Korea’s only ‘Jackie Boy’ aims for action stardomWhen Park Hyun-jin came out of the army in 1995, he had no idea he would call the action film superstar Jackie Chan a “big brother.” He was just an average young man who grew up watching the Hong Kong actor’s action flicks. While mimicking Mr. Chan’s kicks with his friends, Mr. Park had a simple dream of being a police officer.
Last week, however, Mr. Park, 30, showed up in Seoul, driving a sleek red sports car, having appeared in Mr. Chan’s latest film, with a screen name given by Mr. Chan himself, Mong Cha Cha, meaning “someone who is flying high for a dream.”
Mr. Park is the only Korean “Jackie Boy.” He says he still wants to be a police officer, but admits that being a Jackie Boy, or stunt man, feels good, as he appears in internationally popular films like “Rush Hour 2” as the main stunt figure confronting Mr. Chan.
Born in Jeonju, which he describes as a “small country town,” in North Jeolla province, Mr. Park has a shy smile and unassuming attitude. When he demonstrates his trademark action moves, however, he wears the glaring look that won him favor with Mr. Chan.
Now based in Hong Kong, Mr. Park spends a couple of months each year in Seoul, and this year he’ll stay until early next month. After appearing in the most recent Jackie Chan film, “New Police Story,” which was released in Korea in late January, Mr. Park is now taking a break at home. But he is keeping himself busy making brief guest appearances in action films by his friends, before he returns to his second home, Hong Kong.
When he was discharged from his mandatory military service, during which he volunteered for the Marine Corps, he did not even have a passport. Now, his passport is worn with stamps from his visits to more than 20 countries for film shooting, not to mention about 30 trips to Hong Kong. For most of these trips, Mr. Chan makes sure that every member of the troupe gets a first class seat.
Luck seems to have found Mr. Park, but in fact he paid his dues to become a Jackie Boy.
After leaving the army, Mr. Park took the examination to become a police officer, but failed a number of times. “Then I knew that maybe being a police officer is not my thing,” Mr. Park said last week at a Seoul cafe, “so I decided to make my forte, martial arts, my vocation.”
Since his father ran a gym for taekwondo, the Korean traditional martial art, Mr. Park was familiar with sports, and, in addition, he was a big Jackie Chan fan. He also happened to enjoy watching a historical TV drama featuring a lot of action sequences, which helped him decide his career path. So one day in 1996, Mr. Park took a train to Seoul and went to the KBS TV station.
In front of the building, he called the directory service to get the number for KBS-TV, and was given the number of the action director for the show. He then appeared at the director’s office and said, “Please, sir, take me. I’ll do anything.”
Starting as an unknown on the action scene, Mr. Park cemented his status one day in 1999, when an action stunt expert said, “Now seems to be the right time for you to meet Jackie.”
The man happened to be a friend of Mr. Chans, and before Mr. Park knew it, he was on a plane for the first time in his life, heading to Hong Kong.
“Right after I unpacked, I thought I would have some time to take a look around the city, but right away I was sent to the location [of a movie shoot] where I first saw the ‘big bro’ [Mr. Chan] face to face,” Mr. Park said.
He was asked to demonstrate his kicks and fist skills for a good three hours, which he recalls now as the most painful time in his career. With the hot and humid weather, Mr. Park was soaked in sweat, and after three hours he virtually collapsed on the ground, barely murmuring, “I can’t do this. I’m out of here,” in Korean.
But three hours was all it took Mr. Chan to recognize Mr. Park’s skills. “I don’t know whether you’re good enough yet,” Mr. Chan told Mr. Park as he lay on the ground, “but I appreciate your gung-ho attitude. See you again.”
Mr. Park flew home, swearing that he’d never go back to Hong Kong, which meant only mean weather and greasy food to him back then. After a few months, however, a one-way, first-class plane ticket was delivered to Mr. Park, sent by Mr. Chan. “With that expensive ticket in hand, I hesitated for days about whether I should or shouldn’t go to that country,” Mr. Park said, smiling, “but I chose to try my luck, and now I see that I made the right decision.”
Mr. Park moved to Hong Kong, where he learned the rules of the action movie scene as well as languages ranging from Mandarin to Cantonese to English. His mentor was, of course, Jackie Chan, the friendly big brother. Describing Mr. Chan, Mr. Park broke into a smile and said, “He’s simply a genius.”
What earned Mr. Park’s unconditional support was Mr. Chan’s safety concerns. There was a time during the 1980s when Mr. Chan’s highest priority was the picture-perfect action sequence, Mr. Park said, adding, “Back then, the actors all knew that they’d all faint for a moment, then find themselves lying in an emergency room, with the big bro visiting and saying, ‘See you guys soon on the set.’”
Today, however, Mr. Chan makes safety the first priority and Mr. Park says he is fortunate to have had only three or four injuries, such as a strained neck. “But I’m very lucky compared to the big bro, whose body shows all the injuries you can think of.”
What brought Mr. Park close to Mr. Chan is his Korean heritage, now that Mr. Chan openly describes himself as a Korea-phile. Mr. Chan lived in Korea for eight years during the 1970s, when it was the key country for action films, learning action moves from Korean masters.
When Mr. Park first joined the company, with little competence in Cantonese, Mr. Chan used to tell Mr. Park, “It’s okay, I speak Korean.” One day during a film shoot in Eastern Europe, Mr. Chan handed Mr. Park a big, black vinyl bag, which he at first thought was trash, but later discovered was full of kimchi. “Nobody can imagine how happy it made me to have that kimchi, not just because it tasted good,” Mr. Park said. “And this was not the only time that the big bro impressed me like that.”
Mr. Park returned the favor with his gung-ho, never-give-up attitude on location, which made him one of the few select Jackie Boys to fight against Mr. Chan in his films. So Mr. Park is featured in films like “Rush Hour 2,” a Hollywood production. In “New Police Story,” Mr. Park makes a solo appearance on screen for one lengthy sequence, in which he goes down the wall of a skyscraper on a bicycle.
Mr. Park’s dream is to be on screen as long as his mentor is, but he also hopes someday to work in Hollywood and to open his own stunt school. One thing that will not change for years to come is that he’ll remain Mong Cha Cha, the Jackie Boy, and proud of it.
by Chun Su-jin