From martial arts to movies: Brandon Lee’s journey

Brandon Holam Lee and his father, Yong Hyeok Lee.

Along with being a Tae Kwon Do champion, Brandon Holam Lee has been a bit of a ham all his life.

That’s why his father and martial arts coach arranged an audition for him at D and A Talent in Edina agency 2 1/2 years ago.

“Brandon was always outgoing, and loves to perform,” explained Yong Hyeok Lee, a Grand Master and founder of Lee’s Champion Taekwondo Academy in Shoreview and Mankato.

It wasn’t Brandon’s idea, but his dad was right: the audition turned his life in a different direction. The 2016 graduate of Mounds View High School (MVHS) has embarked on an acting career and is finding some success in Los Angeles with his Tae Kwon Do background part of his repertoire.

“I thought it was just for modeling,” Lee said, “but they had me read a few lines, too, and encouraged me to try acting.”

Then a sophomore at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Lee commuted weekly to Edina for six months, taking his acting lessons and “skipping all the parties” to pursue that goal.

He decided to take the plunge a little over two years ago, and moved to Los Angeles. He’s represented by Hunt and Hart Entertainment.

So far, his top achievement is landing a part in a Marvel movie, “Marvel Shang Chi.”

“I can’t say anything about it yet,” he said. “It’s coming out in July.”

He is co-starring in an upcoming HBO show which he also can’t talk about. Along with a friend, he is working on a short film called “Twisting Tiger,” which he said will be ready by summer. He has made some short films which can be seen on YouTube under Brandon H Lee.

The Grand Master is thrilled.

“One of my dreams was to be an actor,” Yong Hyeok Lee confesses, “but I could not pursue it. I want to support my son’s passion.”

Lee is 22 years old, 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds. At MVHS, he was a long jumper and sprinter on the track team and went out for football as a senior, where he played wide receiver.

He didn’t take part in any stage productions there, but his entertainment inclinations go back to age 3, when he found himself enthralled by a Jackie Chan movie.

“I was trying to copy him for about three hours, and wound up breaking my leg!” he said. “So, my father knew I had a passion for that.”

While he was growing up, he evoked remarks from friends and relatives that he would wind up an actor.

Putting himself out there in martial arts all those years was good preparation.

“I’ve been in Tae Kwon Do since I was 3,” Lee said. “Obviously, my father coached me. I was born into it. But my father never pushed me. I just had a natural passion for it.”

Competing in the Poomsae discipline, Lee earned titles at age 13 (Kukkiwon Cup Open International), at 15 (World Taekwondo Culture Expo and ATU National Taekwondo), at 18 (an international tournament in Korea), at 19 (USA Taekwondo nationals), and at 20, when he collected a team silver medal with the national team at the 2019 World Taekwondo President’s Cup in Las Vegas.

At 21, Lee won the USA Taekwondo National Championships in Minneapolis to earn a spot on Team USA, which was headed for the world meet — but by that time, he had made another commitment.

“I retired from competition to prioritize acting,” he said. “I still train in Tae Kwon Do but don’t compete.”

Lee clarifies that he’s not out there as a stuntman, despite his well-honed skills.

“I do stunts, but mainly to supplement acting,” Lee said. “I don’t jump off cliffs or set myself on fire, things like that. My goal is to become an Action Actor, which combines fight choreography with acting. Fight choreography is a category within stunts, but a small fraction of it.”

Lee is focused and living his dream.

“I have never been so happy in my life. Taking that risk was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

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