He was born Panom Yeerum, in Thailand, though his family is of Cambodian ethnicity. He started out doing stunt double work, and since then has graduated to headlining and choreographing his own films. His films ONG BAK and TOM YUM GOONG made it to the states (as ONG BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR and THE PROTECTOR, respectively), and ONG BAK 2 is in post-production. He's reportedly learning English, but plans on staying in Thailand for a while yet. I'm glad he's building up a good home base, but I hope his English lessons go well. Because if there's ever a NIGHTWING film, I would cast him as Dick Grayson without reservation. (Dick's not Asian? Big deal. Have a Thai or Cambodian actress play Mary Grayson in a flashback, say they spent a lot of Dick's childhood over there before John and Mary decided to come back to the states, and you're good to go.)
Because he moves the way Dick does, and I don't think they'd find anybody else who could come close.
Also -- and I know this is important -- Tony Jaa is sufficiently pretty.
Every once in a while, a news article will compare his physical skills to those of Buster Keaton. This comparison is, of course, submoronic. The silent comics, particularly Chaplin, Keaton, and Harold Lloyd, were terrific influences on Jackie Chan (who grew up at a time when silent Western movies still played in Asia). I don't think they were not particularly influential on Jaa, except through Chan, at a couple degrees of separation. I suspect that somebody who was not familiar with silent films put together an early version of Jaa's press packet, and included a Keaton reference because of media references to Keaton's strong influence on Chan.
Because there is a silent star who definitely comes to mind when I think of Tony Jaa, and it's not Keaton, or Chaplin, or Lloyd.
It's Douglas Fairbanks.
If you really want to see why I want Jaa as Nightwing, check out his films on DVD; they're worth it, and the fight scenes in TOM YUM GOONG *really* scream "Nightwing" to me (here is a TOM YUM GOONG clip with a few bits; they don't show the most Nightwingish bits, but you get a taste -- and TRUST ME, you want to see this sucker in high-quality anyway). But to understand his greatness, you really need to see him as a successor to Fairbanks. Take five minutes and watch a clip from Jaa's headlining debut, ONG BAK. It's a great street chase scene; there's more running than fighting, but it showcases Jaa's amazing physical prowess. For me, the bit with the scaffolding toward the end is especially Dick Graysonish in movement style.
Now, take three and a half to watch Douglas Fairbanks in THE MARK OF ZORRO.
Tony Jaa: a worthy successor to Douglas Fairbanks.
(Also: a pretty damn good choice to play Nightwing.)