THAI actress Jija Yanin looks sweet, cute and petite.
|Jija Yanin (left) trained for the movie, Chocolate for four years.
In Chocolate, Jija plays an autistic girl who turns into a mean fighting machine. -- TNP Design: PRADIP --TNP Picture: GAVIN FOO
But don't you dare mess with her - she can kick your butt.
And if you have any doubts about that, see her debut film, Chocolate.
She plays an autistic girl who turns into a mean fighting machine in order to collect debts owed to her cancer-stricken mother.
The film made US$2 million ($2.7m) and was ranked No 1 for two weeks at the Thai box office in February, catapulting Jija to stardom as the female version of Tony Jaa of Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong fame.
But because of her fighter image, no man dares to approach her now.
'That's my problem!' the 1.62m-tall Jija, who is single, joked in English on Thursday, when she was in town to promote Chocolate.
It opens here on 15 May.
'I need to change my image and become more feminine,' she added.
Later, Jija (pronounced Ji-zha) told
The New Paper that she has been so busy training for the movie in the last four years that she had no time to meet any guys.
The 24-year-old used to spend nine
hours in the gym every day, training in taekwondo, Muay Thai boxing and gymnastics.
Even now, she claims she still trains nine hours a day to stay in shape.
Only on Sundays can she go out with friends or go shopping (her favourite mall is Siam Square in Bangkok).
'Sometimes I think I'm a sports girl, not an actress,' she joked.
She is also learning a new skill for her upcoming second movie, an action flick with some romance.
But she can't reveal what it is yet.
'It's a secret,' she said coyly.
In person, Jija giggles a lot and speaks candidly - nothing like her autistic screen image.
She describes herself as an outgoing people person who is always in a good mood.
As she is still learning to speak English, she relies on her older brother/manager Nantapong Vissamittananda, 29, to do some translation.
It may seem ironic, but becoming a movie star was never Jija's dream.
The second-year film major recalled how she decided to audition for the movie Kerd Ma Lui (Born To Fight) after watching Ong Bak in 2003.
She was then working as a taekwondo instructor, after earning her first black belt at age 14.
Her mother had forced her to learn taekwondo as she was a weak child, and despite her fear on the first day, she grew to love the combat sport.
But she had no thoughts of becoming an action star like Tony when she went for the audition.
Her reason for wanting to be in the movie was entirely practical - her father had just died of cancer and her family was facing financial problems, so she wanted to help out.
'Just for money,' she emphasised in English.
But when Chocolate director Prachya Pinkaew happened to see her fight, he was surprised and impressed that 'a tiny girl like Jija could show such excellent action skill'.
'After that we kept her as a secret for her own project,' he told The New Paper in an e-mail interview.
Jija had to train for two years before shooting, so that she could do all her own stunts.
Director Prachya, who also helmed Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong, noticed that Jija sometimes felt lonely and depressed during her initial training.
'I had to talk to her and give her support,' he said.
But once the filming started, there was no stopping the Energiser bunny.
Never mind that Jija suffered numerous bruises - the most serious was a cut on her head, above her left brow.
She also overcame her fear of heights in several scenes that required her to fight on a small platform on the fourth storey of a building.
'I just tell myself to do it because I have to do it,' she said.
Prachya also praised her strong will, and how she puts in more effort than a male action star to deliver the same stunts just as realistically.
'During filming, she was physically very tired but her spirit is very strong,' he said.
'She always said to keep shooting and retake if that scene was not good enough.'
Not only that, to prepare for her role, Jija spent six months researching autism on the Internet and in books and watching the film Forrest Gump, in which Tom Hanks plays the titular autistic character.
She also spent three days with autistic children to observe how they behaved.
Now that Chocolate is such a massive hit, Jija gets recognised by fans on the streets of Bangkok, and they ask for her autograph or photo.
But she was quick to add that 'most of them are women'.
Her brother said Jija has inspired many women to take up taekwondo and Muay Thai boxing, and some even drag their boyfriends along.
He added that she had also managed to reach out to autistic children and their families through the movie.
Some of them even came together to form a fan club for her.
Jija said she felt nervous initially about becoming a role model because she felt pressured to 'always behave in a good way'.
'I wondered if I was good enough to be an idol for teenagers. But now I feel it's turned out in a
Still, the humble girl insisted she never thought
she would come this far.
'I just wanted a small role. This (Chocolate) is too big!'
The impish side of her showed when she was asked about the pros and cons of having her brother as her manager.
Giggling, she egged her sibling to 'tell the bad things'.
Nantapong admitted that they would clash sometimes, but only because of work. He tends to be more cautious and time conscious, while she takes things easy.
Said Jija with a glint of mischief in her eyes: 'I'm more male, but I'm the girl. He's gay!'
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