Tony Jaa talks about the ‘Skin Trade’

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In the new action thriller Skin Trade, Tony Jaa plays Bangkok detective, Tony Vitayakul  who has to team up with New Jersey detective, Nick Cassidy (Dolph Lundgren) to stop Serbian mobster, Viktor Dragovic (Ron Perlman) who has an international human trafficking ring run by his sons across East Asia, the Middle East and North America. Cassidy accidentally kills the heir-apparent in a gun fight, leading Dragovic to go after his family. Together, Cassidy and Vitayakul must team up in Thailand to stop the Serbian mobster from wreaking anymore havoc on society with his filthy business.

Muay Thai action hero Tony Jaa was kind enough to answer 10 questions regarding the film, Muay Thai, dealing with the height difference between

Viktor Dragovic (Ron Perlman) gets what's coming to him from Detective Tony Vitayakul (Tony Jaa) in Skin Trade.

Viktor Dragovic (Ron Perlman) gets what’s coming to him from Detective Tony Vitayakul (Tony Jaa) in Skin Trade.

him and Lundgren and teaming up for another picture with White.  Here is what Jaa had to say:

R.C. Samo (RCS) – Michael Jai White said the fight scene with you taking place in the building was choreographed 10 minutes before the shoot. Do you prefer fight scenes to unfold naturally, or do you prefer to have them planned out days/weeks in advance to make them look as crisp as possible?

Tony Jaa (TJ) – The final choreography was something we were still practicing right up until the shoot. Mike and I rehearsed the sequences and moves together quite extensively for a number of days, but not on the actual set. It is always important to practice together so you know each others moves, this is also important for safety. A well rehearsed scene always looks better.

RCS –  You are known for using the Teep, Thai Clinch and the 12/6 elbows in your films. What other distinctly Muay Thai maneuvers do feel work well on film and would like to incorporate into future projects?

TJ – I often use the Patalani which is a flip kick as well as flying knees. A lot of what I do is more Muay Boran than Muay Thai although they are obviously related. It is hard to say what moves might be incorporated into future projects since it very much depends on the story, the character role and the setting. The key is to try and keep things fresh and interesting for the audience, but to maintain a sense of pace and environment for where an action scene is taking place.

RCS – Game of Death, was the first thing that came to mind when I saw you and Dolph Lundgren on screen together because of the height difference. With Lundgren being a Kyokushinkai practitioner and a three-time European Karate champion, what were the difficulties in creating fight scenes with your height and style differences?

TJ – OMG this is the first time I heard that Dolph was not the same height as me. Seriously though our styles are very different as is our size. The key was to recognize that I had a speed advantage and he had a strength advantage. As the fight progressed there would be ebbs and flows that would show off the relative advantages and disadvantages of both us, while trying to preserve a sense of realism given our size difference. I think it worked well.

RCS – You are recognized as a Muay Thai action hero, how has practicing Muay Thai shaped and enhanced your life?

TJ – I started Muay Thai when I was around 8 years old. It has been a fundamental part of my life and has given me a sense of training discipline. The association with Muay Thai is something I am quite proud of. There are many great Muay Thai fighters and it is a true Thai sport. Having the privilege to let people know about my country and my sport and fellow practitioners of the sport is a real honor.

RCS – As you have inspired so many to begin practicing Muay Thai, who were your Muay Thai influences in your youth?

TJ – My first influence and certainly the most lasting was my father. He is the one who taught me first. My father passed away not long ago, but there is a house in my heart where he will always live.

RCS – Skin Trade covers the difficult topic of sex trafficking and was able to ride the line of discomfort in knowing that this still happens in the modern world. What was your reaction in being offered this film prior to reading the script, knowing that it would be dealing with such a difficult subject matter?

TJ – I was familiar with the script and I felt the subject was very important. Thailand has been unfairly criticized for not doing enough about Human Trafficking. In fact the Thai authorities are very active in suppressing this type of activity. I thought that playing a Thai cop going after traffickers would help make this point.

RCS – Michael Jai White said the he and Dolph Lundgren practiced Kyokushinkai Katas during between shoot days. Lundgren has said that he meditates daily. Did you and either White or Lundgren do any training or meditating between shooting days?

TJ – I always meditate so there was no change for me. Mike and I are very close friends and we worked out together often.

RCS – In Furious 7 you were the villain, however, in Skin Trade and several of your other film, you primarily play the hero. Which archetype do you prefer to play? How much of Tony Jaa goes into the characters, especially when playing the bad guy?

TJ – I enjoy having a chance to act and to change characters. Each character requires a personal interpretation and in that sense since it is me doing the acting there is always some of me in the character. I don’t have a direct preference for character type. I am more interested in the quality of the story and whether there is a chance to depict the character as something more than one dimensional. Some of my early films did not always give me that opportunity and it is something I would like to reach for now.

RCS – Muay Thai has begun to make an impact in America with such promotions as Lion Fight, have you followed any Thai Boxers and if so, who is/are some of your favorites to watch?

TJ – I don’t have a favorite, I am so proud of the achievements of so many Thai boxers, and I am proud to see Muay Thai continuing to make inroads internationally.

RCS – When the time comes and you feel you are ready to retire, what would you like to be remembered for? Would you ever open up your own training camp or move to strictly choreographing fights?

TJ – I really don’t know. You know, for many years I wanted an opportunity to breakout internationally and for a variety of reasons this was not possible until two years ago. Having just started to get my feet wet in International Films I am content to see how things develop.

Skin Trade will be released on VOD and DVD, May 8, 2015. This is an action thrill ride you won’t want to miss.

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