Thai martial arts actress JiJa Yanin says her underprivileged backround and natural ability kick-started her lunge at stardom. 'I was born premature and my body was very weak,' said the 23-year-old action star (right), who was in Hong Kong to promote her film debut in Chocolate, directed by Prachya Pinkaew. 'So my mother wanted me to practise taekwondo when I was 11 to help build my body. At first I was forced to go to training but later I was hooked on the sport,' said the actress, known as Yanin 'Jeeja' Vismitananda in her homeland. Yanin achieved her ambition of becoming a black belt in taekwondo before she was 14. She became a licensed instructor in the sport by the time she was 15 and contributed to her family's income. But tragedy struck when Yanin's father died when she was 17. 'It was a huge shock to me,' she said. 'He was the main financial support to my family.' Yanin's father was a heavy smoker and died of lung cancer, she said. 'It taught me a huge lesson. I would never smoke and I would continue telling people around me not to smoke.' Yanin's taekwondo instructor's income helped her family through the difficult time and, at 19, Yanin enrolled at university to study communication art, just when Pinkaew's action film Ong-Bak, starring Tony Jaa, became a national hit. And when the director cast for a female action film, the black-belt Yanin caught Pinkaew's eye for a leading role. After two years' training with film choreographer Panna Rittirai and another two years' filming, the actress relishes the production's release in Hong Kong on April 16. Now Yanin has other concerns. 'I have not been in any relationship for four years now; the only choices I had were the director or the stuntmen,' she said. 'I fear that other men would be scared of me after watching the fighting scenes in this film.'