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).
Born in the Surin Province of the Isan
region of Thailand, Jaa grew up in a rural area and watched films by
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
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.
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
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
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
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