Jay Chou makes history in new role

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"King of Asian Pop" Jay Chou takes on the challenge of reprising a role once played by the legendary Bruce Lee, in Hollywood's The Green Hornet.

Kato played by Jay Chou (left) and Britt Reid played by Seth Rogen in The Green Hornet. [China Daily]


To reprise a role Bruce Lee made classic is a challenge, even for someone like Jay Chou, the best-selling singer/songwriter, well-known actor and successful director from Taiwan. In the 3D feature The Green Hornet, based on the character of the eponymous American radio program, which has been adapted into TV series and film serials since 1936, Chou plays Kato, the versatile valet of Britt Reid, a spoiled playboy played by Seth Rogen.

Eager to make his life meaningful, Britt enlists Kato as his partner in fighting crime.

The character of Chou had its most brilliant impersonator in 1966 when Bruce Lee brought the gadgetry-mad martial artist to life in a TV series.

It is the first time Chou (right) has worked on a Hollywood project.

It is the first time Chou (right) has worked on a Hollywood project. [China Daily]


The 32-year-old Chou is one of Asia's biggest stars - the "King of Asian Pop", according to Time magazine. His albums have not only sold in the millions, he also holds the distinction of having Asia's top-selling album for 10 years running. To Asian-Americans, he is an enormous star capable of selling out a 90,000-seat venue like the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

In the realm of cinema too, he has made a stir, starring in the works of some of Asia's best-known directors, such as Zhang Yimou's Curse of the Golden Flower. His directorial debut, Secret, a campus romance made at a cost of 10 million yuan ($1.47 million), raked in 34 million yuan in China.

While his latest film role sounds daunting even for one with such a stellar record, Chou himself is unfazed.

"I did not know much about The Green Hornet at first - it was the idea of playing a role Lee has played that sounded awesome," he tells China Daily. "He is a legend, a god, someone irreplaceable. But I would like to try to make a fresh Kato."

It is the first time Chou has worked on a Hollywood project, and the first time an Asian singer has led a Hollywood film.

Director Michel Gondry and Rogen had no idea of Chou's popularity in the Pacific region, but Gondry initiated a Skype audition after watching a video clip of Chou playing billiards. In the video Chou shows his dry humor by making the loser act like a drunkard.

"I did not know he is a singer," Gondry says. "In the video he was cool, which we thought would make for dramatic chemistry with Rogen, who never stops talking."

"It is so cool that they chose me for my acting skills rather than my star aura in the Asian market," Chou says. "It's like making friends - when someone approaches me because I am a star, that makes me uncomfortable, but if I run into someone on the basketball court and we get along well, that feels much better."

The best part of working in a Hollywood production, he says, is that it allows Westerners to have a better understanding of the Chinese. Kato's identity in earlier adaptations has been both Japanese and Filipino, but in this film he is a Shanghai-born Chinese.

"Western audiences will find that Chinese people can not only fight, they can also sing, dance, play the piano and basketball," Chou says, adding that he does all of this in the film, with some of those written into the script and others added to the plot impromptu. He even performs magic, he reveals, but that scene did not make it to the film's final version.

Chou admits that he is fully aware of online criticism by Asian-American actors of his broken English, and producer Neal H. Moritz's defense, saying the accent was endearing.

"They can have their opinion," Chou says. "For me, as long as I can speak some Chinese lines in the film, it's cool."

He is also thrilled that there are Chinese touches to Black Beauty, the fantastic car of the duo, besides the fact that the song at the film's ending is a Chinese one written by him.

"All these things were rare in previous Hollywood movies," he says. "I am a person with strong awareness of who I am, I am Chinese. I feel happy that we can place some Chinese elements in a Hollywood film. In the film I sing an English song with Seth, and I hope one day we will sing a Chinese song together in a film."

The film took top spot at the box office in the US over its debut weekend on Jan 14, but had received mixed reviews.

Roger Ebert calls it "an almost unendurable demonstration of a movie", in his influential column in Chicago Sun-Times.

Colin Covert of Minneapolis Star Tribune, however, thinks "the movie these guys have come up with is fresh, funny and a bewildering surprise".

Chou is unaffected by the controversy. "I don't live on Hollywood films, I have my Asian market, which is thriving now," he says.

The film is more like a window, opening for him a bigger stage on which to realize more dreams.

"Maybe I will compose songs for Hollywood films, or direct a film with capital from Hollywood," he says. "But the only thing I am sure of now is, if there were a sequel, I would do it."

The film will be released in China on Feb 6.

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