In every decade, world cinema has produced a new breed of martial arts action hero.  In the 1970s, Hong Kong gave the world Bruce Lee, the kung fu hero who still casts a long shadow over the industry.  In the 1980s, it was Japan’s turn, with the ninja, as epitomized by Sho Kosugi, becoming a household name.In the 1990s, American imagination revolutionized martial arts movie-making when Keanu Reeves starred in ‘The Matrix’.  Now, the first decade of the new century has already spawned a unique superstar.  He hails from Thailand, and his name is Tony Jaa


The film’s title, ‘Ong Bak’, refers to a Buddha statue kept in the Nong Pra-du temple in rural Thailand. It dates from the time of the Thai/Burmese war, 200 years ago. The villagers believe Ong Bak is imbued with magical powers that will keep them safe from harm.


One dark night, a former native of the village, Don (Wannakit Siriput), has his men cut the head of the statute to win favour with ruthless crime boss Khom Tuan. The locals regard the theft as a catastrophe, and seek a champion to retrieve their lost treasure. They find their man in Ting (Tony Jaa), an orphaned youngster raised at the local temple, and schooled by Pra Kru, a kindly monk, in an ancient system of Muay Thai: ‘Nine Body Weapons’.

Ting travels to the mean streets of Bangkok, where he finds that the head of Ong Bak is in the possession of a local gang boss, Khom Tuan. Ting meets another native of Nong Pra-du, George, and a street waif, Muay Lek. He enlists their help in his quest. The ensuing adventures sees our heroes engage in fistfights, running street battles and an intricate chase sequence featuring ‘tuk-tuks’, the famous three-wheeled Thai taxis.

To recover the Buddha head, Ting is forced to compete in illegal street fights, taking on both local and foreign opponents. His superior skills make him a natural champion, and he even agrees to throw a fight with Burmese boxer Saming when he’s promised the return of Ong Bak.

In the end, Khom Tuan betrays Ting, leading to a final encounter in a cave situated on the border between Thailand and Burma. Ting is forced to use every ounce of his courage and stamina in a final martial arts battle of truly epic proportions.



Tony Jaa (Ting)

Tony Jaa has been obsessed with martial arts, and martial arts movies, since childhood. He was born Panom Yee-rum in the province of Surin, about 200 kilometers from Bangkok. On leaving school, he told his family that he planned on pursuing a career in pugilism. He dedicated every ounce of his youthful energy to his training, rising at 5.00am and training until 10.00, then resuming from afternoon to evening. Tony’s initial influence was Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan.

At the age of 15, he saw the Thai action film ‘Born To Fight’, starring and directed by Phanna Rithikrai. The student was ready, and the teacher duly appeared, in the person of Phanna himself. Phanna, a veteran of Thai action cinema, took Tony under his wing, training him in kung fu and stunt work. Tony also studied Taekwondo, swordplay and gymnastics. His skills became so advanced that he gave demonstrations in Northeast Thailand and China.

Over the next few years, Tony paid his dues in the local industry, working on movie sets as a water boy, cook and general crewmember. His first real break saw him stunt double actor Robin Shou in the Hollywood actioner ‘Mortal Kombat’. He also doubled local star James Ruengsak Loichusak and worked on the Thai TV series ‘In See Dang’.

Tony finally added his native sport to his physical repertoire, and began training in Muay Thai four years ago, specifically for his role in ‘Ong Bak’ .On its release, the film, on which he also worked as fight choreographer, became a smash hit, and it established Tony as Thailand’s top action actor.

He is currently working on his new film, ‘Tom Yum Goong’.


Copyright ©  2004 USMTA Inc.   All rights reserved. Revised: February 05, 2005.