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Chinese actors hope 'Forbidden Kingdom' raises their profiles in Hollywood

Rick Bentley
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

Collin Chou and Crystal Liu Yifei traveled different career paths on their way to becoming actors. His path was more physical. Hers was more artistic. Their diverse journeys came together when the pair starred with Jackie Chan and Jet Li in the new action/fantasy film "Forbidden Kingdom."

The actors have arrived in the Bay Area just hours after the Olympic torch run created a furor in the city. The Olympics will be held in August in Beijing.

Yifei suggests there is connection between the two.

"I think the work of some great Chinese directors has brought to an American audience more and more of a curiosity about China, especially now with the Olympics," Yifei says during an interview at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

She adds that this interest in China is creating more work in American films for Chinese actors. "Forbidden Kingdom" was directed by Rob Minkoff, the man behind the animated "Lion King" and "Stuart Little."

Taiwan-born Chou plays the film's antagonist, the Jade Warlord. The actor is best known to American filmgoers through his work as the mysterious Seraph in "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions." But that role came long after he was established in the Hong Kong film world.

The more than 30 films he made there capitalized on Chou's martial arts skills. The 40-year-old actor began his fight training when he was 5.

"There is one thing I really need to clear up. A lot of people say martial arts actors don't have acting skills. That is totally wrong. We work even harder than normal actors," Chou says.

Both his martial arts and acting skills were put to the test in this film because of action choreographer Woo-Ping Yuen, the man behind the fight sequences in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." He pushed the actors to make the fights as powerful and poetic as possible.

Chou smiles and says filming the fight scenes was even more demanding just because martial arts film legends Chan and Li were on the set.

"You have to achieve their standards," Yifei says.

Yifei's, who was born in the Wuhan, Hubei, province of China, took a more artistic path to her career. The former model studied singing, dancing and the piano until she moved as a child to the United States with her mother. She returned to China four years later when she was a teenager to pursue an acting career.

In the past six or seven years since then, she has landed several lead roles in Chinese television series and has had a successful music career. She's released on album of rap and soft rock.

Yifei easily related to her role of Golden Sparrow because like her, the character found a balance between her warrior and artistic sides.

It is easy to get caught up in discussing the martial arts portion of "The Forbidden Kingdom," especially with the talent that ends up throwing all of the punches and kicks. But Chou stresses there was more to making this movie than just trying to please martial arts fans.

"This is a very good family movie for people who want to experience an adventure. A lot of people will face difficulties in their lifetime. But this film says `Never give up.' That is most important to teach people to survive in this world," Chou says.

Now that the film has been released, Chou and Yifei will go on to other movies. Both are ready for more work in American cinema.

"Every actor wants to go to Hollywood because it is the largest film industry in the world," Yifei says.


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