Thai Action Director Panna Rittikrai Dies at 53

Courtesy of Universal
Panna Rattikrai, who died on Sunday, was a mentor to Thai action star Tony Jaa.

The fight choreographer, mentor of such action stars as Tony Jaa and director of "Ong Bak 2" and "Born to Fight," suffered from liver disease.

Thai actor, stuntman, fight choreographer, producer and director Panna Rittikrai died in a Bangkok hospital on Sunday from acute renal failure following a short battle with liver disease. He was 53.

Rittikrai rose to global prominence alongside action star Tony Jaa after the breakout success of 2003's Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, a film that put the spotlight on their energetic wire-free and realistic muay boran fighting style.

Rittikrai was a longtime mentor to Jaa and many other Thai action stars.

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Born Krittiya Lardphanna in Thailand's North East, Rittikrai's career in the Thai movie industry spanned 30 years as he worked his way from stuntman to acting roles in martial arts films, eventually becoming a respected fight choreographer.

Rittikrai's distinctive and kinetic interpretation of muay boran, an ancient precursor to muay Thai, caught the eye of producer/director Prachya Pinkaew, who showcased the muay boran style in Ong-Bak and cast Jaa as the film's hero.

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Following the huge international success of Ong-Bak, Rittikrai turned his hand to directing, helming 2004's Born to Fight as well as the less successful two sequels to Ong-Bak in 2008 and 2010.

Always in demand as a martial arts choreographer, Rattikrai worked on 2011's globally successful Tom Yum Goong (called The Protector in the U.S. and Warrior King in the U.K.), as well as the follow-up released late last year, Tom Yum Goong 2