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TONY JAA

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Panom Yeerum (Thai: พนม ยีรัมย์) was born on February 5, 1976 in Surin Province, 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: Muay Thai Warrior and Tom-Yum-Goong (also called Warrior King or The Protector).

Early life

Born in the Surin Province of the Isan region of Thailand, Jaa grew up in a rural area and watched films by Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li at temple fairs. While 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."

At age 15, he looked up Panna Rittikrai, begging the veteran Thai stuntman and action-film director to take him on as a protege. Panna instructed Jaa to attend Maha Sarakham College of Physical Education in Maha Sarakham Province.

First films

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 pachyderm's back. He also appeared in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, as a stunt double for Robin Shou (Liu Kang).

Together, Panna and Jaa developed an interest in Muay Boran, an ancient style of Muay Thai and worked and trained for six years 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.

This led to Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (องค์บาก) in 2003, Jaa's break-out role as a leading man. Jaa did all the stunts without mechanical assistance or computer-generated effects and it showcased his style of extreme acrobatics and speedy, dance-like moves. With the film, he was hailed as Asia's next martial-arts film superstar.

As Jaa has gained popularity, older films he made with Panna began to be released on DVD and VCD and become available internationally. These include Spirited Killer and Mission Hunter 2.

Rise to fame

His second major movie was Tom-Yum-Goong (ต้มยำกุ้ง; also the name of a hot and sour soup, Tom yum kung (ต้มยำกุ้ง)). This movie enjoyed even greater success in Thailand and Hong Kong than Ong-Bak when released, and was subsequently picked up for release in the United States by the Weinstein Company, which retitled the film as The Protector.

As he did to promote the release of Ong-Bak, Jaa was again busy traveling the world to promote The Protector. 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.

Next projects

Tony's name is often included on the "wish lists" of various directors. An early rumor was that he was to be the villain in Live Free or Die Hard gossip that he was quick to deny.

Sahamongkol Film International advertised at film markets that his third film would be called Sword or Dab Atamas, but then in March 2006 it was reported that there would be a sequel to Ong-Bak, Ong-Bak 2. With Tony both directing and starring, it started production in fall 2006 and will be released in late 2007.

His films captured the attention of his hero, Jackie Chan, who asked director Brett Ratner to cast Tony 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."

In Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior there is a spray-painted message in the background in one scene that says "Hi Spielberg, let['s] do it together", which states Tony Jaa's wish to work with Steven Spielberg; Also later in the movie during the chase sequence, a note to Luc Besson appears in graffiti. Tony has further stated a desire to be cast in the upcoming Indiana Jones 4 sequel.

Additionally, veteran Hong Kong martial arts coordinator Lau Kar-leung has mentioned Tony as someone he'd like to work with

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