Interviewing Tony Jaa late last year turned out to be much more of a blessing than I thought it would be. Growing into my first year as an action film enthusiast and blogger, not only did I earn the opportunity to share exclusive content with one of the biggest action stars to date, I also get to in touch every once in a blue moon, and it's pretty fantastic!
Film Combat Syndicate: Greetings Jeeja, and thanks for taking the time to share your story with Film Combat Syndicate in this e-mail interview. How have you been this year so far?
Jeeja Yanin: This year has been more of a quiet family year. I spent time with my husband and my son. I have been doing some TV work as well. Overall it was a nice break.
I am ready to head back to movie making next year.
JY: I was very honored and excited to see such a positive response to my new Facebook page. I really like the idea of social media, it is so much more personal. It really lets you stay in touch and interact with people. I saw my friend Tony Jaa doing this and I saw how much he enjoyed it. What a great way to keep current with people.
JY: I studied ballet beginning at the age of four until I turned eleven, and I didn't like it anymore by then. At that time, TaeKwonDo was very popular, so my mother started sending me to TaeKwonDo for classes, and after that first class I was totally hooked! I earned my black belt when I was 13 years old and I started teaching TaeKwonDo until I turned eighteen. Afterwards, I decided to pursue a casting call for the 2003 movie, Born To Fight where I had the chance to meet Panna Rittikrai. I didn’t get the part, but fortunately Panna called me back to do a demo for another movie he was working on, which he didn't tell me about. So, he created an action sequence designed for me where I fight my way through various henchmen to save my brother. As I'm fighting these guys, I climb onto a platform about three meters high setting up a finale where I, and two other performers jump and fly toward each other, kicking ourselves in mid-air before landing back on the ground (of course there were crash mats). After Panna saw that I was not afraid of anything he threw at me, he expressed how impressed how impressed he was. As for the demo, he turned it in and it eventually became my first film, "Chocolate".
I began to train with Jaa after that, and I started training in Muay Thai, stunt conditioning and performance for two years before we start shooting.
As for my inspirations while growing up, of course, there was Bruce Lee, Jet Li and Jackie Chan. Hong Kong movies were very big in Thailand at the time as well.
JY: When I grew up I saw many of the movies of Jackie Chan, Jet Li and other Hong Kong action stars, but the movie that I watched over and over again and really liked was the first Mortal Kombat. The action was really good and it came out while I was studying Tae Kwon Do.
JY: Thanks, that is really kind of you! I had fun with that film.
JY: Chocolate was my first movie, so it was totally new to me in terms of action and acting. With the action, I had to study Muay Thai from scratch. Because of my TaeKwonDo background, it took me a while to get used to Muay Thai since it’s a totally different style of martial arts, whether it’s the kicking, punching, knees or elbow strikes. I also had to learn some stunt skills like how to protect myself, how to fall or how to perform a fight and make it look like I hit hard or got really hit hard while just barely touching the other performer. In terms of acting, I played an autistic girl that learns martial art from movies, so I went to an Institution for People With Mental Illnesses and studied the patients there, and I also talked to the doctors about how the patients with autism behaved, responded and reacted when they were in certain situations. I adapted my movie character to learn how to fight from watching movies, but to learn in a behavioral way that would be realistic for the character. To look at fighting techniques I watched Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Tony Jaa and studied their moves.
I really wanted to play the role as authentically as I could, I felt it was a unique chance to show off my actions skills and acting in one shot.
JY: When I became pregnant, I temporarily suspended my film career and I stopped training for fear of hurting my baby and geared up to be a mom. I went to prenatal classes and did a lot of shopping for the baby. After I gave birth, I took time off to be with my son and my training regimen was highly reduced. In the last 6 months however, I've really stepped it up, whether at home or at the gym. And as of June, I have been back in full training condition. I do watch what I eat now since after giving birth. It seems a bit easier to put on the pounds! [laughs]
JY: He does now. He comes with me when I train, and I don’t let him just sit around. We have a lot of fun and he is doing very well.
JY: I like easy listening songs during my leisure time, like Bossa Nova or similar latin beats. But, I do like something more up beat during the training like rock or hip-hop.
JY: In this show, I play the daughter of a Muay Thai trainer that runs his own gym. To me this is very new as well because the way of the acting for Thai television than in movies. The sense the style on television is more exaggerated, but that is what the audience here likes.
JY: I think it was time to "stretch my legs" so to speak and see what I could do internationally. I enjoy the movies we make in Thailand, but I think international films will give me a chance for a bit more range.
JY: I will let you know in due course as there are several projects under discussion, they are all action related but with strong story lines.
JY: You never know, in the right film it could happen.
JY: First and foremost I will continue to build on my acting skills, although someday, perhaps I will try writing. I think writing a story and seeing it become a movie would be quite exciting.
JY: The first thing is that you have to be patient and keep improving yourself. You have to keep focus but not over pressure yourself or get frustrated. Be true to yourself and have discipline and keep practicing and training and have fun in your life.
JY: Totally! First is “Som Tum”. It’s a spicy papaya salad, delicious and pretty healthy and it's a very famous dish from Thailand. I think you should try Northern Thai food as well if they have it there; there’s a Thai sausage called “ Sai owa” and it’s a little bit spicy from the pepper and sometimes slightly sour. Also, one must never forget Thai red chicken curry called “ Mussamun Gai”. This is not only my favorite, but I read somewhere that it was voted amongst the top ten dishes in the world! So in advance, Happy Birthday and enjoy your dinner!
I want to thank you for taking the time to interview me. I really appreciate it and want to send my best wishes to you and your readers. Jeeja