Friday, July 17, 2009

Jija spins, swings and sizzles in Raging Phoenix demonstration

The name จีจ้า is more properly transliterated as Jeeja, but now it's Jija. Officially. Because that's what's on the T-shirts and movie posters. So without further ado, I reintroduce you to Chocolate star Jija Yanin, who along with her castmates
"Kazu" Patrick Tang and the B-Boys trio gave a martial arts and dance demonstration yesterday for her new movie Raging Phoenix. Lekha Shankar was there and she sent this report.

Story by Lekha J. Shankar

The Chocolate girl will be back as a Raging Phoenix when the film of the same name opens in Thai cinemas on August 12.

At a press conference at Bangkok's Esplanade Cineplex on Thursday, the wispy Jija Yanin looked frail and quiet -- until she gave a demonstration of her martial-arts skills. And then, the tiny 46kg, 168cm-tall girl gained superlative strength as she spun, swung and sizzled across the stage, knocking down all her male opponents.

The only one she spared was her co-star and hero of the film, and that was because he was swinging her around, using her as his "weapon" of attack and defence.

Giving them a close fight was the martial-arts and dance trio B-Boys -- Nui Sanddang, Boonprasert Salangam and Sompong Leartvimolkasame -- who make their energetic debut in the film.

Judging by the demonstration, it looks like Raging Phoenix (Thai title: Du Suay Dua, สุดสวิง, literally "stubborn, beautiful and fierce") could well be a raging success at the box office.

There’s also a chance that the film could do well internationally, after all, its hero is an actor of French origin.

Actor "Kazu" Patrick Tang is a Vietnamese-French martial artist. Dark-haired, bearded and slightly built, Kazu’s dream to play a lead role in a martial-arts film is fulfilled with Raging Phoenix. His story is almost like a film script.

Kazu said he was teaching martial arts in Paris and had done small roles in various films, including Jet Li’s Unleashed.

He was knocked out after seeing Ong-Bak with Tony Jaa and went to the Cannes Film Festival in 2005 with one hope in mind -- to meet Ong-Bak producer-director Prachya Pinkaew.

“I carried a CD of my work, and walked all around the streets, when I suddenly spotted him,” says Kazu, who cannot speak Thai. “I recognized him only by the big badge which mentioned his name.”

The actor handed over his demo reel and before he knew it, Prachya had invited him to Bangkok to train under none other than martial-arts guru Panna Rittikrai.

“I’ve trained four years for this film,” says Kazu, who notes with pride that apart from his martial-arts moves, he also did a series of dances in the film -- salsa, hip-hop and break-dancing.

He could not stop raving about Jija. "She might be small, but have you seen the power with which she hits and kicks?”

Raging Phoenix producer Prachya and director Rashane Limtrakul also stated that Jija was “unique to Thai cinema.”

Prachya said the 60-million-baht budget for Raging Phoenix was double that of Ong-Bak, but he was sure it would pay off.

Rashane said Jija’s “dramatic potential was as good as her physical potential.”

This is the director’s second feature and 14 years have passed since his debut feature, Romantic Blue, which was a romantic drama.

He described Raging Phoenix as an “action-packed romantic drama.”

“Love is the theme of both my films, and this film shows how you have to ‘fight’ for love!” he said.

As for Jija, she first appeared in casual clothes to perform on stage and then changed into "star" attire of a gleaming sequined outfit, accessorized by a chunky necklace and a jacket with severe shoulder pads that made her seem bigger than she actually is. There was no doubt she looked more comfortable in her work-out gear.

The actress confessed she was excited by the film, as she had worked hard for it.

Her brother and manager Jeep said that Jija worked as long as nine hours a day, five days a week.

“After her work-outs, she’s so hungry, that she eats everything!” Jeep says, but said that thanks to her rigorous training, none of those calories go to waste.

The small Thai star seems all set to make a big impact again on the big screen.

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(Photos courtesy of Sahamongkol Film International)

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