‘Mavely’ shadows hero Sylvester Stallone in arm wrestling film ‘Champion’

By Yoon Min-sik
  • Published : Apr 2, 2018 - 16:49
  • Updated : Apr 2, 2018 - 16:49

Ma Dong-seok occupies a unique place in the hearts of Korean movie fans: the 18-inch arms, rock-solid exterior and rugged looks immediately spell a tough guy, but the Korean-American actor also packs a friendly demeanor that has earned him the nickname “Mavely,” a combination of his surname “Ma” and “Lovely.”

The upcoming film “Champion,” directed by Kim Yong-wan, is one that seems tailor-made for Ma, as it follows the story of Korean adoptee Mark on his journey to become an arm wrestling champion. 

Ma Dong-seok poses for a photo at a press conference for “Champion” in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

Mark, once a prominent arm wrestler, now works as a bouncer at a nightclub. One day he runs into sports agent Jin-gi, who persuades him to come back to Korea and pursue his dream of becoming an arm wrestling champion.

While Ma himself was never a competitive arm wrestler or an adoptee, many aspects of the plot mirror his personal story as a Korean growing up in the US.

“I’m more attached to this film because it is my story,” the actor said at a press conference for the movie held in Seoul on Monday. The flick is doubly special to Ma because shooting a film about arm wrestling, like his hero Sylvester Stallone, has been on his bucket list for ages. 

(From left) Ma Dong-seok, Han Ye-ri and Kwon Yul pose for a photo at a press conference for “Champion,” in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

“I watched an arm wrestling film starring Stallone (‘Over the Top’) and since then, I have been wanting to do an arm wrestling movie for 10 years. I just got lucky,” he said. He trained with professional arm wrestlers and was appointed an official board member of the Korean arm wrestling federation in the process.

A fictionalized biopic of a celebrity, it sounds like it could be in line with Eminem’s “8 Mile,” but the film starring “Mavely” has been heralded to also include action and humor, fitting to the actor.

“I’ve talked with friends about how fun it would be to make a film about Ma arm wrestling. I heard that he has always wanted to do such a film, so it worked out,” said Kim, who both wrote and directed the flick.

Ma dong-seok (left) speaks during a press conference for “Champion” in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

The movie also touches on prominent social issues, particularly ones that adoptees face.

“It deals with adoptees, single moms and unpopular sports categories like arm wrestling,” Kim said. “I wrote the story so people fighting social prejudice would team up and fight it together.”

Aiding Ma are Kwon Yul and Han Ye-ri, playing the role of Mark’s agent Jin-gi and sister Su-jin, who is also a single mother, respectively.

“At first, I thought it would be just another sports film, but I soon realized that Su-jin’s role, the part about her family is bigger than expected. I realized that it was a film about family, so I really wanted to do it,” said Han.

The film hits local theaters in May.

By Yoon Min-sik