Tony Jaa: Man on the Move
Tony Jaa discusses he’s latest film The Protector

Celebrity scoop by Joel Fowler

You may never find a more unassuming action star than Thai martial arts master Tony Jaa. On set, with shirt off and tight abs bulging with doing all his own stunts without the use of wires or safety nets, he looks like the hulking warrior as the film marketers attempt to paint him. Yet, away from the shoot, such as lounging on a couch in a fine Washington D.C. luxury hotel, talking about his latest project, the Weinstein Company produced The Protector, Tony appears in his blue jeans and thin windbreaker to be more like one of the foreign-born Georgetown University students scurrying to their first classes of the year than such a stunning and remarkable athlete who can literally scale large automobiles in a single bound.

Maybe it’s his physical attributes (or lack thereof) that makes Jaa the perfect part unassuming hero? In both his latest film and ONG BAK, his previous offering that earned him both high praise in the movie business and an American cult following, Tony takes the role of small time villager who must recover stole possessions with ease.

However, fans of ONG BAK may feel like The Protector is merely a retread of the same storyline screenwriter / director Prachya Pinkaew used in Tony’s and his last collaboration. Sure, the style of his Muay Thai martial arts has been altered slightly, from the traditional form in ONG BAK to one Jaa describes as the ‘elephant’ style, which mimics the pacaderm’s trunk movements. Yes, the locations have changed (from Asia to Australia) and the items that need to be recovered have been altered as well (stolen statues in ONG BAK to two beloved elephants that are both pets / family members, much like the two Tony grew up with (named Leaf and Flower) as a child in Thailand). But basically, Jaa must recover stolen goods in a distant land with the help of a disgraced male sidekick and a sullied but possible feminine love interest.

While Jaa wouldn’t commit that in future projects he’d like to do something radical, like play a bad guy, you get the sense that he too wants to branch out of the timid-to-powerful protagonist role.

“Yes,” Tony explains through his interpreter Gilbert, “I’m already thinking of my next project, which would be a prequel to ONG BAK that would focus on an ancient version, like from the 14th or 15th Century, of Muay Thai. I don’t want to say exactly what the story will be, but I have it all clearly planned out in my head, which is why I’m planning to write it and direct it myself. All I will say though is that it will be nothing like you’ve ever seen out of me before.”

When the discussion moves to the other martial arts stars he is most often compared to, Jaa fully understands that the English language was the tool that allowed Jackie Chan and Jet Li to broaden their audiences. It’s a trait Tony aspires to achieve.

“I would love to learn the language, but it takes so much time to do so. With my movie career, I haven’t had that time to dedicate to such scholarly pursuits. I’m either training for my next film or shooting my current one. But, it is definitely something that I’ll be working on in the next four or five years.”

When asked if he knew any English, Tony replies with a laugh.

“Pizza!... Hamburger!” (the second of which, as his interpreter points out, is very ironic since Tony does not eat red meat).

But, language is not something Tony has to worry about at this time, not since he’s found a friend in Harvey Weinstein, who has already greenlit Jaa’s ONG BAK prequel. Much like he did with the Chinese hit “Hero” in 2004 when he was at Miramax, Harvey is opening The Protector on more than a 1,000 screens and has added that extra touch by claiming the film is being presented by Quentin Tarantino (which has worked in many films’s favor, such as the slasher-flick Hostel earlier this year).

Yes, it looks like action star Tony Jaa may be the next big (but little) thing in Hollywood.

©2006 Thomas Huff and Joel Fowler,

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