Today I talk to “teacher’s teacher”, a busy stunt coordinator, Taekwondo master who taught over 10,000 students at his dojo – Simon Rhee. Karate Illustrated once wrote: “He has the prettiest kicks, most flashiest and picturesque Martial Arts techniques in the nation.”
Simon Rhee has worked in movie industry for over 30 years in over 100 projects and known for creating the most dynamic fight and action sequences. His career includes works on such blockbusters as The Dark Knight Rises, Star Trek, Rush Hour, Walker Texas Ranger and many other films and TV Series.
But he is most recognisable for his iconic role as the eye patch leader of the Korean team Dae Han in the Best of the Best movie. He won the best fight award for Rush Hour 2 with Jackie Chan and the best fire stunt award for Letters To Iwo Jima with Clint Eastwood.
“I used to spar with Chuck Norris at his old studio before he got too famous, he is a very down to earth man.”
When he is not filming, he continues to enjoy teaching and training at his Woodland Hills Tae Kwon Do Center.
Budomate: Mr. Rhee, you was born in California, but spent much of your childhood in Korea, how did you manage to blend two such different mentalities?
Simon Rhee: I was born in the US, and when I was one year old, my parents took me back to Korea so that I could connect with the Korean culture and learn the history and language. As far as blending, I use what I have learned from both cultures to and incorporate the best of both into my life.
Budomate: You have a black belt in Hapkido too, are Taekwondo and Hapkido always go hand in hand for Korean martial arts practitioners?
Simon Rhee: Yes, because TKD is a more offensive style and HKD is the more defensive style, and it is good to know both to be a more complete practitioner of the Korean styles.
Budomate: Can you spoil the secret of your flashy and picturesque kicking technique?
Simon Rhee: There is no secret – it comes down to many, many hours of hard work – training and focus.
Simon Rhee: He made it very entertaining using some Wing Chun techniques, but I wouldn’t say that there is one style that is the correct style.
Budomate: Which movie of Ip Man series is your favourite?
Simon Rhee: The first one.
Budomate: Mr. Rhee, you are a many-time Grand Champion of the tournament circuit, do you remember your first one?
Simon Rhee: Yes, it was in San Francisco – I got disqualified because I kicked my opponent in the face too hard.
Budomate: Your pictures have graced the covers of many Martial Arts magazines, do you have the favourite one or maybe the article you like the most?
Simon Rhee: Black Belt Magazine, where I am kicking my brother Phillip, in mid-air.
Budomate: Now you are the teachers teacher with dynamic seminars. How people can contact you if they want to invite you for a seminar in their school?
Simon Rhee: They can contact my office: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Budomate: Moving to your film career, when movie studios noticed your talent in 80s what was the first offer you got?
Simon Rhee: Kentucky Fried Movie.
Budomate: Talking about classic movie Best of The Best and your Dae Han role, was it hard to fight your own brother in this movie? Why do you think this movie stands out?
Simon Rhee: I have received so many letters, emails and social media responses for this first “Best of the Best” movie – I think it hit a cord with a lot of people and got them interested in the martial arts because of it’s positive message of forgiveness. As far as doing a fight scene with my brother, that was easy, because we have been doing it all our lives.
Budomate: Why Dae Han became a good guy eventually in the sequel, don’t you think it could be more interesting to see him as a villain again?
Simon Rhee: No, because what makes people interesting is that they are multi-faceted.
Budomate: Your brother Phillip was so remarkable as Tommy Lee but disappeared for a long time from the movies, can you tell us the reason?
Simon Rhee: He has been busy with other work – in advertising and 3-D film conversion, and with producing other films.
Budomate: In 1991 you have been involved into work on Double Impact with Jean-Claude van Damme and Bolo, was it easy to work with them?
Simon Rhee: Yes, it was fun. After working with Jean-Claude, I trained his kids at my studio for a while.
Budomate: You worked on stunts in Rush Hour 2 and 3, what can you tell about Jackie Chan and his stunts?
Simon Rhee: Jackie Chan is a very down to earth person, fun to work with, and a very generous person, and I had the honor to double him on Rush Hour 3. The stunts for his movies are serious and he always finds a way to entertain his audience.
Budomate: In 1997 you worked on Spawn movie with Michael Jai White who is one of the most complete martial artists nowadays. Are you still in contact and what can you say about his projects?
Simon Rhee: I have not been in contact with him lately, but he is one of the best kickers I have seen in the film industry.
Budomate: In Martial Law TV series you worked alongside Sammo Hung, why do you think he is not famous in US but so powerful in Asia?
Simon Rhee: Maybe his lack of English… for some reason the TV series lost its steam.
Budomate: You worked on two comedy films Beverly Hills Ninja and Kung Pow, is there any difference to work on stunts in comedy and action movie?
Simon Rhee: Not really – most of the time I’m either getting beat up or beating up somebody.
Budomate: Redbelt is one of a kind movie and not everyone knows about it, why do you think people don’t make movies using Jiu-Jitsu style, it is so popular and BJJ is another money making machine today?
Simon Rhee: Redbelt came out a little early for people to appreciate the style. Sometimes it is hard to translate and appreciate Jiu-Jitsu techniques on camera.
Budomate: Since 2000s you started working more on TV shows, what is the difference between TV show and blockbuster stunts?
Simon Rhee: TV shows shoot at a much faster pace than big movies. Movies tend to give you more time to prep and sometimes that is why there are more spectacular stunts in the movies.
Budomate: Daredevil is another popular TV show in 2015, what can you tell about stunts in it?
Simon Rhee: Daredevil had a really good stunt double, Chris Brewster. The stunt coordinator, Phil Silvera, is also a martial artist. When you have a martial artist doing the stunts and a coordinator as well who knows martial arts techniques, you can create very good action / fight sequences.
Budomate: In 2016 you helped to bring Rush Hour to TV, how is it working with James Lew and Jon Foo?
Simon Rhee: James Lew is one of my best buddies and we collaborate on ideas. James did the Pilot for the Rush Hour TV series, and Jeff Wolfe did the rest of the series – they are both talented martial artists and stunt coordinators and it is great working with both of them.
Budomate: Can you give your professional advice to guys and girls who want to break through into stunts?
Simon Rhee: Train hard in all facets of stunt work – martial arts, gymnastics, driving, etc. and if you are serious about it, you must join the Screen Actor’s Guild to be hired. You must also network with other stunt professionals and have integrity in everything you do.
Budomate: And my traditional question: which three martial arts movies you can call a classic?
Simon Rhee: My favorites are Enter the Dragon, Drunken Master 2 and The Raid.
Budomate: I really appreciate your time. You are a real inspiration to martial arts fans and it has been an honor to get to talk to you.
Simon Rhee: You are welcome, thank you.