Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Ho-Sung Pak

Before attempting to become the next Asian action hero, long-haired Korean-American Wushu champion Ho-Sung Pak was stunt coordinator for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze and doubled for Raphael, the leader of the group transformed from the norm by the nuclear goop.

He made screen debut fighting non other than Jackie Chan in Drunken Master 2 (aka Legend of the Drunken Master, after which he appeared in WMAC Masters (1995-1997) hosted by Shannon Lee and played a lead role in the coming-of-age/action movie Epoch of Lotus (2000).

Though that was technically his starring debut as an action star it never got an international release and has yet to become available on DVD. It was with his second feature, supernatural cop movie Book of Swords (2003), that he made his debut proper.

Certainly looking the part, Pak was more than proficient in the fight scenes, which he also choreographed, making the movie an excellent showcase while not entirely satisfactory as a whole. The film is hugely entertaining. The plot’s blend of revenge and prophecy-fulfillment fantasy is an uneasy one but the climactic 15 minutes of the movie is almost non-stop awesome action.

Donning a red headband in the climactic sequence, Pak brings to mind Robin Shou of the Mortal Kombat films. In fact both have played that game’s hero Liu Kang; Pak in the first two games and Shou in the films.

In terms of quality filmmaking, Pak fared much better in Lesser of Three Evils, made a year later. This time one of three main characters. He’s part of an ensemble this time, alongside experienced character actors Peter Greene and Roger Guenveur Smith.

Out for revenge again, though this time playing a hitman, Pak is the titular Lesser of Three Evils. A combination of action and crime drama, it’s a decent movie and the action scenes further proof that Pak is a screen force to be reckoned with.

While Pak has all the qualities to be a martial arts superstar (Ho Sung means Superstar in Korean) he has yet to become one. Despite starring roles in three independent films of increasing quality his career as a leading man has stalled, much like that of Book of Swords co-star Taimak.

This obviously wasn’t helped when Lesser of Three Evils remained unreleased because of a lengthy legal dispute; after first changing its title to Blood Money and represented by Uwe Boll’s company Boll World Sales it was released on DVD in 2009, the title amended to the more commercial Fist of the Warrior.

Pak has gone on to appear in a couple of Uwe Boll videogame adaptations (Alone in the Dark and BloodRayne, both 2005) and the directorial debuts of actors James Lew 18 Fingers of Death! (2006) and Aki Aleong (I Am Somebody: No Chance in Hell, 2008)

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Friday, 19 March 2010

Jason Field

Maximum Cage Fighting (2006) sounds like the title for a documentary, or yet another fight scene compilation DVD made for fans of UFC and Cage Rage, but it’s a proper, albeit very low budget martial arts flick with some surprisingly well choreographed action.

Playing a former Tae Kwon Do champion forced to enter a grudge match is Virginian Jason Field. The profile on the website for his school, Inyodo Martial Arts, states Field has over 15 years of martial arts experience. “Training daily in Taekwondo, Kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Jason holds a Black Belt in Taekwondo, a purple belt in Jiu-Jitsu and is a ten-year veteran of professional kickboxing.” He made his starring debut in this movie.

Field’s character in the movie is hardly a million miles from his real life persona. His character, Jimmy Garren, runs a Tae Kwon Do school (just as he does) and his co-star Jun Chong is his real life sensei. Fact and fiction are intermingled; Chong also plays a variation on his true persona, as does Brazilian Jiu-Jistsu legend Professor Renzo Gracie.

Though Field is the star, this is really Chong’s project. He came up with the story and his daughter Joanna wrote the script. Chong is no newcomer, fans may be aware that he starred in a couple of Lee-sploitation flicks under the pseudonym Bruce Lea back in the 1970s and a couple of other films in the 80s and 90s. It’s great to see that he doesn’t just stay on the sidelines, he gets in on the action and has a pretty cool one-on-one fight at the climax with Harper’s trainer, played by the film’s choreographer Chul Jin M. Kim.

According to the movie’s official site, Chong himself offered Field the lead role, clearly aware he’d been struggling to pursue an acting career himself. Maximum Cage Fighting did not lead to a fully fledged career in Hollywood and according to the Internet Movie Database it remains his sole screen credit to date.

The plot of Maximum Cage Fighting echoes the likes of Commando (1985), Kickboxer 3: The Art of War (1992) and Undisputed II: Last Man Standing (2006), with the hero traveling to Brazil to learn a new discipline to take on the mixed martial arts champion (Nick “The Nasty” Harper played by Chris Torres) who has kidnapped his daughter.

The “grudge match” plot is straight-forward enough but the kidnapping plot device is absurd. When Jimmy Garren gets a call from the kidnappers demanding that he train for a fight, one that will take place in several weeks, he agrees instantly!

Action heroes don’t normally call the police, but they don’t usually play along with the villain’s demands to this extent. It’s a plot device that’s all too often forgotten, with Garren traveling to Rio de Janeiro and seeming to forget about his daughter. He even makes time for sightseeing and romance! The occasional scene reminds him and us of the distress she’s in.

Though it’s a bit clumsily assembled, with heavy-handed “emotional” scenes, OTT rock song training montages and an absurd premise, Maximum Cage Fighting is actually one of the best straight martial arts flicks of recent years and well worth checking out.