Sunday, February 3, 2008

Chocolate star has a new name, but just call her Jeeja

Chocolate star Yanin Wismitanant has made the rounds doing interviews with the English-language press in Bangkok. The first thing I noticed from the recently published articles on her is that she must have only recently changed her first name from Nitcharee to Yanin. But, guys, just call her Jeeja. "I'm just an ordinary girl," she says.

Yeah, ordinary. An ordinary girl who was trained in ballet from an early age, then switched to taekwando. She was discovered by Panna Rittikrai and Prachya Pinkaew in 2003 when they were casting Born to Fight. She didn't appear in Born to Fight, but Chocolate was then written with her in mind.

She then embarked on four hard, long years, in which she dropped out of college to devote herself full time to learning Muay Thai, training with weapons, learning stunts and acting, and shooting the film.

In Chocolate, she plays a young autistic woman who is gifted with extremely quick reflexes and the ability to quickly absorb martial arts techniques. And, living next door to a Muay Thai academy, and watching videos of films by Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Tony Jaa, she has plenty to absorb. Then, when her mother falls ill, she has plenty of chances to use her newfound abilities in fighting gangsters who owe debts to her mom.

According to interviews with The Nation and BK Magazine, Jeeja worked hard on her portrayal of an autistic person, watching such films as Rain Man and Forrest Gump, and observing children in a center for austistic people.

The aim is to add dimension and make her character believable, something Prachya Pinkaew's two films with Tony Jaa ("Where is my elephant!?") lacked, The Nation story says. Jeeja explains:

When I went into the action sequences, I forgot all about acting. [Prachya] taught me to memorize the autistic feeling inside my head before the action moves. It was a helpful technique.

Yeah. But what about the action? Well, like Tony Jaa in Ong-Bak and Tom Yum Goong, Jeeja has no stunt double - she's playing every scene herself. This is proven in the trailer, when she is accidentally kicked in the eye. The eyepatch she ended up wearing was only temporary, though. She explains in BK magazine:

The worst blow I was dealt was after nights of shooting. I’m a girl, it was that time of the month and I was really tired. I didn’t see a foot coming and wham! I couldn’t open my left eye for a while and had to stop shooting for a week.

Chocolate opens in Thailand cinemas on February 6.

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