A regular player in Hong Kong movies of the 90’s, Donnie Yen seemed fated to play bad guys in big movies, and good guys in small films. Known for his intensity, producers just weren’t willing to take a risk on him as a leading man. And then, in 2005, he appeared in Kill Zone (better known by its Chinese title SPL: Sha Po Lang) and everything changed. Choreographing the action and starring in the film, Yen introduced numerous styles from outside Hong Kong, including Mixed Martial Arts, judo, and wrestling, and his co-stars, Sammo Hung and Wu Jing, were both able to keep up with him. SPL set the screen on fire, and Donnie Yen hasn’t looked back since. His rise has been as swift and as sudden as his onscreen fighting.
Born in China, he grew up in Boston, and was trained in martial arts by his mother, Mark Bow-sim. As a teenager he met legendary Hong Kong action director Yuen Wo-ping, who took him under his wing and brought him to Hong Kong. His first two movies were Yuen’s Drunken Tai Chi and Tiger Cage and then Tsui Hark cast him as the sincerely misguided General Lan opposing Jet Li in Once Upon a Time in China 2 and everyone wanted to know, “Who was that guy?” He then starred in Iron Monkey directed by Yuen Wo-ping, a classic of mid-90’s Hong Kong cinema, but he also spent a lot of time doing TV and small parts in other films.
In 1997 and 1998, he directed two movies, Ballistic Kiss and Legend of the Wolf, which had a mixed receptions, and he started working in Hollywood. Choreographing and appearing in Guillermo del Toro’s Blade II and appearing opposite Jackie Chan in Shanghai Knights his poise, dignity, and savagery made an instant impression. He returned to Hong Kong and made Kill Zone (aka SPL: Sha Po Lang) and then he singlehandedly redeemed Flashpoint, Wilson Yip’s follow-up film which features a final fight scene that combined kung fu, wrestling, MMA, and judo and has influenced numerous directors, and won Yen two awards (the Golden Horse and the Hong Kong Film Awards) for action choreography.
He and director Wilson Yip, as well as Sammo Hung, teamed up again for Ip Man and Ip Man 2 which was a new change for him. Not since Jet Li played Wong Fei-hung in Once Upon a Time in China has an actor stepped so comfortably into a role. The very picture of Chinese cool, Donnie Yen’s Ip Man has become an onscreen icon who has inspired prequels, sequels, and rip offs across Asia. While so many people were wondering who would be the successor to Jackie Chan and Jet Li, it never occurred to them that he was right in front of us all along, and his name was Donnie Yen.
Mysterious, controversial, impudent, frank, intelligent, these are just a few of the adjectives that describe filmmaker Jeff Lau. His multi-layered scripts have been known to contain subversive communiqués, and he has no problem with using vulgar dialogue and broad comedy to get these messages across. This bold, eclectic, veteran director is not afraid to challenge his audience with new and innovative cinematic techniques. It has been over a decade since he made A Chinese Odyssey Part 1 and 2 and he ventured on a new and inspired retelling of the prequel to The Journey to the West to complete his divine trilogy.
After briefly working in the advertising industry, Jeff rode on the flourishing film industry in the 80’ and went into film making, which has now gathered over 30 years of experience. Being scriptwriter and director, he took part in over 40 highly acclaimed quality feature films. Some of them went to major film festivals such as Udine Far East Film Festival and Hong Kong Film Award. He greatly benefited by working with world-renowned directors such as Wong Kar Wai, Corey Yuen and Stephen Chow.
As a scriptwriter, his script writing experience started as early as in 1990, in which his collaboration with Stephen Chow in All For The Winter turned into a huge hit in the Hong Kong box office which created a phenomenon of “Hong Kong Style absurd comedy”. They collaborated again in the highly acclaimed comedies, A Chinese Odyssey Part 1(Pandora’s Box) and Part 2 (Cinderella) and were nominated Best Screenplays in Hong Kong Film Festival. “A Chinese Odyssey – Pandora’s Box” won Best Screenplay in Hong Kong Film Critics Society Award in 1994.
Notable recent success include Just Another Pandora’s Box (2010), which became one of the highest grossing domestic film in China with takings of more than RMB150 million. Whether it is a tragedy, a comedy, an action film, or a ghost story, whatever the genre, Director Jeff Lau treats us to something new, and something unexpected.
Will Yun Lee is an emerging talent on both the big and small screens. Lee was featured in PEOPLE MAGAZINE’S 50 Most Beautiful and 25 Sexiest Men Alive issues, and was named one of STAR SUMMIT ASIA’S NEW FACES at the Pusan Film Festival.
Lee currently recurs as Sang Min on the CBS hit HAWAII 5-0. In 2012-2013, Columbia Pictures Colin Farrel starrer Total Recall, MGM’s Red Dawn opposite Chris Hemsworth, Asian Films Far Away Eyes, Lost for Words and dance flick COBU with Korean sensation Boa and Dancing with the Stars Derek Hough will hit theaters.
