Happy Birthday, Tony Jaa!
It’s been a bit of a somber weekend for me, but social media reminders nudged me a bit to get on here to pay some respects to another beloved action star many like me have been fond of for about twenty years now: Tony Jaa.
We’re only a few years into the new millennium and in the years since Hollywood’s embrace of Hong Kong’s best into its mainstream after crossing over multiple titles in theaters and on home video and eventually DVD, little did martial arts action fans know that it wouldn’t be long before Jaa would flying knee his way into our hearts with style in the incredible Ong Bak. The trailer itself, selling big on the moves, the stunts, and with Jaa front and center as a new leading face of action cinema for Western audiences, would add Jaa’s name to the incredible cadre of martial arts action star talents including Jung Doo-hung and Marko Zaror, Tak Sakaguchi and even Eric Jacobus, and with Thai stars like Jeeja Yanin and Dan Chupong coming out of the woodwork for their own leading roles.
With Praycha Pinkaew’s name on the director’s chair as the man leading the charge and with action legend Panna Rittikrai now etched into the fandom, Jaa stayed the course after Ong Bak with Tom Yum Goong and sequels to both properties in the years after, among other projects. Of course, with the goal of growing his career outside of Thailand came without some hindrances and unwarranted controversy, including the very public legal contract dispute between Jaa and the Thai studio that lasted for two years. Sahamongkol president Sia Jiang withdrew his lawsuit against the star in 2015, ultimately setting the stage for Jaa’s freedom to expand to Hollywood and other markets.
Much to our chagrin, that also meant Jaa sacrificing his unfinished directorial efforts on A Man Will Rise, which would have also seen him on screen once again with fellow Skin Trade star Dolph Lundgren. It’s a bittersweet development to see unfold, but in my view, with appearances in two S.P.L. projects, as well as Furious Seven, xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage, Triple Threat, Monster Hunter, Master Z, Detective Chinatown 3 and in the upcoming fourth chapter of The Expendables, Jaa’s probably been onward and forward ever since.
Speaking of nostalgia, it’s been almost a decade since I reached out to Jaa’s Facebook page in a comment section mentioning how I never got to attend one of Jaa’s events when he was in New York City. It was Jaa’s manager who reached out to me personally and provided me occasional updates and correspondence on Jaa’s work and career progression, something I wanted to reflect on in the wake of Jaa turning 46 on Sunday (although technically his birthday is in January but was registered a month late by his parents many years ago) and still managing to mitigate his physicality to greater heights than most common athletes. I look forward to seeing more of him in entertainment, as a trailer for The Expendables 4 can’t come soon enough.
Happy Birthday, Jaa!
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
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