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HK stars returning to their roots
(Shenzhen Daily)
Updated: 2005-09-02 09:24

After attaining popularity in Hong Kong, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yun-fat and John Woo all made the leap to Hollywood.

Chow Yun-Fat arrives at the 73rd annual Academy Awards in this March 25, 2001 file photo. [AP
But Hong Kong’s top actors and directors are now either returning home for projects or seeking inspiration from their cultural roots, with some citing creative restrictions and cultural differences in the United States.

Chan has been prolific in the United States but he still films movies in Hong Kong. Chow is slated to appear in the upcoming Ann Hui film “My Aunt’s Postmodern Life” and plans to collaborate with famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou in an adaptation of a Chinese play.

Woo is due to begin filming “Battle of Red Cliff,” a joint Sino-U.S. production about an ancient Chinese battle. Li’s upcoming movie “Fearless” tells the story of Chinese kung fu master Huo Yuanjia.

Chan says he is well-paid but artistically unfulfilled in Hollywood.

“I make a lot of money in the United States, but I can’t make films I like,” he said during a recent interview.

Chan says Hollywood movies are so costly that they seldom take creative risks, and that’s why his U.S. films are so similar in genre.

Chan’s Hollywood works haven’t veered from the formula of interracial action comedy, a genre he’s excelled in with Chris Tucker in the “Rush Hour” series and with Owen Wilson in the 2000 “Shanghai Noon” and “Shanghai Knights” in 2003.

But his Hong Kong productions are more diverse. He plays a tragic hero in “New Police Story” in 2004. Chan’s new film, “The Myth,” tracks the journey of a man who seeks his lost love from a previous life.

The same trend is seen in other Hong Kong talents who moved on to Hollywood.

Chow has reprised the role of gun-toting hero repeatedly, in U.S. movies like “The Replacement Killers” in 1998 and “The Corruptor” in 1999. But before he left for Hollywood his body of work included romance and comedy.

Chan says Hong Kong actors’ roles are inherently limited because of their poor English.

“Today when our actors go to the United States, what movies can they make? Can they appear in ‘Titanic?’ Can they do ‘Kramer vs. Kramer?’ No. No actor could do it,” Chan said.

Veteran Hong Kong director Tsui Hark says Chinese actors simply aren’t convincing in Western roles.

“They can’t be viewed as Americans,” he said.

But Tsui thinks Hong Kong’s entertainers have already surpassed expectations in Hollywood.

“Be it Chow Yun-fat, Jet Li or Jackie Chan, the proportion of dialogue and drama in their movies is heavy. They use their dialogue to show their acting skills a lot,” Tsui said.

Indeed, the Hong Kong actors have broken new cinematic ground, especially when it comes to interracial collaboration.

In addition to the Chan-Tucker and Chan-Wilson comedy duos, Jet Li and late pop singer Aaliyah star in “Romeo Must Die” in 2000, a modern telling of “Romeo and Juliet.” He also appears in “Cradle 2 the Grave” in 2003 with hip-hop star DMX.

Chow’s roles haven’t all been one-dimensional. In “Anna and the King” in 1999, he played an authoritative Thai king who grew fond of his children’s private tutor, played by Jodie Foster. Chow is majestic as king in a performance that matches, if not outshines, Foster.

Chow’s biggest U.S. hit by far is a kung fu movie in 2000 directed by Taiwan’s Ang Lee. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” netted four Oscars and became the most popular foreign film in U.S. history.

While Hollywood’s Hong Kong stars are signing up for projects back home, they aren’t abandoning their U.S. careers altogether.

Chan has maintained his profile in America with a steady stream of U.S. movies. Woo’s production company Lion Rock Productions is based in Los Angeles. Chow will start work on the third installment of “Pirates of the Caribbean” later this year.

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