Ong-Bak (2003) contained so many jaw-dropping stunts and such innovative muay Thai that it seemed like its star, Tony Jaa, was an overnight success. But the walking stunt reel had been honing his craft for a long time—ever since he apprenticed as a teen for Thai stuntmaster Panna Rittikrai.
Tony Jaa carried, cooked and cleaned for Panna Rittikrai’s crew, and in return they developed Jaa’s skill at melding muay Thai with taekwondo and gymnastics. In Battle Warrior, you can see how he blossomed.
Recently released stateside as a two-disc DVD by Golden Star Films, this 1996 Thai film isn’t overly interesting to the casual viewer. It has low production values, amateurish cinematography and cartoonish acting. And the screenwriting is so bad it’d be a waste of time to describe the plot.
The fight choreography shows little semblance to the awesomeness performed seven years later in Ong-Bak, with many of the movements plagiarized from Hong Kong flicks.
The best part of Battle Warrior is the extra DVD, which is loaded with bonus materials. There are TV interviews with Jaa shot during the publicity tour of 2006’s The Protector, which offer insight into his life, influences and goals. They even show clips from his live-on-TV fight skit with Protector villain Johnny Nguyen, a former U.S. wushu team member and Spider-Man stuntman. Also included are an interview with Tony Jaa and his mentor, Panna Rittikrai, as well as featurettes and Q&As with other cast and crew members.
(Patrick Vuong is a freelance journalist, screenwriter and martial artist based in Orange County, California.)