Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Pulp Culture
Ray Park has
gone from
zero to hero

January 11, 2001
By Franklin Harris

When you think about it, Ray Park's journey from nobody to the embodiment of fanboy coolness is a bit strange.

After working as a stuntman in "Mortal Combat: Annihilation," the Scottish martial artist got his big break playing Darth Maul in "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace." Of course, much to the dismay of "Star Wars" fans everywhere, Park's role was small. While most fans wanted more of Maul's twin-bladed lightsaber and acrobatic fighting style, George Lucas wanted more Jar Jar Binks.

Ray Park
Ray Park, before...
Ray Park
and after, as Darth Maul.
Sometimes you just have to wonder about old George.

In fact, Park didn't even have a speaking part. Another actor dubbed all of Maul's lines.

When Darth Maul says, "At last we shall reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last we shall have our revenge," and other lines fanboys can quote from memory, it isn't Park's voice you're hearing.

No matter. Park shines during his few minutes in "The Phantom Menace." His nimble stunt work helped give Darth Maul a cult following rivaling that of any of Lucas' other creations, and far surpassing that of the hapless Jar Jar.

Next, Park appeared in Tim Burton's horror extravaganza, "Sleepy Hollow."

In theory, Park's role was one of the most important in the film. He played the Headless Horseman opposite Johnny Depp's Ichabod Crane. In practice, however, that meant we never got to see Park's face.

During the flashback sequence that explains how the Headless Horseman came to haunt the western woods of New York, Christopher Walken plays the role of the ill-tempered German mercenary.

Still, Park made himself known enough to land a role in one of last year's biggest action movies.

In "X-Men," Park again plays a bad guy: Toad, one of the villainous Magneto's Brotherhood of Mutants.

Now, as anyone familiar with the X-Men comic books knows, Toad is a pretty lame villain. Basically, he has the superhuman ability to jump really high and go splat when superheroes with more useful abilities come along and smack him.

For the movie, however, Park turned Toad into a villain to be reckoned with. He holds his own against three X-Men before getting smacked. (Hey, he's the bad guy. He has to get smacked eventually.)

And this time, "X-Men" director Bryan Singer let Park say his own lines. There weren't many of them, but at least Park got to say them.

Obviously, Park did something right, because now the writers of the X-Men comics have decided to make the comic-book Toad just as cool as his celluloid counterpart.

And that leads us to Park's latest project.

The folks at Marvel Comics were so thrilled with Park's performance in "X-Men" they decided to entrust him with another one of their characters: Danny Rand, a.k.a. Iron Fist.

Iron Fist is one of the slew of second-tier superhero properties Marvel and Artisan Entertainment are developing for the big screen.

Although he co-starred in Marvel's "Power Man and Iron Fist" comic book in the '80s, Iron Fist hasn't been too busy of late. In fact, he was dead for awhile, but death rarely proves a permanent setback for comic-book superheroes.

And Iron Fist is exactly the sort of superhero Artisan wants to translate to film, especially after New Line's success with another second-stringer, Blade.

"With the recent theatrical successes of comic book based programming, audiences have shown their appetite for the genre. Artisan intends to bring Iron Fist to the screen with the same cutting edge style and smart filmmaking for which the studio is known," said Patrick Gunn, executive vice president of Artisan Entertainment.

Iron Fist
Marvel Comics' martial-arts superhero, Iron Fist.
Well, as long as it isn't another "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2," for which I assume Gunn wishes Artisan wasn't known.

Danny Rand is no Superman. Rather, his superhuman ability is pretty straightforward: He can mystically channel his life energy into his fist, giving it enough strength to shatter almost anything. But combine that with Rand's martial arts expertise, and you have a character who might make a splash at the box office.

Artisan already has a screenwriter for "Iron Fist," John Turman, and is looking for a director. The studio's plan is to get the movie into production before a threatened strike by actors and screenwriters later this year.

If Park proves half as good an actor as he is a stuntman, his first outing in a starring role won't be his last. And he'll be able to laugh at the days filmmakers erased his head from the screen and didn't let him speak for himself.

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