SINGAPORE – It is hard to think of a performer who moves between the film worlds of China and Hollywood as easily or as frequently as Joan Chen.
The 57-year-old actress, director, writer and producer is in the popular Chinese dynastic drama series Ruyi’s Royal Love In The Palace (2018) as well as in American series such as the mystery Twin Peaks (2017) and the Netflix show Marco Polo (2014-2016).
She is concerned about the crumbling goodwill between China and the United States, and describes the current situation as “dismal”.
Chen has a unique vantage point, having been raised in China and moving to the United States when she was 20 years old to start her career from scratch.
“I hope, somehow, to make a contribution towards greater understanding between East and West,” she says.
Ties between the two nations have recently deteriorated because of the Trump administration’s moves to undo trading agreements set up previously.
“The mentality of the two countries are so different, that without making a huge effort, it’s very difficult to put yourself in another’s shoes and in the case of East and West, it’s nearly impossible,” says Chen.
She was speaking to The Straits Times earlier this month (Dec) when she was here to receive the Cinema Legend Award at the Singapore International Film Festival.
The award is given to those who have made “outstanding achievements in bringing Asia’s story to life on screen”, according to the festival. Past recipients include Malaysian actress and producer Michelle Yeoh and Japanese actor Koji Yakusho.
Of her award, she says that she has lived a “charmed life”, one that allowed her to work with the best, such as Last Emperor director Bernardo Bertolucci, who died in November this year at age 77.
Asked what she is proudest of in her long career, Chen declines to name any one work and says: “I am proud of how I am still here. I am blessed.”
Chen, who lives in San Francisco with her husband, cardiologist Peter Hui and their two daughters, also writes a food blog, Hungry Empress, where she shares recipes from all over the world .
Like Oscar-winning historical epic The Last Emperor (1987), which Chen starred in as the Empress Consort, this year’s smash hit romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians features a mostly Asian cast, speaking mainly English. Its success smashes a few Hollywood myths about casting, she says.
One myth it smashes: That no-one will go see a Western movie with Asian leading men.
“I love the fact that it has hunky, good-looking Asian guys. Asian guys in American films are so emasculated, playing the nerd or the evil guy.”
The comedy goes some way in making up for decades of poor representation, she says.
“To be so sexy – I think that’s revenge.”
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