Pattaya Daily News

25 August 2006 :: 08:08:08 am 5628

Make Room For Tony Jaa‘S Thai Martial Artistry , After Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan An

Tony Jaa owns two elephants, the Thai equivalent of two Porsches. That‘s all you need to know about how far this 30-year-old Thai martial arts movie star has come in such a short time.
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Comparisons to one martial arts film icon is pressure enough, but Tony Jaa, the Thai native starring in “The Protector,‘‘ must deal with being mentioned in the same breath as three of the genre‘s most beloved actors.

The film star, who has adapted the Thai kick boxing technique, has the greatest potential to rise to the ranks of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li, fans of martial arts cinema have proclaimed. His latest movie, out Sept. 8, demonstrates why.

Jaa‘s brutal yet ballet style is unlike that of any other martial artist. The actor incorporates gymnastics and Muay Thai, the hand-to-hand — and often, the foot-squarely-to-face — combat form native to Thailand. Unlike some modern martial arts performers who become airborne on screen with the help of wires and computer-generated effects, Jaa proudly does it all without such sleight of hand.

This unconventional, balletic style of fighting he developed has made numerous high-profile fans take notice. They include Quentin Tarantino, “X-Men: The Last Stand‘‘ director Brett Ratner and Wu-Tang Clan‘s RZA, the rapper who scored “The Protector.‘‘ Jaa is “the most death-defying, bone-shattering, skull-cracking, chest-pounding, neck-cracking martial artist of all time,‘‘ RZA announced in the trailer to “Ong-Bak,‘‘ Jaa‘s American debut, in 2004

Jaa acknowledges the influence of the Big Three of martial arts film, whom he grew up watching on outdoor screens in his home village in the rural Surin province in northeast Thailand. Though he has his own brand of fighting, Jaa is quick to credit them with influencing his moves.

“With Bruce Lee, it‘s the strength and power,‘‘ Jaa said last week through an interpreter. “With Jet Li, it‘s the grace. With Jackie Chan, it‘s the acrobatics. But I use the Muay Thai. I work without wires. It‘s a great source of pride to see what I do on film and say, `I did it all myself.

Jaa, 30, was seduced by martial arts movies as an adolescent. Before he entered high school, he took up Muay Thai boxing and aimed for a film career. His father, an amateur Muay Thai boxer, initially balked at the idea of his son‘s dream.

When Thai martial arts star and director Panna Rittikrai was shooting in a nearby province, Jaa and his father approached him about taking on Jaa as a student. Under Rittikrai‘s tutelage, Jaa learned about martial arts on film while he worked on location as a water boy and as the assistant to the lighting technician. Jaa studied various fighting forms and, much like Lee in the 1960s, incorporated them into a trademark style.

“The Protector,‘‘ like “Ong-Bak,‘‘ tells the story of a small-town man who must leave his village for the big city to bring back something sacred to his people. In “Ong-Bak,‘‘ he dashes to Bangkok to reacquire the head of a statue. In “The Protector,‘‘ he is forced to travel to Sydney to secure the return of two elephants.

The story line to “The Protector‘‘ is especially close to Jaa because his family has raised elephants for generations.

“The Thai elephant is a very strong part of the culture,‘‘ he said. “Elephants are part of my family‘s culture and heritage. We have a very strong reverence for them.‘‘
Which leads to a burning question: Who is easier to work with — an 11,000-pound pachyderm or a film industry player?

“The elephants!‘‘ he said. “They‘re a lot easier.‘‘
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Who is Jaa?

Jaa was born into a poor family in a rural area of the Surin province in northeastern Thailand. As a young boy, he was inspired by the films of Bruce Lee and Chan, which he watched at rural fairs. The Hong Kong movies eventually led him to learn his father‘s discipline of Muay Thai, an intense, often brutal, form of boxing that was once used to entertain Thai kings.

“It‘s a style of martial arts that‘s traditional to my country,” Jaa said. “It‘s based around using your elbows and knees, instead of your hands and feet, like Jackie Chan.”

There are eight basic movements of Muay Thai, including “elephant pulverizing tree” — a body-breaking move in which an assailant‘s attack is repelled by grabbing his kicking leg, bringing your elbow down on his abdomen, cracking your forearm down on his neck and throwing him to the ground. (You don‘t want to be on the wrong end of that one.)

As a teenager, Jaa, whose birth name is Panom Yeerum, got stunt work in Thai movies, and even worked in “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation,” a Hollywood film that was partially shot in Thailand. Eventually, because Jaa‘s mastery of Muay Thai was so unusual, veteran Thai stunt choreographer Panna Rittikrai decided to build a film around it.

The result was “Ong-Bak,” which played internationally and has been released on DVD by 20th Century Fox. The stunt work in the movie is incredible; without any wires or computer-generated effects, Jaa literally bounces all over Bangkok, jumping from building to building, sliding under cars, even getting away from a gang of thugs who think they have him cornered until Jaa escapes by walking on their shoulders.

,b>”The Protector” is an American edit of the Thai movie “Tom-Yum Goong,” which is being released by the Weinstein Co. Like “Ong-Bak,” it will be in Thai with English subtitles, but will contain even more outrageous, unassisted stunts, including one eyepopper in which Jaa jumps from the edge of a tall building to hang on a helicopter.

The film is about a gang that steals his family‘s prized elephants, a symbol of Thai culture, which were to be offered to the King of Thailand. Jaa, naturally, is the man chosen to go to Australia and recover the pachyderms. In the process, he uncovers a government conspiracy.

In one bravura four-minute sequence — all done in one take — Jaa goes through a barrage of villains, punching, kicking, throwing and jumping his way up a four-story building.

With Li, 43, having made his last martial arts film (the forthcoming “Fearless”) and with Chan now past 50, Jaa is suddenly the go-to star for martial arts movie fans around the world.

Nevertheless, Hollywood will have to wait. He has turned down a small role in “Rush Hour 3″ due to a scheduling conflict with “Ong-Bak 2,” which Jaa will direct as well as star in. Filming begins in October in Thailand.

“I have dreams, of course,” Jaa said. “I‘d love to work with Steven Spielberg or Jessica Alba or Tom Cruise. But I have to work hard — I spend every day training and have little time for anything else.”

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : Internet   Category : Entertainment News

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