Scores Thailand Release Despite Tony Jaa Contract Dispute
Furious 7 will be seen in Thailand theaters after all.
A judge in the Southeast Asian country has thrown out an injunction imposed against the movie late last week after a hearing that involved Universal Pictures and Thai martial arts star Tony Jaa.
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Local film company Sahamongkolfilm International claims it has a multidecade contract with the actor, which it is attempting to enforce and is seeking $49 million in damages. Separately, it sought to stop the release of the film in the country. But while the case will continue, the injunction will not.
“Proud. Proud is how I feel,” Jaa told The Hollywood Reporter on Monday after arriving in Los Angeles for the movie’s Wednesday premiere. “Thai audiences are big fans of Fast and the Furious, and I’m a big fan, too.”
Jaa hails from Thailand’s northern province of Surin, where his parents were elephant herders and where he grew up watching movies projected outside on bed sheets. He became a rising muay thai martial artist and segued into film to follow the footsteps of his idols Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.
While still relatively young, Jaa in 2003 signed a 10-year exclusive contract with Sahamongkolfilm that saw him get paid $1,600 a month with bonuses to be determined by the company.
According to Jaa’s camp, the contract was never legal. Beyond that, it called for a unilateral renewal, something his people contend Sahamongkolfilm did not do when the contract expired in 2013. They do acknowledge that, months after the contract’s expiration, a renewal notice was sent not to Jaa’s home in Bangkok but to an estranged sister in Surin, who proceeded to sign it.
“Tony has no contract,” said Jaa's manager Mike Selby. “This was done for money and to embarrass Tony.”
Sahamongkolfilm reportedly claims to own a piece of the actor’s film appearances until 2023. Attempts to reach the company were not successful.
Thai movie fans were outraged by last week’s release ban. The day after the injunction was issued, more than 20,000 people joined a Facebook page asking the court to overturn it.
Universal and its international releasing arm UPI will release Furious 7 in Thailand April 1. The movie opens in North America on April 3.
by Sheraz Farooqi
by Graeme McMillan