Panna Rittikrai, the Thai director and action choreographer who helped bring martial arts film star Tony Jaa to the public, has died yesterday of liver disease in Thailand. He was 53.
Rittikrai’s film career began as an 18-year-old when he moved to Bangkok to work as a physical trainer for stunt men. Drawing on the just-exploding career of Hong Kong’s Jackie Chan for inspiration, Rittikrai turned to directing low-budget action films in the mid-1980s. Among the members of his stunt team were Dan Chupong and Jaa.
In 1999, Rittikrai collaborated with director Prachya Pinkaew for action film Ong Bak. With Jaa in the lead working his way through a series of bone-crunching action sequence, the film became a hit amongst genre fans when released in 2003 and catapulted Jaa into international stardom. The film’s success also elevated Rittikrai’s career leading him to direct Ong Bok‘s two sequels with Jaa. He also served as the action director on Chocolate and This Girl Is Bad-Ass!, two films which have served to launch the career of JeeJa Yanin.