JOURNEY FROM THE WEST: Hollywood stars in Asian films

We look at actors and actresses who lent their Tinseltown star power to films in the east

JOURNEY FROM THE WEST: Hollywood stars in Asian films
JOURNEY FROM THE WEST: Hollywood stars in Asian films
20 Oct 2016

JOURNEY FROM THE WEST: Hollywood stars in Asian films

Previously, we did a rundown on actors and actresses from various Asian countries who had the chance to shine in big Hollywood films. While the reverse – Hollywood actors starring in Asian productions – is decidedly rarer, there is an increasing number of notable examples, with the most recent being veteran actor and professional badass Liam Neeson starring as General MacArthur in South Korea’s Operation Chromite. Read on for more:

Liam Neeson in ‘Operation Chromite’
Liam Neeson in ‘Operation Chromite’
20 Oct 2016

Liam Neeson in ‘Operation Chromite’

Over three decades since he got his start in acting, the Irish-born Hollywood heavyweight made his Korean debut in the war film after being made an offer he reportedly “couldn’t refuse”. Operation Chromite, named after the military mission that took place during the Korean War in the 50s, also stars Lee Jung-jae and Lee Beom-soo.

Although he is no stranger to portraying real-life figures (one of his best-known roles is that of the titular character in the classic Schindler’s List), Liam admitted to being nervous about starring as General Douglas MacArthur, who was heralded as a hero after spearheading the precarious operation. The drama knocked zombie thriller Train to Busan off the top of the box office rankings upon its release in July.

Related:
Liam Neeson promotes Operation Chromite in Korea
Korean superstars support premiere of Operation Chromite

Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe in ‘The Great Wall’
Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe in ‘The Great Wall’
20 Oct 2016

Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe in ‘The Great Wall’

Legendary auteur Zhang Yimou embarked on what isn’t just his first English-language film, but also the most expensive movie to be completely filmed in China (with a staggering US$135 million budget). Hollywood A-lister Matt, Pedro (best known for playing Oberyn Martell on Game of Thrones) and veteran actor Willem join a rundown made up of some of the east’s biggest stars, including Andy Lau, Eddie Peng, Zhang Hanyu and former EXO member Luhan.

While Matt’s casting stirred up controversy and accusations of Hollywood’s infamous whitewashing tendencies, Yimou stood by his decision, clarifying that Matt’s role was never intended for a Chinese actor, and that the other four heroes in the movie are all played by Asians.

The Great Wall is in cinemas December 29.

Photos: TPG

Mike Tyson in ‘Ip Man 3’
Mike Tyson in ‘Ip Man 3’
20 Oct 2016

Mike Tyson in ‘Ip Man 3’

It was a clash of fighting kings in the latest instalment of the popular martial arts franchise, in which boxing champ Mike plays a ruthless gang leader and Donnie Yen reprises his role as the titular character, Bruce Lee’s teacher. This marks Mike’s first time playing a significant character (other than as himself) on screen.

But don’t let Mike’s larger, more intimidating stature fool you – it was he who was injured during the fight scenes when Donnie accidentally fractured his finger with his elbow. Despite the incident, Mike remained ever the professional, as the cast and crew have stated in praises about him, and the rest of us have learned an important lesson: never mess with Donnie Yen.

Related:
Donnie Yen confident about new movie Ip Man 3

Photo: TPG

Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton in ‘Snowpiercer’
Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton in ‘Snowpiercer’
20 Oct 2016

Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton in ‘Snowpiercer’

Chris took a break from playing iconic super-soldier Captain America to portray Curtis Everett, a much more down-to-earth hero, in this dystopian epic named after the class-dividing train that the film takes place entirely on. Despite having trouble hiding Chris’ herculean physique to look like someone who was malnourished for 17 years, director Bong Joon Ho was won over by the Hollywood star’s sensitive side and the fact that he’s “a really smart guy”.

Filling the role as one of the antagonists Deputy-Minister Mason is Tilda, who was unrecognisable with a taped-up nose, fake teeth, frumpy wig and pasty makeup. Next year, the British thespian will be seen in yet another one of Joon Ho’s flicks Okja, which also boasts a multinational cast list including Jake Gyllenhaal, Lily Collins and Ahn Seo Hyun.

