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Interview with Tony Jaa on Ong-Bak 2
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    Interview with Tony Jaa on Ong-Bak 2

    With his long-awaited 'Ong-Bak 2' set for release next week, a philosophical Tony Jaa talks about finding peace through martial arts and paying homage to the fight masters

    KONG RITHDEE
    Bangkok Post
    Friday November 28, 2008



    He has on a hip new hat, more fitting for a Korean popster than a bone-breaking warrior from Surin. His degree of superstardom is manifest by the lengthier, more ceremonial protocol before studio publicists allow him to appear before the waiting press. In five hot years Panom "Tony Jaa" Yeerum, 32, has traversed a stirring trajectory with his fists, feet and feline grace from a rugged stuntman into one of Asia's - possibly one of the world's - most thrilling martial arts wunderkinds.

    When he speaks, Jaa's voice is composed, almost soporific. And by means of his speech, he assures us that despite the fame, despite the deification by global fans and Jackie Chan himself, and despite the unsavoury scuttle during the shoot of his grossly overbudgeted Ong-Bak 2, Jaa still remembers his place in the world.

    "I'm still not good enough," he says calmly, almost like a monk. "That's why I have to keep working hard, to keep coming up with new styles of fighting. The more I study martial arts, the more I learn about concentration and peace. To me it's a form of meditation, a form of letting go."

    His eyes are strangely puffy, perhaps from working round-the-clock to finish the editing of Ong-Bak 2 for its Dec 5 release. That gives a surreal effect to Jaa's sermon-like speech. Always a humble personality, the son of a Northeastern mahout was however more ebullient, more enthusiastic two years back, when he'd happily talk about his world travels, his shoulder-rubbing with Hollywood stars, or his red-carpet somersaults at various premiers of Ong-Bak, the whopping hit of 2003 that launched his career as a broad-faced, white-fanged, ass-kicking exotic hero from the land of a thousand elephants.

    The original Ong-Bak made 110 million baht at home, and scored $1.5 million during the first week in the US. Playing a country bumpkin who arrives in Bangkok to retrieve a scar-faced Buddha bust stolen from his village, Jaa soon became this country's first real international star. France, for example, went wild over his potent mix of realistic violence and balletic muay-thai fluency. Korean and Japanese producers wanted him for their projects, and Jackie Chan was after him for Rush Hour 3. Then came Tom-Yum-Goong in 2005, Jaa's second collaboration with director Prachya Pinkaew; the film was trashed by critics (and mocked by many viewers), but still made 200 million baht here and nearly $25 million in worldwide receipts.



    Sombre Tony Jaa is unruffled. In Ong-Bak 2, he's stepped up to take the director's chair (he will share the credit with his mentor and choreographer Panna Rittikrai) and proceeded to devise a story that allows him to try something rather crazy and possibly spectacular: in the new film, Jaa plays an orphaned slave in ancient Cambodia who's adept at every martial arts discipline, from muay thai and kung fu to kenjutsu and karate, which he alternatively administers on his opponents.

    Most interestingly, last year Jaa took a crash course with Pichet Klunchuen, the formidable khon artist. The workshop and discussion between the two men led Jaa to a new term of combat - natayuth, a combination of natasilpa, or performing art, and yuth, or battle, which augments Jaa's geometric formation of his limbs before he launches a fight.

    "I believe khon and muay thai share the same roots, we can see that clearly in their postures," he says. "I think I can integrate the essence of khon into the practice of hand-combat. I think every punch I make should mean something, every punch should have a history in it.

    "Likewise with other schools of martial arts, I think they all share the same basic elements. In the film I want to pay homage to the masters of kung fu and karate and the samurai style of fighting. I didn't borrow them merely to make the film - I studied all of them with experts because I want to understand them deeply. And I respect them like I respect muay thai. Like I said, I'm still not very good, and the only way to be is to study more and to work harder."

