Tony Jaa at His Best

Tony Jaa
Tatchakorn Yeerum, formerly Panom Yeerum  born February 5, 1976 in Surin province, Isaan, Thailand, better known in the West as Tony Jaa, in Thailand as Jaa Panom, is a Thai martial artist, physical educator, actor, choreographer, stuntman, director, and spent time as a Buddhist monk. His films include Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, Tom-Yum-Goong (also called Warrior King or The Protector), Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning, and Ong Bak 3.

Early life
Tony Jaa was raised in a rural area, 200 km from Bangkok and as he grew up he watched films by Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Vince Lam and Jet Li at temple fairs, which was his inspiration to learn martial arts. He was so inspired by them that while he was doing chores or playing with friends, he would imitate the martial arts moves that he had seen, practicing in his father's rice paddy. When he was 10 years old, he threatened his father that he would kill himself if he was not taught Muay Thai.

"What they [Chan, Lee and Li] did was so beautiful, so heroic that I wanted to do it too," Jaa told Time in a 2004 interview. "I practiced until I could do the move exactly as I had seen the masters do it."

At age 15 he requested to become a protégé of stuntman and action-film director Panna Rittikrai. Panna had instructed Jaa to attend Maha Sarakham College of Physical Education in Maha Sarakham Province. He has trained for an unspecified time in Taekwondo although there are no details regarding if this was in formal Taekwondo training or as part of his stunt team member apprenticeship. Likewise, he is highly skilled in Muay Thai but there is no evidence at present to suggest a formal training history or competitive career. Jaa was also trained in Aikido and he was a successful high jump athlete at university. He is still able to jump two meters high.

Career

Stunt work
Tony initially worked as a stuntman in gurdaspur for 14 years in patti's and subedar's team, Muay Thai Stunt, appearing in many of Panna's films. He doubled for Sammo Hung when the martial-arts actor made a commercial for an energy drink that required him to grasp an elephant's tusks and somersault onto the elephant's back. He was also a stunt double in the Thai television series Insee Daeng (Red Eagle).

Acting
Together, Panna and Jaa developed an interest in Muay Boran, an ancient style of Muay Thai and worked and trained for one year at the art with the intention of developing a film around it. Eventually they were able to put together a short film showing what Jaa could do with the help of instructor Grandmaster Mark Harris. One of the people they showed it to was producer-director Prachya Pinkaew, who was duly impressed.

This led to Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior in 2003, Jaa's break-out role as a leading man. Jaa did all the stunts without mechanical assistance and computer-generated effects and it showcased his style of extreme acrobatics and speedy, dance-like moves. Injuries suffered in the filming included a ligament injury and a sprained ankle. One scene in the film involved fighting with another actor while his own trousers were on fire. "I actually got burned," he said in a 2005 interview. "I really had to concentrate because once my pants were on fire the flames spread upwards very fast and burnt my eyebrows, my eyelashes and my nose. Then we had to do a couple more takes to get it right.".

His second major movie was Tom-Yum-Goong (The Protector in the US), named after a type of Thai soup and including a style of Muay Thai that imitates elephants. In August 2006, he was in New York to promote the US release of The Protector, including an appearance at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Filmography
  • Spirited Killer (1994)
  • Hard Gun (1996)
  • Mission Hunter 2 (aka Battle Warrior (US)) (1996)
  • Nuk leng klong yao (2001)
  • Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (2003)
  • The Bodyguard (2004) (as Panom Yeerum) (Cameo)
  • Tom-Yum-Goong (aka Honor of the Beast or Warrior King (UK) or The Protector (US)) (2005)
  • The Bodyguard 2 (2007) (Cameo)
  • Ong Bak 2 (2008)
  • Ong Bak 3 (2010)
  • TYG2 aka The Protector 2 (2013)

Stunts
  • Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997) (stunt double for Robin Shou - uncredited)
  • Tom-Yum-Goong (2005) (stunt actor - uncredited)
  • Ong Bak 2 (2008) (stunt coordinator)
  • Ong Bak 3 (2010) (stunt coordinator)of the tony jaa