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February 2005
Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior: An Interview with Tony Jaa

Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior: An Interview with Tony Jaa

By Wilson Morales

So who's this guy people are now labeling as the next big action star. He's done one film so far and already the stories and gossip are starting to spread. There's a new guy in town and his name Tony Jaa. With age starting to catch up on Jackie Chan and Jet Li, filmmakers have found a guy who's not only young, but can really fight and take a punch. Tony Jaa comes Thailand and the first film he put his passion in has become a knockout sensation with audiences. Coming out on February 11th is "Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior" and Tony Jaa plays Ting, an orphaned youngster raised at the local temple and school by a monk. When the head of the Ong Bak (Buddha statue) is stolen by some thugs, Ting travels through the streets of Bangkok and basically fights his way to retrieve the head back. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Tony Jaa not only talked about how the role came about for him but he demonstrated some of his fighting skills.

Click here to view video of Tony Jaa performing

How did you get the role for this film?

TJ: Well, actually, it's a long story. I like watching films and I started watching Jet Li, Bruce Lee, and Jackie Chan films since I was 10 and at home I have 2 elephants so when I came home, I would practice the stunts I saw in the movie with my elephants and t

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rain with them. I really began training at the age of 15. I went to go see my master Panna (Ritthikrai) and I asked to go work with him. I started from the bottom up. I worked on the set, carrying the dollys, cut the slates, and was a waterboy for a long time and worked my way to eventually be an extra. I would be doing this during the summer and then Panaa, my master, advised me after high school to go study at a physical education academy. At the physical education academy, I learned all the various forms of martial arts such as Tae Kwon Do and others. During that time, I was able to work as a stunt man and worked my way up. I had the opportunity to go cast for a Hollywood film that was filming in Thailand called "Mortal Kombat 2". Out of 100 people, I was cast to be the stunt double for Robin Shou. After doing a bunch of movies as a stuntman, I realized that being a stuntman, you are in the shadow of the actor and they don't get to see your true ability and I wanted people to see that it was really me doing those stunts and it was really my true abilities. I put together a project with my master Panaa and we created a short version on the film with a story and a background and of course, all of the action scenes, and presented it to the Director Prachya Pinkaew.

How was it working with Pinkaew and what did he want from you that he had not seen in other films?

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TJ: No matter if it was me, or Pinkaew, or my master Panaa, we all wanted this film to be different from any other film that we have seen before and to be able to present the history and the tradition of the Thai culture and to showcase my talent and my abilities as someone who has received extensive training and to be able to present Muay Thai in a way that hasn't been seen before. We wanted for this to be done to the best quality that we can make it, so we put our hearts into it.

Within the film, there is plenty of illegal street fighting. What's your opinion on that?

TJ: It's something that's not good. To take the art and something cherished and to take it into a form of gambling is a destruction of the art. Muay Thai teaches you to love each other and meditate on these things. All martial arts teach you to be a good person and reflect on that and I also practice martial arts. I have a philosophy that I go by. I practice martial arts not to win over other people but to but win over my own heart.

In terms of the martial arts, what's the challenge in working with a director and his view on what should be on camera as opposed to what you created?

TJ: It's not too difficult because I always had a dream that I wanted to do this since I was a kid and to be able to present Muay Thai for the world to see on film is something I've always dreamt of. To be able to do this makes me proud.

You will be working with Director Prachya Pinkaew again with "Tom Yum Goong". What's the story about and how different is it from ĆOng Bak"?

TJ: Tom Yum Goong has more of an international flavor to it in that it has a bigger cast, a bigger production crew and we will be presenting a style of Muay Thai that hasn't been seen before. I'll give you a little hint. It's about elephants. How new and how different it will be, you will have to see.

I had read recently that you were injured on the set while working on Tom Yum Goong?

TJ: Oh yes, I sprained my ankle while I was filming. I took two days off and went back to filming.

How do you like being labeled as the next big action hero in the tradition of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li?

TJ: I never really reflect on the fame. That's not my goal, but if they were to call me the next action hero, that's up to the viewers. My happiness is being able to present my talents for people to see and I feel like I'm an ambassador of Thai history and Thai culture on film so that people can see Muay Thai. For me, my inspiration are Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li and of course, my master, Panaa. They are my inspiration for me to do what I do today and I believe that there will never be another Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li because there's only one of them.

With the film opening in the United States, your name will be brought up as a possible star to many films. If there was any U.S remake of an action film that you could star in, what would it be?

TJ: There's really no film that I would want to take and remake. They have already done a good job making them and there are many Hollywood films that I like watching and I get new ideas from them like Indiana Jones and Spiderman. They present a new perspective for me.

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