Related:
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Lily Collins joins Okja

Adrien Brody, John Cusack in ‘Dragon Blade’
Adrien Brody, John Cusack in ‘Dragon Blade’
20 Oct 2016

Adrien Brody, John Cusack in ‘Dragon Blade’

While Jackie Chan and Choi Siwon made up the Asian A-listers half of the cast list, John and Adrien were the ones lending Hollywood star power to the ancient action flick. Playing rivalling Roman generals Lucius and the evil Tiberius respectively, the seemingly out-of-the-blue casting raised a few confused eyebrows, but while the film received less-than-stellar reviews, it was a box office hit in China, raking in over US$120 million (estimated s$163 million) in its first month in that country alone.

This wasn’t the first time Adrien, who won Best Actor at the 2003 Oscars, appeared in a Chinese production: in 2012, he and fellow Hollywood actor Tim Robbins had roles in Feng Xiaogang’s historical epic Back to 1942, where he played Theodore H. White, a renowned journalist who reported on the war in China.

Related:
Dragon Blade Singapore Gala Premiere draws large crowd
Jackie Chan: Blood, sweat and tears in the making of Dragon Blade
Fun desert times with Choi Siwon

Matthew Settle, Elizabeth Rice in ‘The Faith of Anna Waters’
Matthew Settle, Elizabeth Rice in ‘The Faith of Anna Waters’
20 Oct 2016

Matthew Settle, Elizabeth Rice in ‘The Faith of Anna Waters’

Local filmmaker Kelvin Tong’s latest production, which has the honour of being Singapore’s first Hollywood horror feature, centres on an American reporter (played by Elizabeth, best known for her recurring role on TV show Mad Men) who travels to Singapore to investigate the mysterious death of her sister, the titular Anna Waters. Matthew, whom Gossip Girl fans will recognise as Rufus Humphrey from the series, plays Anna’s estranged husband, and the Hollywood actors are joined by local faces Adrian Pang, Jaymee Ong and Pamelyn Chee.

Sadly, reviewers from both local shores and abroad weren’t exactly kind to the supernatural flick, but none of that bothered the director, who easily shrugged the criticism off because he’s “so used to being slammed”.

Related:
Kelvin Tong lights joss sticks, explains horror movie to spirits
Kelvin Tong and the real horrors of filmmaking

Christian Bale in ‘The Flowers of War’
Christian Bale in ‘The Flowers of War’
20 Oct 2016

Christian Bale in ‘The Flowers of War’

Christian’s first project after his 2010 Academy Award win for Best Supporting Actor was a rather unusual one that made him the first western actor to star in a Chinese movie. According to the Welsh-born star, “the opportunity to work…on a Chinese movie” (as a mortician caught in the middle of the dreadful Nanjing Massacre) and to collaborate with director Zhang Yimou was too attractive to pass up. Even the culture shock and language barrier he faced on set did not deter him from gushing about the experience after filming wrapped.

Unfortunately, while the war piece became the highest-grossing films of the year in China, Christian’s star power still wasn’t enough to attract western moviegoers, and raked in a measly five-figure sum during its opening weekend in the U.S. Well, at least Batman got to try something new!

Kevin Spacey in ‘Inseparable’
Kevin Spacey in ‘Inseparable’
20 Oct 2016

Kevin Spacey in ‘Inseparable’

While The Flowers of War is billed as the first Chinese movie starring a Hollywood actor, Inseparable is touted as the first 100% Sino-funded film to feature one. In the comedy drama, two-time Oscar winner Kevin plays an American expat in Guangzhou who convinces his local neighbour (played by Hong Kong heartthrob Daniel Wu in his first major English-speaking role) to dress up as superheroes and fight corruption with him.

Don’t be fooled by that hilarious-sounding premise, though: Inseparable eventually delves into a deeper, darker territory that has been compared to Fight Club (and – spoiler alert! – has a similar ending, in which we find out that Kevin’s character was actually a figment of Daniel’s imagination all along).

Keanu Reeves in ‘Man of Tai Chi’
Keanu Reeves in ‘Man of Tai Chi’
20 Oct 2016

Keanu Reeves in ‘Man of Tai Chi’

Keanu, who has Chinese blood himself, made his directorial debut with a martial arts film that’s slightly more unconventional than all the other kung fu flicks out there. In addition to helming the movie, he starred as the villainous boss of an underground fighting ring who recruits a tai chi student played by stunt choreographer Tiger Chen, whom Keanu befriended on the set of The Matrix.

While it wasn’t exactly a spectacular box office success, Man of Tai Chi received mostly favourable reviews from critics (especially for its action sequences), and even earned praise from renowned director John Woo. Clearly, tai chi is more than just something you see fit old people do in the park.

Photos: TPG

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