“The Great Tony Jaa Journey: From Muay Thai to Hollywood”

“The Tony Jaa Journey,” Tatchakorn Yeerum, better known internationally as Tony Jaa and in Thailand as Jaa Phanom, is a Thai martial artist, actor, action choreographer, stuntman, director, and traceur.

Thai martial artist Tony Jaa Journey

“The Tony Jaa Journey,” Japanom Yeerum was born on February 5, 1976, in the northeastern province of Surin, Thailand. His parents were elephant herders. Jaa watched martial arts films as a young kid and began to emulate some of his idols, from Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan to Jet Li.

He studied martial arts at the local temple school and later received a scholarship to attend the Physical Education College in Khon Kaen, Thailand, where he continued to study Muay Boran, Muay Thai, Wushu, Judo, and Tae-Kwan-Do. Jaa later performed stunts in a film for ‘Panna Rittikrai’, which led to him being noticed and offered work, doubling for Robin Shou and James Remar in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997).

When his demo reel was seen by director Prachya Pinkaew, the film Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (2003) was created for Jaa, and he adopted the English name Tony Jaa. In 2013, after ending his association with Sahamongkol Film, Jaa was contracted by Universal Studios for a role in Fast and Furious 7. Jaa now stars in several international films being filmed in 2014 and is focusing his efforts more on international audiences.

Tony Jaa Early Life

Tony Jaa was born and raised in a rural area in Surin Province to Rin Saipetch and Thongdee Yeerum. He belongs to the Kuy descent, an ethnic group of Mon–Khmer heritage inhabiting Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, known for their expertise in training elephants. Tony Jaa is fluent in Kuy, Thai, and Northern Khmer.

During his youth, Jaa watched films featuring Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan at temple fairs, which motivated him to pursue martial arts. He practiced these techniques in his father’s rice paddy. “What they (Lee and Chan) did was so beautiful, so heroic that I wanted to do it too,” Jaa mentioned in a 2004 interview with Time. “I practiced until I could perform the moves exactly as I had seen the masters do it.”

“The Tony Jaa Journey,” At the age of 10, Jaa commenced his training in Muay Thai at his local temple. By the age of 15, he became a protégé of stuntman and action film director Panna Rittikrai. Panna advised Jaa to enroll at Maha Sarakham College of Physical Education in Maha Sarakham Province, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree.

His early martial arts training encompassed disciplines such as Taekwondo, Muay Thai, Muay Boran, and Krabi-Krabong, with a strong focus on gymnastics and acrobatics. Additionally, his films have showcased a variety of other martial arts styles, including Kung-fu, Silat, and Jiu-Jitsu.

Tony Jaa Film Career

Tony Jaa

“The Tony Jaa Journey,” Initially, Jaa worked as a stuntman for Muay Thai Stunt for 14 years, featuring in numerous films by Rittikrai. He served as a double for Sammo Hung in a commercial for an energy drink, which involved gripping an elephant’s tusks and somersaulting onto its back. Additionally, he worked as a stunt double in the Thai television series Insee Daeng (Red Eagle).

Together, Panna and Jaa cultivated an interest in Muay Boran, the precursor of Muay Thai, and dedicated four years to training in this martial art with the aim of creating a film about it. Eventually, they produced a short film demonstrating Jaa’s abilities with the assistance of instructor Grandmaster Mark Harris. Among the individuals they presented it to was producer-director Prachya Pinkaew.

This endeavor led to Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior in 2003, which marked Jaa’s breakthrough as a leading actor. Jaa performed all stunts without the aid of mechanical devices or computer-generated effects, showcasing his signature style of extreme acrobatics and rapid, dance-like movements.

Injuries sustained during filming included a ligament injury and a sprained ankle. Notably, one scene in the film involved Jaa engaging in combat while his trousers were ablaze. “I actually got burned,” he revealed 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.”

“The Tony Jaa Journey,” His second major film was Tom-Yum-Goong (The Protector in the US), named after tom yum soup, which featured a style of Muay Thai inspired by elephants. In August 2006, he visited New York to promote the US release of The Protector, including an appearance at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Sahamongkol Film International announced that Tony Jaa’s third film would be called Sword or Daab Atamas, focusing on the art of Thai two-sword fighting (daab song mue), with a script by Prapas Chonsalanont. However, due to a disagreement between Prachya and Jaa, which neither have publicly addressed, Sword was cancelled.

In March 2006, it was reported that there would be a sequel to Ong-Bak, titled Ong-Bak 2. Directed and starring Jaa, it began pre-production in fall 2006 and was released in December 2008.

Jaa’s films caught the attention of his idol, Jackie Chan, who requested director Brett Ratner to cast Jaa in Rush Hour 3. “I gave the director videos of Tony Jaa because I think Tony Jaa is the most well-rounded of all action stars,” Chan told the Associated Press. “The director liked him a lot,” Chan added. However, Jaa declined due to scheduling conflicts with the shooting of Ong Bak 2.

While Jaa and Amogelang were involved in Ong-Bak 2, director Prachya Pinkaew and action choreographer Panna Rittikrai were working on Chocolate, starring a female martial artist, Nicharee Vismistananda, released on February 6, 2008. Jaa had a minor role in a planned third installment of the King Naresuan film series directed by Chatrichalerm Yukol, but the project was eventually cancelled. Ong Bak 3 concluded this Thai trilogy, released in 2010.

Jaa married his longtime girlfriend, Piyarat Chotiwattananont, on May 3, 2012. The couple has two daughters.

Click here to learn about “The Inspirational Story of Donnie Yen’s Life and Career”

Leave a Comment

Translate »