If you were to say that “Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior” took no prisoners upon its arrival in 2003, you wouldn’t be anywhere near doing the film justice. With its insane stunt work and jaw-dropping Muay Thai fight sequences, “Ong Bak” was a knockout punch and a half from every angle. Like the film itself, its leading man, Tony Jaa, seemingly came out of nowhere to completely blow the lid off of our collective expectation of what the human body is capable of, and “Ong Bak” would set THE bar for big screen stunts and action for years.
Following the release of “Ong Bak”, Tony Jaa would continue to blow audiences around the world out of the water with such hits as “Tom Yum Goong“, the “Ong Bak” prequels, “Skin Trade“, “SPL 2: A Time for Consequences“, and 2015’s “Furious 7“. More recently, Tony would also come aboard the highly anticipated martial arts action ensemble, “Triple Threat” – alongside a murder’s row of his fellow action stars, including Iko Uwais, Tiger Chen, Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, Celina Jade, Michael Bisping, Jeeja Yanin, and long time action vet Ron Smoorenburg.
Today, Tony sits down with KFK to share a look back at his beginnings as a stunt man, along with a peak behind the scenes of “Triple Threat”, and a look at what he has coming up in the future!
Hi Tony, Kun Sabai Dee Mai Krap?
Welcome to Kung Fu Kingdom! Great to have you with us today, we hope you’re keeping well?
Hi Brad, I’m doing very well, thanks for having me on Kung Fu Kingdom!
Awesome. Have you taken a look at our site, what do you think of it, and the name Kung Fu Kingdom (KFK)?
It’s very well-designed, and KFK is a cool name!
Fantastic, thanks! Okay, so if we could start with who are some of the biggest influences you’ve had in martial arts?
Great ones all round. So, how did you first get started as a stunt performer?
I first started out doing stunt work in a couple of Panna Rittikrai films, and later on, doubled for Robin Shou and James Remar in “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation”. That was really how my life in stunts began.
On “Ong Bak”
Everyone of course remembers you from the groundbreaking “Ong Bak” trilogy. After three movies in the franchise, is “Ong Bak” something you’d want to revisit in the future?
I think “Ong Bak” in its original form has ultimately run its course. That said, I wouldn’t mind a more modern take, with a stronger story line that involved the same character.
We’d certainly be all-in for that! So, after “Ong Bak”, you spent time as a monk in a Buddhist monastery in Surin, Thailand. What can you share about the monastic life of a Buddhist monk for people who don’t know much about it?
It is actually very common in Thailand for most men to enter monkhood for a period of time. It gives you a chance to reflect and to do so from a quiet place and a different perspective.
Indeed. On that note, what is Tony Jaa’s favourite martial-arts movie?
Well, with Bruce Lee being such an influence on me, I really like “Enter The Dragon“, but there are a lot of great martial arts films. It would be hard to narrow them all down!
Agreed! Speaking of film work, do you prefer working in front of or behind the camera having done both?
I think ultimately, my preference is being in front of the camera.
On “Master Z: Ip Man Legacy”
Great. Well, looking ahead now, one of your upcoming projects is the spin-off of the “Ip Man” series, “Master Z: Ip Man Legacy”. What can you share about making the film with Max Zhang, Dave Bautista, Michelle Yeoh, and Yuen Woo-ping?
Max and I are really good friends, we previously worked together on “SPL 2”, so I enjoyed the chance to catch up with him and work together again. I have always been a fan of Yuen Woo-ping, as well, so it was also really exciting to have a chance to work with him. He is very creative when it comes to action, and it was a great experience to be a part of “Master Z”.
On “Triple Threat”
It’s coming soon and we’re definitely looking forward to get involved. Moving ahead, you can currently be seen in the highly anticipated martial arts ensemble film “Triple Threat”, appearing alongside Iko Uwais, Tiger Chen, Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, Celina Jade, Michael Bisping, Jeeja Yanin, and Ron Smoorenburg.
“Triple Threat” was a lot of fun to be a part of. I really enjoyed working with Jesse, he is a very hard working director, and Tim Man did a wonderful job preparing the stunt setups and made sure all of us in the cast had enough time to rehearse.
No doubt. Speaking of that, “Triple Threat” features a sequence with yourself, Tiger Chen, and Iko Uwais in a Muay Thai ring. What can you share about making this sequence with them?
