June 14, 2006
One person is drawing extraordinary attention in the Korean movie industry these days. He is an indispensable figure in action films. The man in focus is director Chung Doo-hong, who is considered the best martial arts director in Korea.
Devotion and purity
Chung is widely regarded as the representative martial arts director for movies and is arguably the best stuntman in Korea. There are numerous episodes involving Chung. We can easily spend half a day listening to stories about him from movie directors who worked with him, including Kim Young-bin, Chang Hyun-soo and Kim Sung-soo. If we put together all the episodes about him derived from the production of movies and TV dramas, we could easily find enough stories to publish two volumes. Chung has always been highly determined and oftentimes excessively opinionated, and ready to cause a big stir. But everyone who has gotten accustomed to working with him wants to work with him again. The reason is simple. When the director of a movie wants to create any type of scene, Chung produces it no matter what. More often than not, directors who wished to produce a specific scene have to prevent Chung from taking on the challenges, rather than Chung refusing to do them, which attests to his devotion and enthusiasm.
When Chung is acting in a scene, or guiding other actors in their performances, his eyes look so passionate and determined that one might find them scary. But anyone who has seen him smile is immediately put off guard. In normal times, he is a friendly and seemingly naive soul — just a simple man whom director Kim Sung-soo has nicknamed "peasant."
Taekwon Boy’s dream
Chung was born in 1967 in Chilsan-ri, Imcheon-myeon, Buyeo-gun, South Chungcheong Province. In stark contrast to his image now, he was unusually introspective in personality until he entered high school. He had no interest in sports, and felt shy when he tried to perform something in front of girls. He was also small in size. But one incident changed his life dramatically: a private Taekwondo institute opened near his school.
He had always kept in his memory impressive and beautiful scenes from a Children’s Taekwondo King Competition that he had watched on TV as a child. He soon became deeply engrossed in taekwondo, and would practice taekwondo at the institute everyday, rain or shine. He was able to do so in part because of his deep tenacity, which makes him to try his best at whatever he does until he completely masters it.
Because he was so poor, he could not even afford to pay his training fees. But the master of the institute, Lee Gak-soo, taught him taekwondo for free because he recognized Chung’s faithfulness and talent in the traditional Korean martial art. This is how he entered the world of sports, which ended up becoming his lifetime career. He entered Junior College of Incheon as an athletic student. He was also selected as a member of a performing team that promoted taekwondo and Korean culture around the world, and spent much of his college years overseas. He served as a martial art trainer of a frontline elite unit during his compulsory military service, before briefly serving as a bodyguard for a parliamentarian after his discharge from the military.
One day, a friend on his bodyguard team who had worked as a stuntman recommended Chung become a stuntman. But this rosy dream soon faced a harsh reality. By 1990, the compensation and benefits stuntmen received were meager at best. Worse, he failed to get a role in a movie for which he had signed on to perform stunts. As a result, he would use his muscles and physical strength only to carry heavy equipment for his stunt acting team. Deeply disappointed, he stopped performing stunt work and began exercising alone. It was at that time that he went to Boramae Park in southern Seoul, a place which he continues to use as his home base. He would go to Boraemae Park every day, exercise there to improve his physical strength, and work on various martial arts at a nearby training center from 11 p.m. until dawn. Later, he moved to a hilly village in Boncheong-dong, which is closer to the park, and would climb up the hill repeatedly to intensify his exercises.
He continued to exercise for three months there, and eventually found a role substituting Kim Dong-hee’s character played by actor Lee Il-jae in "the General’s Son," a hit movie produced by director Lim Kwon-taek. He successfully performed his role in the work, capitalizing on the tireless efforts and suffering he had endured during the three-month period at Boramae Park, and deeply impressed producers and staff while shooting the movie.
Still, Chung thinks stuntmen are not being compensated adequately even these days, although he says their working conditions have improved quite a bit. This is part of the reason he has been running "Seoul Action School" at a gymnasium in Boramae Park since 1998. He established the facility jointly with four of his younger colleagues with the aim of producing martial art directors and stuntmen. Now the school boasts 25 key members, and recruits new members every six months and offers them free martial art training. He is doing all this just like Hong Kong martial art directors Cheong Xiaodong and Lawrence Full, who produce their own works while performing impressive acting as martial art directors at the same time. "I want to serve as a director because I believe I will perform better as a stuntman if I am good at directing and acting for movies and dramas," Chung said.
Leaping forward toward world stage
News reports say Chung has been picked as the martial arts director for the blockbuster movie "Mongol," which is being directed by the Russian director Sergei Bodrov. His participation in the movie, which constitutes part 1 of a three-part movie series on Genghis Khan the Great, holds special significance to Chung. Chung has been aspiring to advance into Hollywood and the international stage as a martial arts director, and by participating in the blockbuster movie in Russia, which is a highly promising movie market, he has effectively taken the important first step toward realizing his ultimate goal.
More than anything, Chung has always pursued new goals he has determined to take on. These include Korean-style stunt action using wires, and totally innovative stunt action that is unique only to him. He continues to spur himself to go beyond what he is today, rather than simply maintaining his lead in Korea. Considering Chung’s diehard enthusiasm for stunt acting, we can expect to see Korean action movies continuing to make great strides throughout the world.
Born in 1966
Stunt actor and martial arts director
1990 Enters movie industry as a stunt actor for "the General’s Son"
1992 Makes debut as a martial arts director in the movie "Sirasoni"
1996 Wins Special Contribution Award at MBC Acting Awards
2005 Martial arts director for the movie "Blood Tears"
2005 Martial arts director for the movie "Bitter Sweet"
2006 Plays Chung Tae-soo’s character and produces the movie "Zzakpae" as a co-producer, and produces many other works