Today, as the world pays its respects to the legendary Bruce Lee on the forty-first anniversary of his untimely death, we also mourn the loss of another martial arts legend whose life ended too soon – Thai action director/choreographer and stuntman Panna Rittikrai. Following a battle with liver and kidney failure alongside a brain tumor, Rittikrai passed away earlier today at the age of 53.
Born on February 17th, 1961 as Krittiya Lardphanna, Rittikrai gained fame in his native Thailand as one of the founding members of the Muay Thai Stunt Team. A ragtag band of daredevil stuntmen and martial artists, the group became renown for their fearlessness at performing stunt work and action sequences without wires, or really any meaningful safety measures, and with their courage, drew significant attention to the Thai action film industry.
Rittikrai would ultimately help put Thai action films on the map in the early 2000’s with the film “Ong-Bak”, which saw his protegé Tony Jaa become the next big breakout star in martial arts films. Jaa had been deeply inspired by Rittikrai’s many action films, such as “Born to Fight”, leading Rittikrai to become Jaa’s mentor. The two would further collaborate on both “Ong-Bak” sequels, as well as the film “Tom Yum Goong” and it’s sequel, which would prove to be the breakout film for another apprentice of Rittikrai’s, Marrese Crump.
Today, Rittikkrai leaves behind a legacy as a phenomenal action director, a fearless stunt performer, and a truly gifted martial artist, one that shall be continued through his students, Tony Jaa and Marrese Crump, and honoured by his many fans across the globe.
R.I.P. Panna Rittikrai.