Actor Rick Yune is using his martial arts background to kick up things on the silver screen.
Rick Yune has had a breakthrough. It’s on rare occasion that the Korean-American actor to kick back and watch any of the movies he has appeared in throughout his 13-year career. For him, it’s an uncomfortable feeling—especially when the flick isn’t perfect. But on this sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, California, the 41-year-old lights up when talking about The Man With The Iron Fists, the latest action film he co-stars in alongside Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Cung Le, David Bautista, and writer/director RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan, which drops in theaters on November 2.
The film, which has the tagline “You Can’t Spell Kung Fu Without F and U,” is the only movie he has appeared in that he enjoys watching over and over again.
“I generally don’t like seeing myself on screen,” says Yune. “I don’t watch my own movies a lot, but I’ve seen this movie three times, and I get hyped on it every time, even more. I’m probably my own harshest critic. I’m a fan of movies and films, and this is something I’m extremely proud to have made.”
Presented by Quentin Tarantino, The Man With The Iron Fists follows the life of a blacksmith in 19th-century China who crafts elaborate and intricate weapons, which are used by warriors and assassins against the clan traitor in an effort to save their small village. Yune plays the role of Zen Yi, a warrior who is out for revenge.
“He’s off in the mountains, romancing the woman of his life, when he hears his father is assassinated, so he leaves this woman to investigate the death of his father and avenge his murder,” Yune says. “There is a journey there. He links up with two other characters—RZA’s and Crowe’s characters—and helps save the day.”
Because his stunt double was a five-foot-six fl yweight, Yune—who is six-foot, 180 pounds—decided to perform most of his own stunts. Undoubtedly, his martial arts background came into play.
Born and raised in Washington D.C., Yune grew up in a rougher part of the city that wasn’t quite the “white picket fences type of neighborhood,” he says, before mentioning the area had its fair share of crime and illegal activities going on. For that reason, he studied taekwondo and kung fu.
“Martial arts helped me straighten out,” he says. “There is something about it that makes you want to become better. And I was always a fan of movies, and I was always glued to the television. There was a kung fu action theater where all the kids in the neighborhood would go every Saturday afternoon.”
Yune progressed in taekwondo, and when he was 19 years olds, he qualified for the Olympic Trials. He also expanded from the martial arts to try his hand at other sports, but it didn’t feel the same.
“I wrestled in high school and boxed in the Golden Gloves in New York,” he says. “I also played football, but there is something about the risk and the ability to be in the moment in martial arts where you’re there, and it’s just you, and you don’t know anyone else, and you have to be 100 percent you.”
While he continued learning different martial arts in college, he modeled for brands like Versace and Polo Sport. In 1994, he received an MBA from the famed Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania.
Although Yune put that degree to use as a hedge fund trader, he took acting lessons on the side and eventually made his big screen debut in 1999’s Oscar-nominated Snow Falling on Cedars, where he portrayed Kazuo Miyamoto. Over the next few years, he had roles in The Fast and The Furious and the James Bond film Die Another Day. Despite tangible success, it was a surreal feeling.
“It moved quickly, and I never understood what I was capable of doing,” Yune says. “Really, I was going more on instinct, and when somebody looked at me and said, ‘Wow, you did a great job,’ or, ‘You did great in that movie,’ part of me wanted to look over my shoulder to see if they were talking to somebody else.”
Aside from the occasional television appearance on shows like Boston Legal and CSI, Yune took some time away from acting. He reemerged in 2008 with The Fifth Commandment, a movie that he wrote, produced, and starred in.
“It wasn’t until I took time off to make my own movie that I really understood what I had and what I was capable of,” he says. “That’s when I thought, ‘Wow, I’m coming into my own. This is what I want,’ and it was a great realization.”
While the actor has taken a few select roles since then, The Man With The Iron Fists represents the next big highlight in his career.
“I’m a critic first and foremost,” Yune says, “and I’m a fan of this movie. A lot of critics who have seen it, they thought it was the kung fu version of the Avengers, but we didn’t have to spend $300 million on it.”
He might not be a cage fighter, but Rick Yune has crossed paths with the MMA world quite a few times.
The actor has trained with the up-and-coming talents at Freddie Roach’s Wildcard Gym, partied with Chuck Liddell, and is buddies with BJJ pioneer Rickson Gracie. Additionally, Cung Le costars with him in The Man With The Iron Fists. While Yune enjoys MMA fights and rubs elbows with the sport’s elite, he shares the same philosophy as one of his biggest influences, Bruce Lee.
“Lee is the first MMA guy, and I think a lot of people would agree,” says Yune. “There should be no ‘one style.’ It should fit within the capabilities of the individual, and that person should mold their art in a way that fits them. They should take from different disciplines things that make their life, their mind, and their body more sufficient and fulfilled.”
Be sure to check out The Man with the Iron Fists; in theaters now.