Where there is action, there’s Ilram Choi

May 8, 2014

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2″ is the latest in a string of blockbuster stunts
including “Iron Man 3,” “Avatar,” “Transformers” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”   

Ilram Choi on the set of Columbia Pictures' "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. (Courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Ilram Choi on the set of Columbia Pictures’ “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. (Courtesy of Sony Pictures)

By Tae Hong

When you grab your popcorn at the movie theater and plop into your soda-stained seat for “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” remember this: The man behind Spidey’s mask isn’t always Andrew Garfield.

In fact, there’s a good chance that most of the tights-donning superhero’s action shots aren’t Garfield but one Ilram Choi, a stuntman whose filmography would have most action buffs salivating.

A good question to ask wouldn’t be where you’ve seen his stunts, but instead, where haven’t you?

Choi, tall and lanky and sinewy, has become one of Hollywood’s go-to stunt men. His list of credits is indistinguishable from a list that might be titled Top Box Office Blockbusters: “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Transformers,” “Star Trek,” “Avatar,” “Tron: Legacy,” “Thor,” “Iron Man 3,” “Red Dawn,” “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” the upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy” and, of course, Spider-Man reboots one and two.

It’s all come with countless cringe-inducing injuries, a broken neck and a whole lot of networking.

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Choi, right, has become one of Hollywood’s go-to stunt men. (Courtesy of Sony Pictures)

But before all of that, Choi was an art school graduate and pop culture fanatic.

The 39-year-old Korean American was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Kentucky. He says he thinks his name — rare even amongst Koreans — might mean “first son.”

Although he did not hang on to much of it, he recalls Korean being his first language.

Until kindergarten, it was what he spoke. It was only after a teacher’s meeting — the school told the Chois that he was speaking Korean to the other kids in class — that he was exposed to what he calls ‘Korenglish,’ the broken English used by his parents.

Like many Koreans in the U.S., his family would attend the community church, where he would spend his Sunday in what was the equivalent of another school day for him: two-hour worship, lunch, Korean school, Bible study, taekwondo.

“Taekwondo for boys, dance for girls,” he says. “I don’t remember not doing taekwondo as a kid in Kentucky. They forced me to do it, and I didn’t like it.”

It was eight years of informal practice, and he hated the repetition of it. But he did love the advanced moves his instructors would occasionally demonstrate.

And he loved practicing those moves on his own. His love for anime, cartoons, Jackie Chan films and Bruce Lee fed his creativity, but it was the arcade game “Street Fighter 2” that sparked his interest in performing real tricks.

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The man behind Spidey’s mask isn’t always Andrew Garfield. It’s often Ilram Choi, top. (Courtesy of Sony Pictures)

“The moves were unrealistic and that intrigued me,” Choi says. “I was like, ‘Wow. Is that possible? Can I do a back-flip kick? Can I do a double leg foot sweep?’ I was interested in combining sports and tricks.”

He eventually transitioned to performing stunts in front of the camera for his friends’ homemade camcorder videos as a teenager.

“I still have those old films,” he laughs. “They’re so embarrassing. Everything was ninja-based. Ninja Amigos, Classroom Ninjas, Casual Ninjas. I didn’t know what stunts were. I was just falling on my ass and taking reactions. The kids loved it.”

The amateur videos continued into adulthood, with his passion for stunt work reaching a new height after seeing his first glimpse of capoeira, the Brazilian martial art, in the 1993 film “Only the Strong.”

“I said, ‘What the hell is this? It’s exactly what I want to do!’” he says. “It’s all the crazy flips and martial arts.”

But stunts were stunts, and bills were bills. He had student loans to take care of, and a love for production and the film industry led him to Dallas, Tex., where he took a job in visual arts effects after graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design.

It took him five and a half years — during which he made movies starring himself doing stunts — to leave Texas.

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“In the stunt industry, a lot of people have to trust you because what you do could kill somebody else,” Choi says. (Courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Stuntmen nowadays are young, most of them ranging between 18 to their early twenties, he says.

Choi was 29 years old when he moved to Los Angeles to finally pursue a full career in doing stunts.

Being Asian was an advantage for him, he says, because most Asian stuntmen were shorter and stockier gymnasts. In contrast, the leaner, taller, lankier Choi, who could do the same stunts as the others, was an appealing match for work.

After a string of making connections through all kinds of work — a commercial as an old monk blocking Lebron James from making a dunk, stints in “Collateral,” “Will & Grace” and “Monk” — for membership in the Screen Actors Guild to do big stunt roles in legitimate films, he began working in earnest.

Working in earnest for Choi means putting his life on the line with almost every job he takes.

“There’s always a fear of getting seriously injured,” he jokes. “You know, dying.”

Choi says that, more than dying, he never wants to become paralyzed.

“I love heights, I’m OK with speed. I know there’s risk and danger in everything, but as long as there’s professionals there, I feel confident and I’ll do it,” he says.

In his worst injury to date, he suffered a hairline fracture in his neck during a rehearsal for a Chinese anti-smoking commercial.

“I had gotten off “Transformers,” did crazy wire stunts on that, no serious injuries,” he says. “Right after that, I was on the wire. I was supposed to be wrapped, supposed to stay in the air. There was too much slack on the line, and I looked like a yo-yo and just unraveled. Went straight to the ground head-first.”

The doctors told him he’d need six months to recover. He took his first job back after one.

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Being Peter Parker has its difficulties. The biggest one is his suit. Not only does it take 20 minutes just to get it on, it’s a skin-tight outfit that leaves no room for padding anywhere on the body. (Courtesy of Sony Pictures)

“The Amazing Spider-Man” came in 2012, after someone he’d met on the set of “Thor” connected him to the reboot of the spider-bitten, web-shooting superhero.

“Once they saw Andrew Garfield and his body type, and a stuntman was still needed, they knew me,” he says.

After a chipped tooth during the filming of the first — which he received while he was being pulled down by the Lizard without a mouthpiece on — and several smaller injuries, Choi was called back for the second installment in the series.

“In the stunt industry, a lot of people have to trust you because what you do could kill somebody else,” he says.

Being Peter Parker has its difficulties, to be sure.

The biggest one is his suit. Not only does it take 20 minutes just to get it on, it’s a skin-tight outfit that leaves no room for padding anywhere on the body.

From leaping off heights to falling onto tables, it’s a repetitive task that requires concentration, he says.

“Because Spider-Man is a superhero, there’s a lot of superhero falling,” he laughs. “Getting hit and tossed around, we got banged up pretty well being in that suit. I told myself, I was able to escape the first one without any serious injuries. There was a little anxiety there, but I love Spider-Man. It’s great. It’s awesome.”

6 Comments

  1. Pingback: New Movie Spider-Man Should be Peter Park | thenerdsofcolor

  2. Jacob Astor

    February 13, 2015 at 3:11 PM

    “he fractured his hairline, breaking his neck”

    Uh, does this writer not know what a “hairline fracture” is? I recommend looking up unfamiliar terms before turning in copy.

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  4. Pingback: Advanced Capoeira Moves List | intermediate - shotokankarate

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  6. fav tv shows

    September 11, 2017 at 7:13 AM

    the article caption is really perfect “where there is action theres irlam choi”
    I heard his name somewhere while watching movies on the mobdro app. thanks for the list you have given really some of the movies I had missed what you have mentioned above, i will watch them mobdro in hd “Spider-Man 2″ “Iron Man 3,” “Avatar” “Transformers” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”

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