Profile of Phillip Rhee

Name: Phillip Rhee
Date of Birth: 7 September 1960
Birth sign: Virgo
Height: 5’9½” (1.77m)
Weight: n/a
Country: Seoul, South Korea

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Career Retrospective

At an early age Phillip Rhee, with his brother Simon and their father, attended martial arts tournaments and quickly made a name for themselves among competitors. Although successful, Rhee craved new challenges and decided to break into films. Rhee was also influenced by his uncle who was a prominent film producer back in Korea. His first real role was with his Grandmaster, Jun Chong in Ninja Turf AKA L.A. Street fighters (1985). The film was a success and led to another collaboration with Jun Chong in Silent Assassin (1988).

Brothers in arms with Eric RobertsDespite Rhee’s strong start in film, he grew frustrated by Hollywood’s lack of meaty roles for Asian actors. In reaction, he started his own production company, SVS Entertainment, giving him more freedom to create, write and produce his own films. The first film for SVS, was the martial arts classic, Best of the Best (1989), which he also created the story for and was one of the main stars. The film was very close to Rhee’s heart and as a martial arts master and instructor, felt an obligation to make it:

“At one point, I overheard the kids talking, asking ‘did you see Mr Rhee’s movies?’ They were referring to Ninja Turf and Silent Assassin. One kid said ‘yes and it’s great but Mr Rhee teaches us not to hurt people, but he’s killing everyone‘. It was cute but at the same time I felt an obligation because I was contradicting what I was teaching“. (Martial Art World, 1991)

Rhee wanted to do a film that represented not only the physical attributes, but also the inner spirit, respect and tradition of what martial arts has to offer. He also made a conscious effort to make the film a PG-13 rating and to never show any reckless or glorified violence through the fight scenes. Nevertheless, the final reel where Phillip battled his real-life brother, Simon Rhee, displayed some of the best kicking action in American martial arts cinema.

The film was an instant cult classic and spawned three sequels in which Rhee’s character, Tommy Lee, became the main focus. In Best of the Best 2 (1993), our hero battles a variety of formidable fighters, incorporating both hand-to-hand combat and weaponry. With more varied martial arts on display, Rhee took the precise throws and counters of Hapkido and mixed them with his already spectacular Taekwondo kicks. The result was a wonderful mesh of styles and showed Rhee’s further development as a fight choreographer. Ever hungry for more challenges, Rhee decided to direct the last two entries thus making his debut in Best of the Best 3: No Turning Back (1995).Bring-the-doors-down!

After Best of the Best 4: Without Warning (1998), Rhee decided to stay out of the limelight. Instead, he turned his focus to teaching martial arts and making a name as a committed instructor for the Jun Chong martial arts academy. However, in 2013, Rhee made his return to film by directing and starring in Underdogs, set to be released this year. A passion project for Rhee, he described it as Best of the Best meets The Bad News Bears and The Karate Kid (Phillip Rhee‘s official Facebook Page). The film will feature legendary veterans of martial arts cinema including Richard Norton, Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez, Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson and his brother Simon Rhee.

Phillip Rhee has only been in a handful of films but his impact and contribution via the Best of the Best series is wide-reaching.  He is not only one of the leading advocates of taekwon do but also a true believer in what martial arts can offer in mind and spirit. To him, it is not something that should be kept to oneself but rather be shared with everybody (Martial Art World).

Training Background

  • Started training martial arts at age 4. Together with his brother, he entered the Jun Chong Martial Arts Academy, and trained in Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido, with Master Mark Choi.
  • Rhee is currently holds a 6th dan in Tae Kwon Do, a 3rd dan in Hapkido and possesses a 1st dan in kendo.

Personal Quotes

“In Korea or in any other country, you’re limited to that one style of art. In the United States, there are so many different forms of martial art. So it opens up the possibility for a taekwondo practitioner to see, learn and understand many different arts as well“. (Director – Spirer, Peter; Modern Warriors, 2002)

“Whatever the purpose or reason for a student to come to a martial arts school, the most positive thing for an individual to learn is discipline and self-confidence through the art“. (Martial Art World, 1991)

Here Phillip talks about the system of Tae Kwon Do that he teaches:

Trivia

  • Was considered for the role of Liu Kang in Mortal Kombat (1995).
  • Has also studied boxing and incorporates many of its training-elements into his taekwondo classes.
  • His brother, Simon Rhee, is a prolific actor and stuntman in his own right. Notable credits include Blade (1998), Rush Hour 2 (2001) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014).

Selected Filmography

YEARTITLEROLE
1985Ninja Turf AKA LA StreetfightersTony
1988Silent AssassinBernard
1989Best of the BestTommy Lee
1993Best of the Best IITommy Lee
1995Best of the Best III: No Turning BackTommy Lee
1998Best of the Best IV: Without WarningTommy Lee
2014UnderdogsJimmy "The Lightning Bolt" Lee

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Wing-Ho Lin is a big cinema fan. His forte is Hong Kong action cinema of the 70s and 80s, but likes to look at undiscovered action films beyond HK. He has trained in Wing Chun and Shaolin (Sanshou), and enjoys writing.

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