Star sparks lively war of words

Updated 2017-01-19 08:46:13 China Daily
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Chinese actor/director Jiang Wen plays the role of Baze Malbus in the latest Star Wars franchise Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Chinese actor/director Jiang Wen plays the role of Baze Malbus in the latest Star Wars franchise Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Jiang Wen has become a talking point after his appearance in the latest Star Wars movie.

The surprising turn of Chinese superstar Jiang Wen in the latest Star Wars movie has sparked a lot of audience interest, and also some unintended controversy.

Most actors would jump at a chance to be in the Star Wars franchise. But not Jiang Wen. The Chinese star known as a maverick had to be talked into it.

"I've never seen a Star Wars movie, not a single one," he said. "I don't understand what it is about," he added, when first approached.

Gareth Edwards, the director of Rogue One, wrote him a letter, saying Baze Malbus is a good role.

"Gareth was very sincere, but I did not know who was who in the movie." So Jiang consulted a friend who grew up in the United States.

"Chinese-American actors would kill you if they learned you turned it down. They would never get an offer like that," said the friend.

Jiang was still not convinced. So, he threw the script to his son. "Dad, you've got to accept it," said the 8-year-old, who attends a British school and understands English better than his father.

"It's a small role," said Jiang. "But you are the hero," said the younger Jiang.

"Heroes tend to be more boring than villains," explained the father.

"But yours (the role) is a hero with humor," insisted the son. "The other guys just paved the way. Only when you appear does the real action start."

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story features Jiang Wen and another big-name Chinese actor, Donnie Yen, in its international cast.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story features Jiang Wen and another big-name Chinese actor, Donnie Yen, in its international cast.

The Star Wars epic, arguably the most popular sci-fi movie franchise in the world, has never been in sync with the Chinese mentality.

"I didn't mean to be disrespectful, but when I was little, we in China had no access to this series," says Jiang, 54, now more hailed as a director than an actor.

The first three films, dating back to 1977 through 1983, were never released in China.

The prequel trilogy, from 1999 to 2005, gained little footing in the Middle Kingdom. Rogue One is a standalone prequel, and it features two big-name Chinese actors in its very international cast. Besides Jiang, martial artist Donnie Yen plays a blind warrior who believes in the Force.

After the movie opened in China, the talk that the Chinese duo might be cameos died away. They are part of a team who supports the female lead. "You can call it a cameo if you want," Jiang jokes, obviously confident of the substance of his role in the movie.

"I can tell the difference between a cameo and a supporting role," I respond. "I'm a film critic."

The reason for public sensitivity towards this issue stems from previous Hollywood experiments that used Chinese superstars in token roles as a goodwill gesture to break into the Chinese market. After the initial "pleasant surprise", public attitudes in China quickly changed, with many feeling slighted by Hollywood's condescension.

When asked about the Chinese actresses widely considered shortchanged for their Hollywood appearances, Jiang says that it would be wrong to blame the actresses. Perhaps the script was not good, or the director or the producer did not do a good job, or their scenes were cut in editing. "At least they were beautiful," he adds.

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