ACTION HERO Soft-spoken and dare I say, petite, Tony Jaa hardly looks like the kind of guy who could annihilate a room full of underground pit fighters. Of course, anyone who's seen Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior knows this appearance is deceiving. The 30-year-old Thai superstar's latest film, The Protector, features elephants and a one-take sequence of, as Jaa describes it, "me fighting the bad guys from the ground floor to the fourth floor" — but, as in Ong-Bak, there are no CG, wires, or Jaa stunt doubles during the fight scenes. On a recent visit to San Francisco, Jaa paused to discuss his skyrocketing career.
SFBG Your films are famous for their fight scenes. Which comes first, the stunts or the story?
TONY JAA (through interpreter Gilbert Lim, also his manager) It has to be the story first. After the script is done, all the stunt people — my [martial arts] master Panna Rittikrai, the director [Prachya Pinkaew], and me — will sit down and decide what sort of action would fit into each particular scene. Then we try them all out before we actually film them.
SFBG Before Ong-Bak, Muay Thai hadn't been featured in many films. What makes your way of fighting different?
TJ Muay Thai is something I would really like to show to the rest of the world. With my style of shooting a film — not having a stunt man for myself — it creates a more realistic film for the audience.
SFBG CG effects have come a long way in recent years, so it's kind of ironic that the future of martial arts, which is what you've been called, keeps it so old-school.
TJ I feel that CG is not something to be taken lightly. I'm OK with it, but I feel a sense of pride in doing the stunts. I want my audience to feel amazed by something I did myself.
SFBG Do you plan to do the Jackie Chan thing and make an American movie? In Ong Bak there was that graffiti shout-out to Steven Spielberg ...
TJ Yes! [Laughs] It was something the director put in. For the time being, I'm extremely busy with my next film, Ong-Bak 2, which I'll be directing myself. As to whether I would go to the US [to make a film], when Spielberg calls ... [Laughs] I'm just joking! But the time might come when I will make the move.
SFBG Will Ong-Bak 2 be a direct sequel to the first film?
TJ No, it's actually a period piece. You'll see me using weapons and showing Thai martial arts styles that will be very new for the cinema.
SFBG OK, I have to ask. If you only had one punch to bring a guy down, where's the best spot to aim to do the most damage?
TJ [Laughs] A lot of the basis of martial arts, it's not about hitting the other person, it's about self-discipline. Although in many parts of our bodies there are weak spots which you could actually hit to knock the person out. But I'm not gonna name them! (Cheryl Eddy)
Opens Fri/8 in Bay Area theaters
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