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‘Ong Bak 2’ on top in Thailand

Tony Jaa's sequel delivers $1.56 million

HONG KONG — Powerful debuts put new films at the top of the charts in Thailand and Asia’s three biggest box office territories, Japan, South Korea and China.

Noisiest start was made by “Ong bak 2,” which punched out the strongest weekend of 2008 in Thailand. Starring, co-produced and co-helmed by action icon Tony Jaa, the sequel to his 2005 martial arts actioner delivered $1.56 million from a wide 259 sites, according to Rentrak data. Distributor and producer Sahamongkolfilm put the figure at $823,000 on pic’s Friday opening day and $2.06 million for the three-day weekend.

Massive score is a sign that the country’s madhouse political situation is calming down and is a huge relief for Sahamongkol after a troubled production, which saw Jaa go walkabout and the budget over-run.

“The film performed even better than ‘Tom yum goong’ (The Protector) during its opening weekend in 2005,” said Sahamongkol Film Intl. exec Chomsajee Techaratanaprasert. Company now expects “Ong bak 2” to be the first Thai film of the year to pass the 100 million baht ($2.94 million) milestone.

“The political situation may be shaky, but the film has an effective trailer, and I believe that word of mouth has been quite positive,” said Nakorn Weeraprawat, veteran film journalist and adviser to the Federation of National Film Assn.

The only other major release in Thailand was “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” which scored $158,000 and a cume including previews of $242,000. But the movie that has become a surprise hit among Thai moviegoers has been the vampire romance “Twilight,” which bit into $353,000 in second place at the weekend and has made $1.3 million over two weeks.

The highest grossing Thai film of the year so far is a small comedy about a rapper-turned-monk, “Luang pee teng 2,” which made around $2.35 million.

Disney’s belated Japanese preem of “Wall-E” and the Warner Intl. release of local drama “252 seizonsha ari” (252 Signal of Life) finally knocked “Red Cliff” from the top spot. The Pixar toon scored $4.85 million from 458 venues over the weekend and delivered a cume including previews of $5.54 million. The Nobuo Mizuta-helmed “252” delivered $2.18 million from 341 sites.

Helmer John Woo’s “Cliff” dropped only 29% and recorded $1.66 million for a six-week cume of $44.3 million. Last week’s second-place local pic, “I Want to Be a Shellfish,” also held respectably, dropping 27% to take $1.49 million at the weekend and $14 million total after 2½ weeks.

Shochiku’s action comedy “Mister Hidetoshi’s Secret Mission” was the only other new release to break into the top 10 and earned $907,000 from 267 sites.

Zipping to the top of the Korean chart was “Kwa-sok seu-kaen-deul” (Speedy Scandal), a comedy that marked the helming debut of Kang Hyeong-cheol. Handled by exhibitor-distribber Lotte Entertainment, the parenthood comedy about a small-time DJ and a daughter he never knew scored $2.98 million (including previews) on 470 screens at the end of the weekend.

Pic also is the biggest draw for its male lead Cha Tae-hyon since his co-starring role in mold breaker “My Sassy Girl.”

CJ Entertainment’s “Portrait of a Beauty” in its fourth frame dropped to second place and scored $796,000 for a cume of $9.66 million.

Week’s next newcomer, Sidus FNH’s “The Accidental Gangster and the Mistaken Courtesan” pitched in at third with a slight $646,000 from 401 screens. Its cume including previews is $866,000.

Chinese figures from independent sources were not available, but distributor China Film Group reported that Chen Kaige-helmed biopic “Mei Lan Fang” scored RMB40 million ($5.84 million) in its four-day opening frame. That puts the Ziyi Zhang and Leon Lai starrer, which is released in other territories as “Forever Enthralled,” on course to qualify as a hit, but it is unlikely to break many records.

Hong Kong B.O. saw “The Beast Stalker” and Taiwanese melodrama “Cape No. 7” stay in first and second places, recording $341,000 and $173,000 respectively. Strongest opener was “Legendary Assassin” on $147,000 and third place.

(Kong Rithdee in Bangkok and Marcus Lim in Hong Kong contributed to this report.)

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