BEST OF THE FISTS
Rhee, 35, is a former taekwondo instructor who took his martial arts skills to Hollywood and became a movie star. He has produced, directed and starred in five films, and is now hard at work on the sixth.
The son of a taekwondo master, Rhee moved to the U.S. with his family from Seoul, Korea at the age of 10. After a troubled youth on the meanest streets of San Francisco, he moved to Los Angeles to attend college and teach taekwondo to kids -- many of whom turned out to have famous parents.
As martial arts instructor for the children of some of Hollywood's biggest action stars, he found that sometimes the parents would come to him for advice on choreographing fight scenes. His connections in the industry helped him win a part in Kentucky Fried Movie, a low-budget satire directed by John Landis that is now a cult classic.
After spending a few years as a choreographer and stunt man, Rhee got fed up with Hollywood stereotyping of Asians and decided to make his own films. He sold everything he owned and started his own production company. His medium-budget ($6-12 million) action films are now distributed worldwide, and they tend to produce hefty profits. His fourth film, Best of the Best, cost only around $6 million to make and grossed over $40 million.
Today Rhee lives with Amy, his wife of four years who is a former model from Corea, and waits for his biggest break: the chance to work on a $15 million action flick to be produced by Oliver Stone. The film, titled Ballistic, already exists on paper. Contracts have been signed by Warner Brothers and director Steve De Souza, but the project, like many of the best-laid plans in Hollywood, remains stuck on the drawing board. It is on hold while De Souza, director of the hits Die Hard and 48 Hours, completes work on his latest effort, Street Fighter.
Meanwhile, Rhee is jetting around the country scouting suburban locales for Best of the Best III, in which he will once again direct, produce and star. The concept for the film was created when Rhee read a magazine article about a 15-year-old Asian boy who was kidnapped and kicked to death by neo-Nazi skinheads.
"The last thing this kid said before he died was, 'I'm sorry I came to your country.' That had a tremendous impact on me," Rhee says.
We convinced him to take some time out to talk a little about women, money, the Dream Factory and the things that drove him to throw away a secure life as a martial arts instructor to become a Man at Large.
Q: When you made your first movie, for I guess about $30,000, did you use your own money?
A: Me and some friends, [USC] students, we all chipped in. The thing about a film like that is, the things that you learn in school or in seminars don't apply. You can't learn that in school. I think you learn the most when you're actually doing it, because theory and application are completely different. PAGE 2