Phillip Rhee is simply terrific in the third stanza of his acclaimed “Best of the Best” films. Here’s a movie with a real socially poignant plot, a different tone and texture to each fight scene, and a prolonged climax filled with hair-raising original stunts. If you are tired of the same o!d martial arts films and seek quality and originality, don’t miss it.
By Alex & Annellen Simpkins, Ph.D.’s
Do you enjoy the thrilling action of martial arts movies, but wish for more in a plot than: the drug dealer killed my brother (or father, friend, wife) so I’m going to get him? Actor, producer, and now director Phillip Rhee has answered your wish with his latest movie, “Best of the Best 3.” There’s no lack of action in this film. It’s filled with fast-moving chases, daring stunts, and a panorama of martial arts techniques. But the movie dramatizes a much more powerful message. “It’s not just about people fighting,” says Rhee. “It’s about values. We are trying to break barriers. That is what is important for me: to accept challenges and break through barriers.”
“Best of the Best 3” takes on an important modern issue: intolerance and prejudice. Rhee felt inspired to tackle this problem after he saw director Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning “Schindler’s List.” He was personally very moved by it. Then he read about a screening of “Schindler’s List” in Oakland, California for students. The young people laughed at the movie. Clearly they had not been able to relate to it. Rhee decided to communicate the important message in a more familiar format, one that they could relate to: the action film. “I’ll give them action and inject the philosophies,” he says. “When kids see this movie they will understand that hate is not the answer. We all have problems, but you can’t kill people over them.” Rhee’s character recurring character, Tommy Lee, portrays this when he turns away after defeating the arch villain.
A Socially Poignant Plot
If you think that racial hatred is nonexistent in America, you may be surprised. It’s a problematic social issue. Thus, the relevancy of “Best of the Best 3” is chilling. According to Rhee, “One hour from where we were shooting in Jackson, Ohio, a Ku Klux Klan [KKK] rally was going on. We also shot some of the movie in Bedford, Indiana. I found out later that this town was named after Nathaniel Bedford, the founder of the KKK.” Rhee is an accomplished martial artist, with a 5th-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a 3rd-degree in Hapkido. By recognizing the traditional values of martial arts he has been able to translate it into the profession he loves so much, filmmaking. “The martial arts are still going through an evolution,” he explains. “There is a stereotyping of this in martial arts movies. If we continue to just see someone beat someone up, with no spiritual values, the public will never understand that the arts are not just about fighting. I have respect for the traditional, for what it represents. So what if you are the baddest fighter around. What is it all worth afterward? A younger, stronger guy will always come along who can take you. That’s the universal law.” Rhee recognizes that his purpose runs deeper. He is always growing. I want to do more projects like this [Best 3″]. It opens the doors for martial arts to gain respect. I will always keep my roots in martial arts, but in the professional world I want to make films that have emotional value.”
“Best 3” Story Line
Summer is a peaceful time in America’s heartland and in the small town of Liberty … or so it seems. But building beneath the surface is an inferno about to explode. Seventeen-year-old Owen Tucker (Peter Simmons) hates his cramped, restrictive life in the mobile home he shares with his mother, Georgia (Dee Wallace Stone). He watches with interest as televangelist Douglas Bryan preaches his message of white separation. Georgia prods Owen to help around the house, a plea he has heard one time too many. In disgust, he jumps on his bike and rides away. That same morning, Reverend Phelps (Andra R. Ward), pastor of
the Liberty Baptist Church, speaks out against racism to his congregation. After the service, his 8-year old son Luther (Justin Brently) says goodbye to his father and boards a choir bus to take him to a recital with his elementary school. The Reverend walks meditatively around the church grounds, but his moment of quiet is broken by masked kidnappers who take the Reverend by force and torch the church.
Luther arrives at his elementary school with the other choir members. Their teacher, Margo Preston (Gina Gershon), is horrified to see racial graffiti scrawled on the school walls. Despite this, the concert goes well. Uberty is a town of frightful contrasts, for at the same time that the sweet sounds of children’s voices ring out, the Reverend Phelps is brutally murdered at a “stomping” by a gang of skinheads, led by Donnie Hansen (Mark Rolston). Owen, now with a shaved head, has joined the neo-Nazis in their malicious actions. Tommy Lee (Phillip Rhee) drives toward Liberty to visit his sister and her family. Just on the outskirts of town, his car breaks down near a diner. As he calls his sister, he notices Hansen and his gang harassing the waitress, Georgia. Radiating calmness, Tommy diffuses the situation, but not without annoying Hansen, not just for interfering, but also because Tommy is Korean.
Tommy walks toward town, suitcase in hand, and is met by the local Sheriff, Jack Banning (Christopher McDonald), who is Tommy’s brother-in-law. Jack is a soft-spoken, simple man. He drives Tommy to his house, where Tom my enjoys a happy reunion with his sister Karen and eight-year-old nephew Justin (Kitao Sakurai). Young Luther is staying with the family since his father, the Reverend, “disappeared.” From his helicopter, Douglas Bryan proudly surveys his large compound. He lands to take the pulpit of a packed meeting hall filled with cheering supporters. He reveals his plan to expand his Aryan homeland with the purchase of a sizeable section of Liberty’s land.
