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Friday, September 26, 2014

SWEETER THAN CHOCOLATE: My Interview With Jeeja Yanin



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!

I actually got to Skype once a few months ago with Jaa and his manager, Mike Selby (who also helped faciliate my previous interview with Michael Jai White back in May), and it's the first time I got to engage in such loose, comfortable dialogue. I have to say though, none of this would have been possible without the launch of Jaa's official Facebook page in 2013 as he was transitioning from the Thai film industry to other markets and it's a trend that seems to be delightfully gaining ground for a few people nowadays. Evidently, this would also be the case for none other than actress and martial artist, Jeeja Yanin.

Yanin's career began blooming in the first decade of the new millennium just as Jaa was breaking out with films like Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong. Her debut, Chocolate ultimately put her on the map for action stardom as fans hailed her as "the female Tony Jaa", performing hardcore and dangerously death-defying action sequences and giving every inch of herself to her newfound love. Ultimately, her connection with Jaa was a key factor in her growth as a rising star in-parallel, and with Jaa's ascention to other prospects, its pretty fortunate that these two now get to share the same path for their own careers. As such, Yanin is launching a fully-fledged come back and will begin spreading her wings much more in the months and years ahead.

With Jaa stepping into Hollywood next year with Fast And Furious 7, Yanin plans on leaving her international mark in film history as well, and think this is a move we all welcome at this point in time. I earned the opportunity to share an e-mail interview throughout this week with her to discuss these and much more with the recent launch of her own Facebook fan page, which has now accumulated up to well over seventy-eight thousand subscribers as of this write up, which is awesomely telling!

She melted our hearts in Chocolate, rocked the house in Raging Phoenix, and kicked 3D ass in Tom Yum Goong 2 among the list of films she's accomplished so far in lieu of the recent birth of her son. Now, with her re-emergence into the film fray, Film Combat Syndicate now has the pleasure of introducing actress Jeeja Yanin in our newest exclusive interview, and I want to thank Mike Selby, in advance, for playing such an integral role once more. Enjoy!


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.
FCSyndicate: I've noticed [laughs] And it appears you've taken a new approach to your career revamp through social media with your newly established Facebook page, which has well-over 50,000 subscribers and rising in less than 24 hours since its launch on Sunday. How does it feel to have all this attention and appreciation from fans?
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.
FCSyndicate: Indeed, Jaa's been making great progress. Plus, you've been posting pics and videos training with him as well and I have a few questions about those a little later, but first, just a bit of background for my own learning and those who might be new to Jeeja Yanin. How old were you when you first discovered martial arts? Who were your inspirations growing up?
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.
FCSyndicate: I find that interesting! Do you have any favorite titles in mind? And was there always that one movie you would always watch over and over again growing up? (For me it was a mix of anywhere from Tim Burton's Batman to watching Jackie Chan take on Benny Urquidez in Wheels On Meals [laughs])
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.
FCSyndicate: I'm so totally with you on Mortal Kombat! [laughs] Anyway, as we speak, I just saw Tom Yum Goong 2 (The Protector 2) last weekend. Having trained with Jaa prior to this, how did it feel to finally collaborate with him for this spectacular sequel?
JY: I always enjoy working with Jaa. The crew on the film was really nice, and some of the action sequences were quite interesting. Crump is bigger than me so it gave me an excuse to hit him really hard without worrying I would hurt him [laughs]. The other girl who played my twin sister is Wan Wan. She is very fast and flexible. This was her first film and we got along very well, she learned very quickly and we had fun.
FCSyndicate: Wan Wan sounds like a lot of fun, and I hope we all get to learn more about her in the years and months ahead. Real quickly though, I just want to get this out there: My favorite film in your career so far happens to be Raging Phoenix, which I saw a few years ago and I'm eager to see again actually! [laughs] You were an absolute sweetheart in that one, and the action was incredible to see as I loved the choreography, and I say this with a huge smile on my face!
JY: Thanks, that is really kind of you! I had fun with that film.
FCSyndicate: Out of all the films you have done, what were some of the most memorable, funny and/or challenging experiences you have had on any set?
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.
FCSyndicate: Well, I think you did a fantastic job for starters as a launcher to your career in film. You've come a long way, and now you're now making your way back into film after a temporary hiatus following the birth of your son. Were you still training at the time? And has your training regiment changed any in the last few years?
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]
FCSyndicate: I agree! [laughs] I have a food question later. Tell me, does your husband train with you?
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.
FCSyndicate: What's your favorite music to listen to, whether it's while training or during your leisurely time?
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.
FCSyndicate: I'm told you are working on a television show at the moment. Can you tell us about it?
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.
FCSyndicate: I also understand that launch of your new page signifies your own aspirations to expand your career in other markets like Hollywood. Why now?
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.
FCSyndicate: What are some prospects you share for your future endeavors contrary to your previous film career as you explore other options?
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.
FCSyndicate: Can we expect a Jaa/Jeeja reunion as well?

JY: You never know, in the right film it could happen.
FCSyndicate: What other aspects of film do you hope to dabble with somewhere down the line, if any? (i.e. director, writer, choreographer, etc.)
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.
FCSyndicate: As you commense your career transition to other markets, and in case other aspiring screenfighting athletes might be reading this, what are some important lessons that you take with you as an actress and a stuntwoman? What advice can you offer?
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.
FCSyndicate: Finally, my birthday is in a few months. I spoke to Jaa about this sometime ago, and he and his manager Mike Selby recommend Thai cuisine. What are some favorite dishes you recommend? (I'm allergic to shellfish, unfortunately).
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
Jeeja, you and your family have my heart and my blessing. And thank you just as much for taking the time to talk to me, and again, especially to Mike Selby for this wonderful opportunity. I will continue to be in touch as your work commenses next year. (Oh the mystery!!!) In the meantime, I'll be looking into some Thai restaurants for January!


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1 comment:

  1. i looooooooooooove jeeja and tony jaa
    i see your films all day in my office.
    im your big fan from iran

    ReplyDelete