    Ong-Bak 2 has whetted the public appetite with its jaw-dropping teasers; one of them showing Jaa racing on the backs of a stampeding herd of elephants, the other featuring his brutal flip-kicks and cartwheeling punches. Even to those who found Tom-Yum-Goong rather mediocre, the new film's tag line, "real fight is back" - confirming Jaa's no-stunt, no-wires modus operandi - still carries a genuine authority, even a certain sense of pride. At a time when bare-chested, bare-knuckled heroes seem obsolete in the cinema, Thailand, through Jaa, manages to carve out a small slice of global fame.



    But all hasn't been so smooth. The perplexing, bizarre and sometimes unpleasant scandals during the filming of Ong-Bak 2 have dulled some of Jaa's lustre, and perhaps explain the actor's pensive, monk-like mode. In late July, reports spread that Jaa had gone missing from the set of the movie. Assistants said the actor/director had gone to meditate in the jungle, leaving everyone in great panic since the film's budget had already ballooned. Then he reappeared. And there followed his meetings with the studio, Sahamongkol Film Intl, accompanied by both sides' lawyers, over his fees and his request for even more money in order to complete the film.

    At that time, sources close to Jaa suspected the actor's increasing penchant for black magic to be part of the problem. "I was stressed out and I went to a forest monastery to pray and to seek artistic visions," the actor said at that time. "I'm making this film not for money, but for its artistic value." The dust was cleared, however, after two frenzied weeks, and Jaa returned to the set to finish what he'd left off. Sahamongkol Film says that the picture cost nearly 300 million baht, a shocking inflation from the original 150 million baht budget.

    Neither Jaa nor his team wishes to talk about the conflict. Everyone is only happy now that the film will go on release. Jaa repeatedly thanked the studio for letting a first-timer like him enjoy the rare chance of helming such a major project.

    Yet it seems that Jaa's sabbatical sojourn in the forest still left an imprint. The actor, in his serene tone, talks raptly about "stillness", and about how he strives to delve into the spiritual core of martial arts in order to find ultimate peace. "Martial arts are meditation in action," he says. "It helps you concentrate, it's about reviewing your experiences and about your thoughts. It's Brahmin and Buddhism combined, and it helps you get in touch with the four elements of the Earth.



    "And I don't mean just muay thai. A samurai, for example, represents a stillness that's wrought with meaning. I spent a long time learning simply how to clasp my hand around the handle of a samurai sword, because there's a way to do it correctly, and it's important. I may design the fighting moves according to my imagination, but the basics must be right."

    It may not be easy for observers, however, to reconcile Jaa's devotion to stillness and serenity with the flurry of violence that, to be frank, helped make him famous. It's all just acting, but is the visceral brutalisation of Ong-Bak, Tom-Yum-Goong, and now Ong-Bak 2 really a Buddhist way of expressing oneself? In the first Ong-Bak, it's almost ironic that in order to recover a stolen Buddha bust, a symbol of peace in his village, Jaa's character had to brawl his way through a mob of thugs, beating them to pulp. In Ong-Bak 2, the motive is pure revenge.

    Again Jaa replies calmly. "It's a black-and-white thing, but what I want to find is what's in the middle," he says. "I believe we practice martial arts not to use it to overpower others. It's a means to find the emptiness inside us, and if we can do that we won't be the aggressor but the recipient of violence. We'll take things as they come."

    Like a priest's homily, Jaa's sermonised answer is either mystical, intriguing, or off-the point. He seems to believe what he says, though. Only that for Tony Jaa, a man whose marvellous moves could well be soon recognised as a national treasure, actions speaks louder than words. And with the full catalogue of ferocious fists, feet, swords and whatnot Jaa has prepared for his opponents in his new film, it will certainly continue to be that way.

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    Re: Interview with Tony Jaa on Ong-Bak 2

    I would definitely like to see this one. For some reason I still feel that Tony never got the due respect and fame he deserved in America. His fight sequences are as incredible as any done by Jet Li or Jackie Chan, yet he never got his own movies in the U.S. like those two did. You figure America is one of the biggest markets an actor would want to crack, and I believe Tony did want to be in U.S. movies. But for some reason he never really did crack this market outside of the release of his Thai movies in America. Does anyone else feel this way?

