Japanom Yeerum (born February 5, 1976), better known internationally as Tony Jaa, in Thailand as Jaa Phanom (Thai: จา พนม; rtgs: Cha Phanom), is a Thai martial artist, actor, action choreographer, stuntman, director, and Buddhist monk. His films include Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, Tom-Yum-Goong (also called Warrior King or The Protector), Ong-Bak 2, Ong Bak 3, Tom Yum Goong 2, and Furious 7.
Tony Jaa was born and raised in a rural area in Surin to Rin (née Saipetch) and Thongdee Yeerum. He graduated with a bachelor's degree from Maha Sarakham Institute of Physical Education. His hometown is 400 km from Bangkok. As he grew up he watched films by Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen and Jet Li at temple fairs, which was his inspiration to learn martial arts. He was so inspired by them that while he was doing chores or playing with friends, he would imitate the martial arts moves that he had seen, practicing in his father's rice paddy.
"What they [Chan, Lee and Li] did was so beautiful, so heroic that I wanted to do it too," Jaa told Time in a 2004 interview. "I practiced until I could do the move exactly as I had seen the masters do it."
He began training in Muay Thai at the local temple from age 10 and at age 15 he requested to become a protégé of stuntman and action-film director Panna Rittikrai. Panna had instructed Jaa to attend Maha Sarakham College of Physical Education in Maha Sarakham Province. Tony Jaa has a Muay Thai record of 5 wins and 0 losses
Although born in Thailand, Jaa is actually of Kuy descent and he can speak Thai, Northern Khmer (the language of approximately 50% of the people in Surin) and Kuy.
Tony initially worked as a stuntman for 14 years, Muay Thai Stunt, appearing in many of Panna's films. He doubled for Sammo Hung when the martial-arts actor made a commercial for an energy drink that required him to grasp an elephant's tusks and somersault onto the elephant's back. He was also a stunt double in the Thai television series Insee Daeng (Red Eagle).
Together, Panna and Jaa developed an interest in muay boran, the predecessor of muay Thai and worked and trained for four years at the art with the intention of developing a film about it. Eventually they were able to put together a short film showing what Jaa could do with the help of instructor Grandmaster Mark Harris. One of the people they showed it to was producer-director Prachya Pinkaew, who was duly impressed.
This led to Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior in 2003, Jaa's break-out role as a leading man. Jaa did all the stunts without mechanical assistance or computer-generated effects and it showcased his style of extreme acrobatics and speedy, dance-like moves. Injuries suffered in the filming included a ligament injury and a sprained ankle. One scene in the film involved fighting with another actor while his own trousers were on fire. "I actually got burned," he said in a 2005 interview. "I really had to concentrate because once my pants were on fire the flames spread upwards very fast and burnt my eyebrows, my eyelashes and my nose. Then we had to do a couple more takes to get it right.".
His second major movie was Tom-Yum-Goong (The Protector in the US), named after a type of Thai soup and including a style of muay thai that imitates elephants.
In August 2006, he was in New York to promote the US release of The Protector, including an appearance at the Museum of the Moving Image.
Tony Jaa officially registered his marriage to longtime girlfriend Piyarat Chotiwattananont on 29 December 2011. The wedding ceremony was held on 3 May 2012. The couple has a daughter.