Best of the Best (1989)

Best Of The Best

Best Of The Best

Some people see a problem. Others an opportunity to triumph. For high performers, adversity is merely a chance to showcase their innovation. In this one a heavy dose of morality somehow manages to hit your throat…no pun intended!

Best Of The Best is one of the first classic Taekwondo movies released in 1989, a type of martial art that was still relatively unknown to the worldwide audience. The film grossed $1.7 Million in the USA. Directed by Robert Radler  (Hercules: The Legendary Journeys 1999), written by Paul Levine and Philip Rhee (martial artist, actor, director and producer). Nowadays it is considered a masterpiece of action movie cinema and the first chapter of a series, followed by three more volumes.

An American team formed by five of the best athletes prepares for an epic battle against a Korean team force. It’s time for the warriors to deal with their own personal demons, moral conflicts, diversity and honor. Their chances of winning are visually nil as the Korean force are known as the best performers in the art of Taekwondo.

An hurricane of multicultural kicks and punches is coming, can you handle this?


The cast is very impressive with exceptional skills, to begin with Philip Rhee who plays the role of Tommy Lee  a controversial  young master of Taekwondo consumed by revenge. When he was just a kid he lost his brother in a fight against the strong South Korean Dae Han Park (Simon Rhee). Thirteen years later fate shuffles the cards and they will have to meet again; the dreaded Dae Han, the man who killed his brother, is chosen by the coach as the opponent for the last battle.

Eric Roberts impersonates Alex Grady a Taekwondo martial artist who’s raising his son alone after he lost his wife. Grady suffered from serious shoulder injury that kept him out of competitions for a long time. He gets back into the game but everyone’s aware that nothing will be as it was before.

The restless Texan Travis Brickley (Christopher Penn), the thoughtful and peaceful Buddhist Virgil Keller (John Dye)  and a streetwise fighter and rock music fan Sonny Grasso (David Agresta) are going to join the team as well.

James Earl Jones plays the role of Coach Frank Couzo.

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The veteran “Taek-athlete” Frank Couzo, is in charge to set up a five-man American team to join an international tournament and face the Korean selection, universally regarded as the strongest, made up by the best warriors ever. Couzo and his colleagues choose athletes from all around the USA for a competition to assess who are the best five. After a hard selection the fabulous five get their places: Tommy Lee, Alex Grady, Travis Brickley, Virgil Keller and Sonny Grasso.

A few days before the match, Grady’s son gets involved in a serious accident but the Couzo’s martial discipline doesn’t  allow any distraction. Grady retires aware that he won’t ever be able to come back, and he chooses to visit his son at the hospital. Even Lee leaves as he realizes it’s not about winning anymore but it’d just be about mere revenge. This would denigrate the noble meaning that martial arts philosophy represents. After several vicissitudes Couzo gets the two fugitives back in the team.  Combat mode is unique as it requires that warriors face-off each other using different kinds of  disciplines and the team with the highest total score wins. Into the grueling and exciting final battle against Dae Han, Lee has the opportunity to close the round with a KO which would earn the team the medal. Just one more point…!  Lee is about to administer the final blow…but something changes his mind. Time runs out and Dae Han is knocked down. Lee wins the round, but the American team lose the medal for a single point. The unexpected finale is ready to take your last breath away.  During the award ceremony, Dae Han gingerly approaches Lee to apologize for killing his brother whilst the members of Korean team award their medals to the Americans.  It has to be said, this is one extraordinarily emotional scene that will cause thinking people to hone in on their own sense of humanity… rare…wow!

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The best scenes are with no doubt immortalized during the fights, although the bar-scene deserves an endearing introduction, a common brawl becomes pure art before your very eyes. The most exciting taste is when Lee turns-off the opponent’s cigarette with a speed powerful side-thrusting kick with a combination of elegance, self-control and elasticity of muscles. After that, a fast change of guard and the impressive axe kick followed by a series of dynamic and stylistic kicks such as the tornado kick signed off by Philip Rhee.

The most charming scenes are concentrated in the last two fights. Grady uses a very powerful aggressive tactic that surprises the Korean team with rapid kicks and punches. In the final part he marks the last point with a spectacular double-flying scissor-kick that flings the opponent out of the ring. The realistic, acrobatic sequences have been defined by the critics of the genre at the time, as the most adventurous, thrilling and ambitious ones committed to film!

Especially in the last fight between Lee and Dae Han, the actors give the best of themselves showing elegant movements in a sort of “flying choreographic dance” with a great artistic value, acclaimed by many as the “quintessence of Taekwondo”.


When Rhee realized there were very few opportunities for Asian Americans to personify a main character in Hollywood’s martial arts world, within this movie he had a brilliant vision, to create a bridge between western and eastern martial arts culture (with an unparalleled importance in the progression of the genre). Rhee uses the “adversity overcome” formula embedded with stimulating fighting scenes aiming at dynamism and character-development throughout. Five men, with five different backgrounds in a breathtaking trip that will take you through a world of adrenaline and challenges. They will overcome adversity only when they will realize their common purpose: belonging to a family sharing common values, rules and passion injected with heightened awareness. The great parallelism of growing to become a supportive part of a family as well as of a team, is crucial to the story – “A team is not a team if you don’t give a damn about each other.” The power of human spirit triumphing over negative ego storms…

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  • Phillip Rhee started the philosophy of martial arts at the age of four becoming a 6th degree black belt in Taekwondo, a 3rd degree black belt in Hapkido and 1st degree black belt in Kendo. Soon he began creating, writing, and producing his own films. Inside his high performer’s mind, there is a relentless urge to improve, innovate, and prevail.
  • Tommy Lee (Phillip Rhee) and Dae Han (Simon Rhee) are brothers in real life. This creates a great connection between the two actors mostly in their fight scenes.
  • Due to his talent in teaching martial arts, Phillip Rhee has been hired as a trainer by many celebrities such as Faye Dunaway (“The Network – Fifth Power”), Heather Locklear (“The First Wives Club”) Lorenzo Lamas (TV series “Renegade”), Beau Bridges (“Bitter Paradise”) and Eric Roberts, (co-star in Best Of The Best).
  • The character Walter Grady is named after Eric Robert’s father, Walter Grady Roberts.  

Film Rating: 8/10



Paolo Loseto

Paolo Loseto is an Italian martial arts addict. Paul discovered the martial art world young through inspiration from legends like Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme. This influence soon flourished into a lifelong passion leading to the practice of full contact karate, kickboxing and taekwondo. Paul lives in London, has graduated in Media Culture and Communication Studies and continues developing his interest in film. He’s ambitious to write a screenplays for action movies.

  1. I love this era of Martial Arts and I love this movie. You have to say that Phillip Rhee is an incredible fighter and give props to Chris Penn for Pioneering big boy martial arts!! Nice review. I have all 4 movies in my collection.

  2. Greatest…

  3. This is a truly great martial arts movie that delivers lessons of moral ethics and team spirit from beginning to end. The narrative encompasses all the virtues of martial arts and climaxes with an extremely touching ending that will put tears in any martial arts fans eye!

  4. Travis Brickly – (Christopher Penn), was from Miami, Florida. According to the introduction of accepting his role of being on the USA TEAM.

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