Owen joins in with chants of “White power!”
Tommy accompanies Karen and the boys into town for ice cream. He leaves them for a moment to buy some shaving cream. On his return, he is shocked to see a gang of masked skinheads terrorizing Karen, Justin and Luther. With speed and precision, Tommy battles masked skinheads until they are forced to flee. Jack arrives to comfort his shaken wife and kids, but following the letter of the law, he makes no arrests because the attackers could not be identified. By contrast, Tommy feels determined to take action.
The next day, Tommy persuades Jack to drive with him to the CAC Compound to confront Douglas Bryan. Bryan adamantly denies any involvement with the attack, but Hansen’s behavior belies Bryan’s words when he yells racial slurs tauntingly at Tommy. Tommy warns Hansen that he hopes he is not involved. Hansen exults in the implied threat. Another incident erupts a few days later at the county fair. Margo angrily confronts Owen and the skinheads for passing out racist fliers at the fair. She loses her temper and strikes one of them in the face. Just as they are about to retaliate, Tommy appears. Using his martial arts skills, he systematically eliminates each gang member until only Owen is left standing. Enraged, Owen charges Tommy with a knife, but Tommy is quicker. He recovers the knife, and just to throw a scare into the boy, fires the knife at the wall inches from Owen’s head. Margo is incensed that Tommy “almost killed” Owen and stomps off. It is not until a 4th of July barbecue at Jack and Karen’s house that Margo apologizes to Tommy. The intimacy of the moment is broken when a huge cross is ignited on the front lawn. Although the intruders disperse, it is clear that the burning cross is the last warning for Tommy to leave town.
Frightened by the burning cross, little Luther hides in the choir bus. Tommy and Margo rush to him. Tommy addresses Luther’s fear and hatred of skinheads with great tenderness. Margo is touched by Tommy’s compassion for Luther.
The next day, the town gathers to vote on Bryan’s proposal to buy the land. The entire town keeps silent out of fear, until Margo boldly stands up and eloquently reminds everyone of the founding value in America that the town is named after, and their right to it: liberty! Following her inspirational lead, the town rallies behind her and votes down the proposal. But as Tommy and Margo leave the meeting, Hansen and his gang harass Tommy. Once again, Jack does nothing. Tommy is enraged by Jack’s passivity and reminds him that the other side is not playing by Jack’s “rules!” Tommy sneaks onto the CAC grounds and witnesses the transfer of weapons and an argument between Hansen and Bryan over philosophy.
Hansen brutally murders Bryan and assumes command of the CAC. His first act as leader is to send a gang to Margo’s house to find and eliminate Tommy. Discovered on the grounds, Tommy battles many skinheads until he makes a dramatic escape on a motorcycle and races back to save Margo. He arrives just in time to rescue her and make a getaway in a speedboat. Meanwhile, Hansen looks for Tommy at the Banning house. He beats Karen and takes the boys hostage. When Tommy and Margo arrive, they find Jack cradling his battered wife. Tommy knows he is the one they really want, and faces his destiny with courage. He rushes back to the compound to save the boys. Jack removes his badge and, no longer restrained by his role as sheriff, accompanies Tommy.
Tommy and Jack overhear Hansen incite his troops by telling them that Tommy killed Bryan. Tommy’s heroic battle with Hansen and the CAC keeps viewers in suspense throughout. To the very final scene, the movie remains true to the values expressed, leaving audiences with a powerful message.
About The Cast
Phillip Rhee (“Tommy Lee”)
Phillip Rhee recreates the popular character of Tommy Lee, but develops him much further. We first met Tommy as a young man driven to be a champion in “Best of the Best.” Next we saw him seek revenge for the vicious and senseless death of his friend, Travis, in “Best of the Best 2.” But in the third stanza of the series, “Best of the Best 3,” Tommy Lee is challenged to grow beyond the tournament arena to take a stand in the real world against racial prejudice. He not only calls upon the physical strength and mental discipline he has gained as a martial artist, but also draws from his gentler side to reach out to the youth to put an end to hatred for a better future. Phillip took on a mountain of work and set an industry landmark for “Best 3” by wearing three professional hats. He not only starred in and produced the film, but made his directorial debut as well. No other Asian actor in all of Hollywood has this kind of control over his own movie.
The nephew of one of Korea’s top film directors, Rhee studied with industry professionals as he honed his skills. At the age of 23, he served as Vice President of the Los Angeles-based Action Brothers Productions, Inc., where he produced “Ninja Turf” and “Silent Assassins.” “Best of the Best 1” and “2,” starring Phillip and Eric Roberts, have enjoyed worldwide commercial success. “Best 2” was released by Twentieth Century Fox on over 1 ,200 screens in the U.S. in March, 1 993. Rhee’s exciting martial arts techniques, showcased in the fight scenes of “Best 3” and masterfully choreographed by his brother, Simon Rhee, reflect Phillip’s extraordinary expertise from his 30-year commitment to Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido. Each fight scene is invested with a different character, which adds dramatic realism and impact to the martial arts confrontations.
