After making their name in Hong Kong, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yun-fat and John Woo all made the leap to Hollywood.
But Hong Kong’s top actors and directors are now either returning home for projects or seeking inspiration from their cultural roots, with some citing creative restrictions and cultural differences in the U.S.
Chan has been prolific in the U.S. but he still films movies in Hong Kong. He’s slated to appear in the upcoming Ann Hui film “My Aunt’s Postmodern Life” and plans to collaborate with famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou in an adaptation of a Chinese play.
Woo is planning “Battle of Red Cliff,” a joint Sino-U.S. production about an ancient Chinese battle. Li’s upcoming movie “Fearless” tells the story of Chinese kung fu master Huo Yuanjia.
Chan said he’s well-paid but artistically unfulfilled in Hollywood.
“I make a lot of money in the U.S., but I can’t make films I like,” he said during a recent interview with The Associated Press.
Lack of risk taking, language issuesHollywood movies are so costly that they seldom take creative risks, and that’s why his U.S. films are so similar in genre, he explained.
Chan’s Hollywood movies haven’t veered from the formula of interracial action comedy, a genre he’s excelled in with Chris Tucker in the “Rush Hour” series and with Owen Wilson in the 2000 “Shanghai Noon” and “Shanghai Knights” in 2003.
But his Hong Kong productions are more diverse. He plays a tragic hero in “New Police Story” in 2004. Chan’s new film “The Myth,” tracks the journey of man who seeks his lost love from a previous life.
The same trend is seen in other Hong Kong talents who moved on to Hollywood.
Chow has reprised the role of gun-toting hero repeatedly, in U.S. movies like “The Replacement Killers” in 1998 and “The Corruptor” in 1999. But before he left for Hollywood his body of work included romance and comedy.
Chan noted that Hong Kong actors’ roles are inherently limited because of their poor English.
“Today when our actors go to the U.S., what movies can they make? Can they appear in ‘Titanic?’ Could they do ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’? No. No actor could do it,” Chan said.
Veteran Hong Kong director Tsui Hark says Chinese actors simply aren’t convincing in Western roles.
“They can’t be viewed as Americans,” he said.
Prolific entertainersTsui thinks Hong Kong’s entertainers have already surpassed expectations in Hollywood.
“Be it Chow Yun-fat, Jet Li or Jackie Chan, the proportion of dialogue and drama in their movies is heavy. They use their dialogue to show their acting skills a lot,” Tsui said.
Indeed, the Hong Kong actors have broken new cinematic ground, especially when it comes to interracial collaboration.
Other than the Chan-Tucker and Chan-Wilson comedy duos, Jet Li and late pop singer Aaliyah starred in 2000’s “Romeo Must Die,” a modern telling of “Romeo and Juliet.” He also appeared in “Cradle 2 the Grave” in 2003 with hip-hop star DMX.
Chow’s roles haven’t all been one-dimensional. In the 1999 remake “Anna and the King,” he played an authoritative Thai king who grew fond of his children’s private tutor, played by Jodie Foster.
And Chow’s biggest U.S. hit by far is a kung fu movie in 2000 directed by Taiwan’s Ang Lee. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” netted four Oscars and became the most popular foreign film in U.S. history.
While Hollywood’s Hong Kong stars are signing up for projects back home, they aren’t abandoning their U.S. careers altogether.
Chan has maintained his profile in America with a steady stream of U.S. movies. Woo’s production company Lion Rock Productions is based in Los Angeles. Chow will start work on the third installment of “Pirates of the Caribbean” later this year.
Director Stanley Tong is a rarity in that he relocated back to Hong Kong after a brief stint in Hollywood, where he shot the 1997 comedy “Mr. Magoo” and the TV series “Martial Law.”
While the prestige of working in Hollywood is tempting, Tong said he likes working in his own culture better.
“I don’t like living abroad and I really like my own Chinese culture,” he said.