Tony Jaa

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Panom Yeerum (Thai: ??? ???????; IPA: [p?anom ji?r?m]) (born February 5, 1976 in Surin province, Isaan, Thailand), better known in the West as Tony Jaa and in Thailand as Jaa Panom, is a Thai martial art film actor, choreographer and director. His films include Ong-Bak (also known as Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, Tom-Yum-Goong (also called Warrior King or The Protector) and Ong Bak 2 a prequel to Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior.

Tony Jaa comes from the Surin province of the Thai region of Isan. Since he grew up in Surin, he learned to speak Khmer and Thai although he is of the Kuy tribe.[citation needed] Jaa grew up in a rural area and watched films by Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li at temple fairs. He was inspired by them and whilst doing chores or playing with friends, he would imitate the martial arts moves he had seen in the films. He would practice in his father’s rice paddy or, when bathing the family’s elephants, he would somersault off their backs into the river.

“What they did was so beautiful, so heroic. 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.”[1]

At age 15 he requested to become a protege of stuntman and action-film director Panna Rittikrai. Panna instructed Jaa to attend Maha Sarakham College of Physical Education in Maha Sarakham Province.

He initially worked as a stuntman on Panna’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.[2] He also appeared in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, as a stunt double for Robin Shou (Liu Kang), and was a stunt double in the Thai television series Insee Daeng (Red Eagle).[3]

Together, Panna and Jaa developed an interest in Muay Boran, an ancient style of Muay Thai and worked and trained for 1 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. One of the people they showed it to was producer-director Prachya Pinkaew, who was duly impressed.