Interview with Tony Jaa from The Protector

From Fred Topel
September 2006

Tony Jaa Talks About His Action Movie, The Protector

Tony Jaa is forced to chase after the thugs who stole his family's prized elephants in the action movie, The Protector, directed by Prachya Pinkaew.

Why choose The Protector as the American title?
“Protection is really suited for the movie. Most movies that are released in the states are usually changed, so it’s okay for me. I don’t mind. The original name Tom Yum Goong is really well known for Thais. That’s the name of the movie and foreigners know the movie is Tom Yum Goong also.”

What’s it literally mean?
“Tom Yum Goong is a dish in Thailand, a very well known dish for Thailand. It’s very spicy and sour, so the name of the movie was called Tom Yum Goong because it’s a lot of spicy scenes, like hot scenes, very active scenes. It’s like having Tom Yum Goong.”

What new moves have you learned since Ong Bak?
“This movie is actually based on a move from Muay Thai combination with the elephant. It’s kind of like catch, throw and break. This is one of the themes that I use in the movie.”

What’s your favorite move?
“In the movie The Protector, the move of the elephant where they use the hands, so then I used the other move when I used the foot to represent the tusk pulling down people, and then using the trunk compared with the leg.”

How much does your kick hurt?
“It’s more of a mutual hurtness from the one who gets kicked and myself, but nobody goes to the hospital. No fatal accidents. Only just bruises and bumps.”

How does it hurt you?
“Because the actors are wearing safety guards under their shirts so a lot of times when I kick them, I have to do another take and I kick them again, sometimes doing that repeatedly hurts, too.”

How do you keep it safe?
“A lot of practice is involved with all the team. When to stop a kick so that it looks like it’s real…It’s really hard, but it’s safe. And a lot of practice from the stuntman, to know when the cue is to turn or fall down, to combine with practice so it looks more realistic.”

Could you kill someone?
“Actually, all of the moves are very deadly and can be fatal. It depends on the right point of impact so it’s very dangerous.”

How long did it take to shoot the warehouse fight?
“About two weeks. In that scene there’s a lot of moves that are really difficult, but the one move is kind of like the lizard move where I have to flip and stick to the wall on my hands. If I don’t do that correctly, I can fall down on my head. That’s the most difficult one. I did it five times and I could only hang on in three. For that, we did stacks first and tried to do it, then took one out of the stack and did it again, until there were no stacks so I could do it sticking to the wall.”

How much time did it take to prepare for the longest scene?
“For the long scene it took, preparation and everything, about one month for everything and about eight takes to do it. There was a lot of difficulty in this take because we had to change the cameraman because the first cameraman couldn’t catch up with Tony Jaa. So we changed to someone more fit. And one scene, when they got to the third level, we were going to throw out one of the bad guys but the safety crew wasn’t there, so they had to cut. There was another scene that everything was perfect but the film ran out. So that was a really frustrating take for Tony Jaa.”

How did you choreograph elephants?
“Actually, we needed to find an elephant that is most used to people around them, so we chose the one that was most used to people and did mostly other movies. I had to be around, hang around the elephant for a week so that they’re more familiar with my scents, my presences, my body being on them. Actually, for myself, it’s really familiar because I have two elephants myself at home because my family owns a lot of elephants from my ancestors.”

What’s happening with Ong Bak 2?
“I’m actually doing Ong Bak 2 right now. I’m directing that movie and starring in it [in] October.”

What are your plans?
“Wait and see…”

Would you play a bad guy?
“Right now probably no because I think there’s still an image of Ong Bak, the hero, so for now I really don’t want to play the bad guy role because maybe my fans won’t want that to happen yet. You have to see Ong Bak 2.”

How hard is it to learn acting?
“I am learning two ways right now. One is inner acting, what we believe about the character and what is his mindset. And actually learning acting outside, while I’m doing martial arts. It’s really hard to study right now because of both combinations together. Right now I have a teacher that teaches acting two, three weeks before the movie starts.”