Name: Tony Jaa (Thai: Panon Yeerum)
Date of Birth: 5 February 1976
Height: 5ft 6in (1.68m)
Weight: 136lbs (62kg)
Birth Sign: Aquarius
Country: Thailand (Isaan, Surin province)
Muay Thai Boran, Tae Kwon Do, Krabi Krabong (Thai weapons), Judo, Aikido, Gymnastics
Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Panna Rittikrai (famed Thai stuntman who directed the movie: “Born to Fight”, in Thai: Kerd ma lui (1984).
Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior aka Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (2003)
Tom-Yum-Goong (aka Warrior King (UK) or The Protector (US) (2005)
Ong Bak 2 (2008)
Ong Bak 3 (2010)
With cords wrapped around his hands and wrists, and ropes around his arms and forehead, Jaa does a somersault and accurately kicks a padded target a dozen feet off the ground. The press watches as Jaa lines up his crew—five assistants in T-shirts bearing the words “Muay Thai Stunt.” Jaa leaps through the air, then crowd-walks over all five on a dead run, stepping on their shoulders. Jaa then demonstrates his fighting skills, hitting and throwing his assistants.
Jaa has demonstrated the point, which is that he has the skills to do everything you see in Ong-Bak, the first film to feature him as an actor and not a stunt double. What's special about Jaa, compared to bigger name stars, is his jaw-dropping acrobatic ability. Wires seem almost superfluous when it comes to Jaa. He may not be able to stand on leaves or run on water, but when he leaps over a car in a single bound, he's really doing it.
It takes a lot of work to get to this point. Tony Jaa, born Panon Yee-rum in the province of Surin (about 200 kilometers from Bangkok), has been fixated on martial arts since childhood. At fifteen, he began to work for Thai action star/fight choreographer Phanna Rithikrai, training in kung fu and stunt work while simultaneously working on movie sets as a waterboy, cook, and general crewmember. Jaa also studied taekwondo, swordplay, and gymnastics. His first real opportunity came when he appeared as a stunt double for Robin Shou in Mortal Kombat 2. He also stunt doubled Thai star James Ruengsak and worked on the Thai TV series In See Dang.
Finally Jaa took up Muay Thai, the ancient discipline of his land, and mastered it under the guidance of his mentor. Together they developed the idea for Ong-Bak and took it Thai director/producer Prachya Pinkaew, who agreed to helm the project.
After the press demonstration, Jaa settles down to an interview with AboutFilm. Out of traditional garb and in plain sweat clothes, you'd never guess that the soft-spoken, easy-going Jaa could well be one of the most skilled martial artists in the world. Now that Ong-Bak has opened on 200 screens in the United States, American audiences have the opportunity to decide for themselves what they think, and whether Jaa deserves to be the next Jackie Chan or Jet Li.