We shot that sequence over two days. There were a lot of extras in there, and it really had the feel of an actual pit fight. We all had a lot of fun putting it together.
Well, that work clearly paid off in the finished film. “Triple Threat” also shows your first fight with Scott Adkins, a dream match between action stars that viewers have waited years to see. What can you share about filming your fight sequence with Scott?
Scott and I have been good friends for quite some time, so we looked forward to working together. I have to say that, after working with Scott on “Triple Threat” where we’re enemies, I actually would like to make a buddy movie with Scott. He is an incredible martial artist and a great actor, and working with Scott really helped me up my game.
That has the makings of a memorable buddy-cop movie, that’s for sure. On that note, what was the most daring stunt or move you performed in making “Triple Threat”? Were there any major injuries or accidents?
There weren’t any major injuries, Tim Man always made sure we were ready and the Seng Stunt Team [a Thailand-based group of stuntmen] that worked on the film is first class and all know what they’re doing. As far as stunts in “Triple Threat”, we had to do a big explosion during the jungle fight between myself and Iko at the beginning of the film, so that was a bit tricky making sure everything was safe for that.
Well, it kicked off the film with a bang that ignited the rest of the action. So, with “Triple Threat” released now, what other projects do you have planned?
I recently finished “Monster Hunter” with Milla Jovovich. It was a three-month shoot in South Africa and will be released next year. There are a couple of other projects scheduled for later this year, will speak more about those when they’ve been officially announced.
On Training & Diet
Sounds like a plan. Looking ahead at training now, how much time do you spend training per day or per week: is it mostly martial arts and flexibility training, and do you add weight training?
I actually have a pretty long routine, so it’s a lot to break down! I usually train around four to six hours per day, five days a week. I do a lot of flexibility training, as well as martial arts and sparring, and I do some light weight training as well.
When it comes to diet, what does Tony Jaa eat; which foods give you the most energy for martial arts training and generally?
(Laughs) I don’t have any special diet. I eat pretty much anything although I am partial to chicken noodles.
Fun & Leisure
Likewise! So, looking at fun and leisure now, what’s one geeky thing that people don’t know about you?
If I told you then they would know!
Truth! So, if you could be a superhero, who would you be and what superpower would you most like to possess?
I have always enjoyed the Hanuman [monkey god] character, and would love to play a superhero based on him.
That would be amazing to behold. So, what are some of your hobbies?
I enjoy singing, working with elephants and dogs, and just hanging out with my kids.
Favourite music (maybe Thai)?
I like Thai pop and ballads. I also like Western stuff like ZZ Top, Rolling Stones and Bon Jovi.
Favourite non-martial arts movies?
Well, I really like action movies overall, but they need to have a solid story. There are quite a few western action films that fit the bill. “John Wick” is a recent one I really enjoyed that fits that bill.
Excellent, “John Wick” is a modern classic. So, what are some things in life you really like or dislike:
I am a happy guy, there is no reason to dislike anything. Life brings surprises, you accept them for what they are, both good and bad.
Well said. So, what is your proudest accomplishment so far, and what do you want to achieve in the next 5 years? Do you have any plans to visit the UK?
I am sure I will be in the UK at some point. I would like to keep developing as an actor, and I have worked hard on improving my English. A far as the next five years, I’d definitely like to do more international films, so I really hope to have the opportunity to do that.
Aim for the stars…! Well, as get ready to wrap Tony, what ideas, quotes or philosophy has helped shape you into who you are today?
There isn’t really a single quote for me, I just learned a lot about behaviour and morality from my father. The philosophy he instilled in me is what I’ve always tried to follow.
And it’s serving you well. Finally, what message would you like to share with Kung Fu Kingdom readers and your fans around the world right now?
I just want to say thanks to my fans for following my career over all these years, and to KFK for giving me a chance to talk about it all here.
The pleasure has been all ours, Tony. Thank you for your kind participation in this interview, we hope it gives our readers a glimpse into the original “Ong Bak” superstar Tony Jaa. We wish you much success with “Triple Threat” – you brought on some superb action there and we look forward to seeing you in the other action movies you mentioned soon too!
Thank you Brad, glad to share with Kung Fu Kingdom today.