Christopher McDonald (“Jack Banning”)
Christopher McDonald plays Jack Banning, the Sheriff of Liberty, a town under siege. Torn between his duty as a law officer and his instincts as a protective husband and father, McDonald displays an exciting depth and sensitively. Chris made a name for himself in his role as Geena Davis’ moronic husband in “Thelma and Louise.” More recently he has distinguished himself as the co-star in two major movies, Deran Sarafian’s “Terminal Velocity” and Robert Redford’s “Quiz Show.” Chris has also starred in “Outrageous Fortune” with Bette Midler, “Chances Are,” directed by Amile Ardolino, Zalman King’s “Blue Movie Blue,” and Donald Petrie’s most recent picture, “Grumpy Old Men.” His television credits include guest appearances on such shows as “Cheers,” “Hunter,” “Riptide,” “Matlock,” and “The Twilight Zone.” “I want people to remember me as something other than that fat slob from ‘Thelma & Louise,'” he says. We think he has succeeded.
Gina Gershon (“Margo Preston”)
Gina Gershon, the headstrong schoolteacher Margo Preston, can be an inspiration to women everywhere. She plays a strong young woman who is willing to take a stand for justice in her small town. With an extensive New York theater background, Gina is an accomplished actress who is currently in Las Vegas co-starring in “Showgirls,” scripted by Joe Eszterhas (“Basic Instinct”; “Nowhere to Run”) and directed by Paul Verhoeven (“RoboCop”), for Carolco. She has appeared in such films as Robert Altman’s “The Player,” Roger Donaldson’s “Cocktail” starring Tom Cruise, “Red Heat” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Pretty in Pink,” and “Out for Justice” starring Steven Seagal. Her television credits include appearances on “The Untouchables,” the mini-series “Sinatra,” and recurring roles on “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd,” and the worldwide hit “Melrose Place.”
Mark Rolston (“Donnie Hansen”)
Mark Rolston brings a chilling power to the role of hate-monger Donnie Hansen. When Hansen takes over the leadership of the neo-Nazi white supremacist group, he takes the level of hatred from harassment to brutal violence. So evil is his character that Mark confides that the role will bring him as much notoriety as his costarring role in the critically-acclaimed, Oscar-nominated “Shawshank Redemption,” starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Mark has performed in a wide variety of films which include “Revolution” and “Aliens,” for 20th Century Fox, “Prancer” and “Lethal Weapon 2” for Warner Brothers, “Body of Evidence” and “Weeds” for DeLaurentis Entertainment, and “RoboCop 2” for Orion Pictures.
Peter Simmons (“Owen Tucker”)
As a local boy who gets caught up in the violence of the neo-Nazi movement, Owen Tucker is the moral thread of “Best of the Best 3.” Young Peter Simmons brings believable innocence and intensity to the role. In only a few short years in the business, Peter has already made his mark. He was a series regular in the critically acclaimed NBC drama “I’ll Fly Away.” He recently co-starred in “Renaissance Man,” directed by Penny Marshall and starring Danny DeVito.
Dee Wallace Stone (“Georgia Tucker”)
Dee Wallace Stone portrays “Georgia Tucker,” the mother of Owen, who is tormented by her son’s involvement in the neo-Nazi CAC organization. As an experienced actress, she adds an element of realism to the role which touches us all. Stone is known throughout the world as the “mom” in “E.T.”, the highest-grossing motion picture of all time. In Hollywood, she is regarded as one of its best character actresses. Equally versed as an actress of stage, screen, and television, she has appeared in such films as “Cujo,” “The Howling,” and “1 0.” On television her credits include an extensive list of movies-of-the- week. She was also a series regular on “Lassie.” On the stage, she has performed in “My Fair Lady,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Oklahoma,” “Applause” and “Butterflies are Free.”
Press Photos (they will be added shortly to this article)
Martial artists will appreciate Phillip Rhee’s real martial arts skills, which are showcased in many scenes throughout the movie. The fight scenes range in character from comic to comprehensive.
In the end, Tommy Lee is victorious as good triumphs over evil.
Mark Rolston is electric as the evil Donnie Hansen.
Daring stunts and fast action will keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
Christopher McDonald plays Sheriff Jack Banning, a man torn between his duty as a law officer and his instincts as a father and husband.
Tommy’s courageous fight against hate of the CAC eventually inspires Owen, played by Peter Simmons, a young skinhead, to find his way back from evil.
Margo Preston, played by Gina Gershon, is a headstrong schoolteacher who takes a stand against the CAC. Through the battle, Margo and Tommy Lee find themselves emotionally linked in a touching romance.