The sudden death of Thai martial arts legend Panna Rittikrai, the action choreographer behind Tony Jaa’s moves in Ong-Bak, left his last movie, Vengence of an Assassin, unfinished. But thanks to his son, Kitsana “Tong” Ladphanna, 24, and leading stuntman Nantawut “Wut” Boonrubsub, 21, it has finally reached Thai cinemas. Here, they discuss how genuine martial arts talent will always bring more drama to the screen than CGI and guns.
What qualities does a good action star need?
Wut: Heart and judgement. It’s a risky job and you need to make quick decisions. If you make the wrong one, it can be life threatening. I’m fearful of every new role I take on, but workshops and putting in rehearsal time before shooting can turn fear into confidence.
What has been your most difficult scene?
Wut: Jumping from a four-story building while kicking and shooting at villains. Prior to the shoot, I went to check out the safety precautions and saw a big cushion placed on the ground, on which I was meant to land. But from the top of the jump-spot, the cushion looked so tiny. I ended up tearing my ankle ligament.
Tong: Before shooting we do a lot of safety preparation. We can’t just carry out what we think right away because everything we do is risky. For this movie, we prepared for two years and rehearsed for one year. If we’re not ready, we don’t start shooting because it’s not going to work. The shooting stops if a cast member gets injured. If we think someone needs more practice, we might even delay his role till the next movie. Safety is our priority.
What sets Panna’s films apart from other action films?
Tong: He applies real martial arts skills and writes life-threatening scenes that others aren’t willing to attempt. He also works hard to craft action scenes in a natural way that’s possible in real life. These elements really make the films exciting.
Are you daunted by continuing Panna’s work?
Tong: There’s a lot of pressure, but I’m lucky that he paved a clear stylistic path and set the structure within the team. Everyone is committed to maintaining the standard of his work. Each time we meet, it’s like a reunion of Panna students from around the world. We have a special bond.