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    Re: Interview with Tony Jaa on Ong-Bak 2

    He's one of my favourite action stars who do not rely on stuntmen. I have watched both Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong, and am really impressed with his martial prowess. Tony Jaa is not as ambitious as Jet Li or Jackie Chan, and thus he might not be as proactive as them in breaking into the American market.

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    Re: Interview with Tony Jaa on Ong-Bak 2

    By Tatat Bunnag, Photos by Varuth Hirunyatheb and courtesy of Sahamongkol Film

    Tony Jaas back with Ong-Bak 2



    The movie that action film fans around the world have been waiting for finally hits cinemas this week. Tony Jaa is back in the action-packed historical fantasy Ong-Bak 2. The film also marks the 33-year-old stars directorial debut.

    Tony Jaas incredible fight sequences are performed without the use of CGI, wires or stunt doubles. He has already been widely acclaimed as a martial arts superstar on par with Jackie Chan and Jet Li.

    Ong-Bak 2 promises to be even more spectacular than Ong-Bak, introducing a completely new form of martial arts to the big screen.

    The film is set during the regal times of King Naresuan. Tony Jaa plays Tien, a mysterious fighter behind a Garuda mask who is out to avenge the brutal murder of his parents. Tien discovers the beauty of khon (Thai masked dance), and transforms it into a deadly new fighting technique.



    Student Weekly recently met up with Tony Jaa to talk about Ong-Bak 2 and his exciting career as a martial arts actor.

    STUDENT WEEKLY: The storyline of Ong-Bak 2 is unrelated to Ong-Bak why does it have that title?

    Tony: I came up with the story and the fighting style for Ong-Bak 2, but the title came from Sahamongkol Film boss Somsak Techaratanaprasert. I guess the title will be immediately recognised everywhere.

    My last film, Tom-Yum-Goong, was also called Ong-Bak 2 in some countries.

    STUDENT WEEKLY: Is the fighting style in Ong-Bak 2 different from your previous films?

    Tony: I used traditional muay Thai in my first film. In Ong-Bak 2, I combine khon and traditional Thai theatrical arts to create a new

    style of fighting. I also use kung fu and fight with Samurai swords and other weapons.



    STUDENT WEEKLY: One of the highlights of Ong-Bak 2 is the scene where you fight on the backs of elephants. How did you choreograph that sequence?

    Tony: I had to hang around the elephants for months so that they could become familiar with me. I practised my movements on them for a long time to make sure that I could really do it. If I missed and fell off, I could have been killed.

    STUDENT WEEKLY: There are lots of dangerous fight scenes in your movies. Have you ever been badly injured?

    Tony: Ive never broken any bones. Its normal in any sport to have minor injuries like bruises, swelling, nosebleeds and sprained ankles.



    STUDENT WEEKLY: How do you stay safe?

    Tony: I spend a lot of time working on every move. Its really hard, but its safe.

    The stuntman also has to know exactly when to turn or fall down. It takes a lot of practise to make it look realistic.

    STUDENT WEEKLY: Did the worldwide success of Ong-Bak surprise you?

    Tony: It was better than anything I could have imagined. I was really amazed.

    I felt proud to increase awareness of Thailand, of muay Thai and of the Thai film industry.

    STUDENT WEEKLY: What are some of your favourite martial arts films?

    Tony: I love watching movies, and I like all of Bruce Lee, Jet Li and Jackie Chans films. Some of my favourites are Drunken Master, Fist of Fury and Police Story.



    Did you know
    Tony Jaa was the stunt double for Robin Shou in the film Mortal Kombat 2.

    Source: Student Weekly

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    Re: Interview with Tony Jaa on Ong-Bak 2

    My interesting blog about Thailand at Thailand Blog ---> click here

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