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As a teenager in the late 1990s I remember fawning over the “Into The Badlands star” DANIEL WU as at that time he played all the action, bad boy roles in Hong Kong movies. Movies such as Young and Dangerous and Gen-X Cops were ones which remain as staples of great, action filled Hong Kong movies and ones which I would add to the “must watch” list. Little did I know that 20 years later this fawning and crushing on Wu would turn into an opportunity to speak with him and interview him about his successful career, his new role in the Tomb Raider reboot and of course discussing issues around Asian visibility in Hollywood as well as how he sees the future of how Asian masculinity is and will be portrayed in the Western mainstream media.

To be honest, speaking with him, I couldn’t help but hear my own heart beat so much due to the teenage connections I made with him watching his films. Talking with Wu, he is an extremely candid, yet reflective person and provided awesome responses to the questions I asked. 

Before I delve into the interview, let me provide some context into the character he plays in the new Tomb Raider film. Wu plays the character of “LU REN”, who is not in a great state when Lara Croft meets him in Hong Kong which is the first leg of her journey in search for her father. Lara needs a boat, and Lu has one, not a great one, but it is still a boat. Lu’s father also disappeared 7 years ago, and left Lu with debt and really a “down trodden” life. Lu’s drunken behavior and his desperation to make ends meet is the state that Croft meets him. I won’t say too much more as to not “spoil” the film for all of you. 

Anyways, without further ado, here is my interview with “Into The Badlands” and the “Tomb Raider” reboot star DANIEL WU. Just for your interest, Wu is currently in Ireland filming the next season for “Into The Badlands”

Was it hard to play the character of “Lu Ren”? 

I wouldn’t say it was exceptionally difficult, but there were challenges in keeping the relationship/friendship chemistry between Lu and Lara because where both characters come from two different worlds, they both share something in common – both their fathers went on a journey and both their fathers are missing. Both characters process their losses differently and this was where I felt my challenge was playing Lu. The easy part was all the action scenes which was not as intense as my role in “Into the Badlands”.

I read that you and your wife are fans of the Tomb Raider game. How does it feel having memories of playing the game to actually acting in the movie reboot?

I mean, I wouldn’t say I was a big fan. Both my wife and I played the first two versions of Tomb Raider and we were both in our 20s back then. I think the point I can use to answer this question is that the game is definitely groundbreaking particularly at the time when it first came out, as you were able to see a strong female character heroine instead of the usual male character hero. It really bought in a lot of female gamers and spoke to an audience that is not just for men but it spoke to a very diverse audience.

Do you feel your character of Lu Ren developed throughout the film, as when Lara met Lu, he was in some ways a “down trodden” person. 

Yes. I think when his character is first introduced in the film, he is not in a good state. He has processed the loss of his father differently than Lara has. He is a drunk and has lost focus in life. Lu had a tumultuous relationship with his father who he saw as a person who came in and out of his life. When Lara first meets Lu, he is angry and not happy with what cards life has dealt him. His reason for following Lara on her journey is because he too wants to know where his father is and going with Lara will provide some sense of closure for him.

How did it feel working with such an international crew? Were there many Asians in the crew? 

It was really interesting and something which never gets tiring for me. For “Into The Badlands” we already have an international crew, but it is nowhere near as big as the crew for Tomb Raider. It is really awesome because you get to work with different people from all over the world. There were Asian, British, American, Swedish and South African actors etc and this is what I call truly international. For me personally, making the movie in South Africa means a lot to me as that is where I got married and it is also the first time I have dealt with a South African film crew. 

Going forward, what kind of stories would you like to tell? How important is it for you to be a romantic lead, a hero, or a villain in your career? 

I mean, I don’t look at my role in Tomb Raider as romantic. But what I do like about it is that it is not the stereotypical role where the characters have some sort of sexual tension throughout the film. The story at its crux is about two people who are thrown into a weird world and are able to bond over a common thread. In a more general sense, I think it is more important to see Asians in more substantial roles and are able to play characters with substance. We need to be able to play more three dimensional roles in film and TV and not just be some “token Asian”, nor should we just be restricted to play all the negative stereotyped roles and characters. The character of Lu is very human and extremely three dimensional. He definitely is not the stereotype and his character is not flat. It is actually a very complex character with a lot of feelings and emotions.

What are your thoughts of the portrayal of Asian masculinity in Hollywood currently? 

Great question. I think up to recently a lot of roles played by Asian males are ones which are emasculating, non sexual and reduced to something of a stereotype. The roles I choose are not like that, this is something I made sure of when choosing my roles. For “Into The Badlands”, my character is very three dimensional, as he has relationships, he has children and has a family. He is pretty much what any other white character has in life. I think a major issue is that we are not seeing enough Asian male actors in roles which are three dimensional, and this is the cause of many debates and discourse in how Asian masculinity is portrayed in the Western mainstream media. Asian men are heroes, we can be villains, we are sexual and we are not reduced to some negative stereotype. I wish in my career, I could cross over earlier and play these type of roles, but back then these roles were not on offer for Asian male actors. We are more than just caricatures.
I think over the past few years there has been a lot of changes. A lot of this is due to the Asian film industry being as large as it is – look at Chinese markets, Korean markets, Indian markets etc. Audiences are demanding different portrayals of Asian characters and I think these Asian film markets are catching up and making more substantial roles rather than just stereotyped ones.

Do you think an all-Asians cast film can create the same buzz as the Black Panther film did?

I mean, yes and no. When we use the word “buzz” it kind of denotes a one shot deal. I think instead of making a huge bang, we should think long term and ensure that Asian and Asian American stories are told as this is extremely under represented. Being Asian American is different from being Asian from Asia. I should know as I have seen and experienced it from both sides. The themes which Black Panther bought out to the audience are extremely important and these are also the types of stories we Asians need to tell to the mainstream audience. Hollywood is now more aware of racial issues, and where they can get it wrong, they will at some point have not much choice but to tell more diverse stories and present diverse narratives, rather than just stick to regular white stories.

Which movie scene do you prefer? Hong Kong or US? And do you think in Chinese or in English? 

I think it doesn’t matter. I film everywhere including Italy, Japan, Hong Kong etc. What is the same is that people are trying to share stories. I think the difference between the US and Hong Kong film scene is that in the US it is more of a team effort, as power is not just with the director, but also with the producers and other crew members. In Hong Kong the director has more power to lead the vision of the film. I guess for me, I love Hong Kong as I have an emotional attachment to the region and that is where I got my start and where my family is. I feel like I am home when I film in Hong Kong.
To the second part of your question. When I speak Chinese I think in Chinese, but when I speak in English I think in English, it really goes back and forth. I however, can’t speak and think both at once and I am definitely not a good translator.

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 My 2 cents worth? Wu is definitely an actor we can all look up to and aspire to be. He has had both a successful film career in Hong Kong over many years and now has a thriving career in Hollywood. 

I hope you all enjoyed this interview and FYI the Tomb Raider reboot will be released on this Friday (16th March) in the US. Here is a link to all the other global release dates.

Images via IWG Group/ Warner Brothers

2 Comments

  1. This is such a great interview, such great questions and I have become really excited to watch a Hollywood film in the cinemas for the first time in 3 or 4 years. I never support this industry due to the stereotyping they always portray on Chinese and Asia… it’s woeful.

    Perhaps a minor turning point???

  2. Just the thought of you “fawning” over any guy is disgusting because you’re an ugly girl.