Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Today's "Only in LA..." Moment

Quick, all you martial arts movie aficionados out there...do you remember a series from the 1990's called "The Best of the Best"? It started out with some B-level star power in the form of Eric Roberts (Julia's bro) and James Earl Jones in your classic story of a motley American team who sets out to conquer the world taekwondo championship, no doubt defeating evil Koreans along the way. (If you're thinking this doesn't sound like a classic in the making, you're probably right: Ebert completely trashed the movie, and I'm guessing didn't bother to review any of the sequels.) As the saga continued through #2, 3, and 4, it eventually shifted focus to the character of Tommy Lee, the young Korean dude who got to avenge his dead brother in the first one. At least, this is the info I gathered secondhand - I haven't seen any of the movies myself, though I'm now curious enough to add the original to my Netflix queue.

Why? Because it turns out the guy who plays Tommy Lee (real name: Philip Rhee), who also apparently co-wrote the original "The Best of the Best" and directed & produced the third and fourth installments, is one of the instructors at my taekwondo school. I can't vouch for the quality of his movie work - though I hear his martial arts skills were fantastic - but I can certainly vouch for him as a fantastic teacher. I could hardly believe it was the same guy, esp. when I discovered how old he must be. He's 47, but looks 10 years younger. Which led to a question that I of course can never ask him: he didn't have "work" done, did he?

Oh, surely not. The thought seems disrespectful, somehow, and I have an enormous amount of respect for Master Rhee. More likely he's just aged remarkably gracefully, which is not uncommon among Asians. But...he was in the movie business. And apart from the age thing, his features look a little different in the stills from the later movies than those from the first one...Or is that just the lighting and/or my overactive imagination?

All I can say is only in L.A. would it occur to me to wonder whether my taekwondo instructor got plastic surgery for the sake of his movie career.


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