An actor known for his good-guy cinematic characterizations, Jiang Wu will present his "wildest onscreen image ever" in the upcoming blockbuster, Let the Bullets Fly, which also marks the first time he has co-starred with his brother Jiang Wen, also the director of the film.
"In Bullets, I'm a pugnacious, cruel villain with frizzy leonine hair and a tempestuous personality, a role that subverts my previous ones," says Jiang, who appears amused and surprised on hearing that one of his lines in the movie has already become a popular Internet phrase.
The line, "I have nine methods to crush him" is aimed at the character played by Hong Kong legend Chow Yun-fat, and reflects the ferocity of Jiang's role. Netizens regard the line as a powerful expression of the confidence to overcome obstacles.
Jiang Wu considers the role a career landmark. Since making his celluloid debut in Grandpa Ge (1992), Jiang has taken on a variety of roles, such as a high school teacher, a taxi driver and a tourist guide.
The actor shot to fame portraying Erming, a mentally challenged and innocent character in Shower (1999), a film that earned him international and domestic plaudits.
"I'm fine with playing good-natured people because the characters are like me, simple and nice," says Jiang, wearing his trademark smile.
"The success of playing Erming jump-started my career, but it seems like the people who are casting assume I'm only suitable for the unsophisticated, goody type roles, as almost all the scripts I receive have characters like this," he says.
Jiang has been longing to play a bad guy, or someone like Leon, the taciturn and tough hitman in the eponymous 1994 film by Luc Besson.
Jiang did find a suitably transformative role in The Robbers, last year, a costume comedy in which he played a violent bandit.
Even so, many viewers thought the bandit was a cute figure, given Jiang's comedic performance.
Now, Jiang is glad that his brother has given him the chance to play an outright baddy and "to let it all hang out in an action film about heroes, gangsters, fights and gunshots".
It is not the first time Jiang Wu has appeared in a Jiang Wen movie.
In 2000, Jiang made a cameo appearance in Devils on the Doorstep, Jiang Wen's second directorial work.
Asked why it took so long to play another role in one of his brother's films, Jiang says it is because he felt embarrassed about asking his brother for a part.
Jiang Wen's directorial debut, In the Heat of the Sun, a movie hailed by Richard Corliss in Time as the best film of 1995, was made when Jiang Wu was still a student at Beijing Film Academy.
"I could have asked for a role in Heat, and it definitely would have been a fantastic opportunity for me to practice my acting," Jiang says.
"But I couldn't demand a role because it would have been like stealing something from someone else's pocket," he says, adding that if his brother asks him to play a part it's like gift-giving and thus more acceptable.
As such Jiang took the gift of a role in Bullets from his brother without hesitation.
"To act with my brother is fun and a little weird," Jiang Wu says. "Because we are so familiar with each other in real life, sometimes I couldn't help laughing at the scene and thinking, 'Hey, this guy is my brother'.
"The only special right I have is that I can call Jiang Wen my brother, while the others have to call him director."
The film will premiere on Dec 16.