Home Entertainment China’s go-to English bad guy Kevin Lee: ‘I’m happy to play a villain’

China’s go-to English bad guy Kevin Lee: ‘I’m happy to play a villain’

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If the Chinese language movie business wants a inventory international villain, I’m their first port of name. I used to be a Gatling gun-wielding mercenary in 2015’s Wolf Warrior, one of many first of the brand new wave of navy blockbusters, and a hitman in Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu Yoga in 2017, amongst many others. And I lately performed an American colonel within the Korean conflict in The Battle at Lake Changjin, the most costly and profitable Chinese language movie ever: it made $909m (£675m) final 12 months.

It’s surreal – coming from humble beginnings in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire – to seek out myself in the course of a large subject in Hubei province filming the likes of The Battle at Lake Changjin. You’d assume you had been in a real-life warzone – there have been a whole lot of tanks equipped by the federal government. I grew up watching Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Jet Li motion pictures, which kickstarted my ardour for China. I initially got here right here to review martial arts in 2004. Then I got here again 10 years later to work as a monetary marketing consultant, which I didn’t actually take pleasure in.

I had had a number of roles in small native movies, however an opportunity assembly with Wu Jing, who’s the largest star in China now, modified every thing. I used to be at Beijing’s Public Safety Bureau, renewing my visa, when he rocked up the escalator. He appeared like a famous person together with his sun shades and leather-based jacket, collar turned up. We talked, and when he realised I had studied appearing, he stated he wanted a giant man – I’m 6’6” – for his new movie.

Kevin Lee.
‘There’s an unwritten rule about foreigners not enjoying lead roles right here’ …. Kevin Lee. {Photograph}: Courtesy: Kevin Lee

I went into his workplace to fulfill him once more and skim some traces, but it surely was a catastrophe. The audition was in Chinese language – and on the time, my language expertise weren’t pretty much as good. However he stated: “Kevin, there’s one thing about you that I actually like. I wish to give you a chance.” Per week later, I bought a name from his assistant saying they wished to supply me the function of Loopy Bull in Wolf Warrior. It was a giant success and opened up the fitting doorways. It was very lucky for me that I labored on one of many first large Chinese language motion blockbusters.

There’s an unwritten rule about foreigners not enjoying lead roles right here – however then what number of Asian leads do you see in Hollywood movies? Chinese language audiences want to see Chinese language leads. One can’t complain about that as a result of we’re of their yard. However I’m completely satisfied to play a villain, completely, even when I get my ass kicked by somebody half my dimension generally. A bit humiliating perhaps!

I’m not the primary westerner to concentrate on enjoying foreigners right here. The American actor Jonathan Kos-Learn, who became known in China as Cao Cao, began his profession a number of years earlier than me when there weren’t any international actors right here. However he did a whole lot of TV reveals, and there weren’t many movie roles of any variety for foreigners on the time. Then the floodgates opened. There’s nonetheless solely a small bunch of respectable skilled international actors right here – in all probability lower than 20 that I might personally advocate. However I’ve by no means had an excessive amount of competitors due to my top and the area of interest I’ve carved out.

Lee in Dragon Blade.
‘If the Chinese language movie business wants a inventory international villain, I’m their first port of name’ … Lee in Dragon Blade. {Photograph}: Courtesy: Kevin Lee

As a foreigner, you need to tread rigorously in China, with it being very patriotic. They’ve their historical past with what sure nations have accomplished to China, and the British enjoying their half. So I’ve bought to watch out about how I’m perceived. In Changjjn and Sharpshooter, a film I labored on lately with Zhang Yimou, I’m primarily killing Chinese language troopers. So I can’t be too excited after I publish stuff to my followers on TikTok/Douyin. I’ve to indicate a whole lot of humility and respect to the fallen Chinese language troopers. I attempt to be an envoy for Britain right here – if folks ask, I by no means refuse {a photograph}.

If there’s one factor I might change concerning the Chinese language business, it could be to open up the doorways a bit of bit extra to being artistic. Scripts undergo a lot official scrutiny earlier than they will even get produced: out of 1000’s that undergo the vetting course of, solely round 5% make it by means of. As a director or author, you’re very restricted when it comes to the sorts of narrative you may make. Additionally the usual of appearing right here shouldn’t be as excessive as within the west, the place there may be extra formal coaching. If we had the chance to work with extra sorts of narrative, the appearing talent set would enhance – and Chinese language blockbusters would compete extra internationally with Hollywood.

It’s a bit of unlucky that my mom doesn’t get to see a whole lot of the films I’m in – although perhaps Sharpshooter, which might even surpass Changjin, will make it over. Will I keep right here long run? We regularly discuss this among the many expat actors. I want to be examined extra. So I wish to push myself and work within the west, the place I will be surrounded by extra established actors.

It won’t be simple: I met up with an agent within the UK a number of years again, and he wasn’t involved in any of the credit that I’ve bought below my belt in China. He stated: “I’ll be frank with you, I actually wish to hear your Jackie Chan tales.” He stated I might in all probability have to start out from scratch engaged on reveals like EastEnders. However I’ll all the time go away the doorways open right here in China – I’m very lucky and grateful to be dwelling right here. It’s given me success. I want folks can be extra open-minded and provides the nation a shot. It’s a terrific place to be.

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