Lee also starred in the critically acclaimed HBO/BBC film TSUNAMI: THE AFTERMATH alongside Tim Roth, Sophie Okenedo, Toni Collette and Chiewetel Ejiofor, as well as the Emmy Nominated F/X Mini-Series THIEF. His past feature credits include the MARVEL action flick ELEKTRA, with Lee playing lead villain opposite Jennifer Garner, as well as the 007 BOND franchise DIE ANOTHER DAY and TORQUE for Warner Bros.
Lee was born in Arlington, Virginia, to parents recently emigrated from Korea. He was raised by both immediate and extended family and moved often, exposed to life on the tough Bronx streets and idyllic Hawaiian beaches. By his teens he was living in the San Francisco area with his father, a Korean Tae Kwon Do Grandmaster. Lee also became an accomplished martial artist and won an athletic scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley.
The recent recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Venice Film Festival, Chung Chang-Wha is the Korean director, who changed the face of international movies. As a boy, he studied music but after seeing a movie by director Choi In-Kyu, he begged his father to get him a job in film. He was apprenticed to Director Choi, and began a tough apprenticeship. After losing his parents and one of his brothers in the Korean War, he went into filmmaking as a way to provide for his surviving family. His early movies weren’t much loved, and after losing all of his family’s money on his film The Final Temptation, he was at a dead end.
Wondering what to do next, he realized that the Korean movies of the day were slow-moving melodramas and tearjerkers, and he decided he had to do something different. Taking Shane as his model, he taught himself how to film action from a Korean perspective, and in 1960 he released A Sunny Field, which became a hit and was heralded as a breath of fresh air. Next came a series of action movies for which he taught himself special effects, developed new techniques for filming action, and kept up with the international trends of the time. Then, when King Hu’s Come Drink With Me swept Asia, he began to make uniquely Korean swordplay movies.
Traveling to Hong Kong in 1966, he made two films on location, shooting with hidden cameras on the streets of the city for a James Bond style movie, Secret Agent X-7. The head of the Shaw Brothers studio, Run Run Shaw, was impressed with the footage and invited him to make a movie for Shaw. Run Run Shaw had always worked with Japanese and Korean talent, but he was so impressed by Chung’s work that he offered him a long contract and required his other directors to study Chang’s work.
His biggest movie for Shaw, King Boxer (Five Fingers of Death), was a massive international hit and he made several other films for them, often mentoring young filmmakers like John Woo. But after King Boxer, Chung had a disagreement with Run Run Shaw over costumes and budgets, and left for Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest studios. There he worked with Sammo Hung and Angela Mao on movies like The Skyhawk, The Association, and Broken Oath. At the invitation of the Korean government, he returned to Korea and began to make movies there.
Chung Chang-Wha is responsible, as much as Bruce Lee, for sparking the international kung fu craze in the 70’s, and for innovating action filmmaking at Shaw Brothers. He’s also one of the most important pioneers in the Korean film industry, and he has given the world King Boxer (Five Fingers of Death) that has influenced directors from Quentin Tarantino to Edgar Wright. That’s more than enough for one lifetime.
The image we all have of Choi Min-Sik is his character in Oldboy. Hair crazed, a demented grin on his face, hammer raised over his head, refusing to lie down and die, he just keeps coming, and coming, and coming. It’s this same intensity that has made him Korea’s greatest actor. Other stars might get more fans, or more box office, or more awards, but Choi Min-Sik gets the most respect. Onstage or off, he oozes integrity from every pore of his body.
He got his start in theater and in some small, well-respected films like No. 3 and Kim Ji-Woon’s The Quiet Family (remade by Takashi Miike as the musical, Happiness of the Katakuris). Then, in 1999, just as the new Korean cinema was becoming internationally recognized, he played appeared in the blockbuster, Shiri, as a fanatical North Korean terrorist who, oddly enough, came across as sympathetic to audiences. Next came two intense performances as a husband trapped in a failing marriage in Happy Ending and a low level gangster in Failan, which remains one of his personal favorite performances. His central performance as the real-life artist in Im Kwon-Taek’s Chihwaeson elevated him to the A-list at home, but it was his unforgettable turn as Oh Dae-Su in Oldboy that made his name internationally.
Next came performances in the heartbreaking boxing film, Crying Fist, and Park Chan-Wook’s Lady Vengeance and then he stopped. Sickened by the United States policy of trying to undermine Korean films by forcing the Korean government to reduce its protections of its domestic film industry, Choi and hundreds of other actors, directors, and technicians staged protests and tried to draw international attention to the struggle. At the Cannes Film Festival in 2006, Choi conducted a one-man silent protest outside the Palais theater, followed by several one-man protests back in Korea. A vocal critic of the MPAA’s interventions in Korea, he was disheartened when the Korean government bowed to American pressure and halved the screen quota system. In a display of disgust, he returned his Og-Gwan Order of Cultural Merit, a recognition awarded to him by the government, and he stepped out of the film industry, only appearing in a few independent movies.
Then, in 2010, he teamed up with director Kim Ji-Woon (The Good, The Bad, and The Weird) and actor Lee Byun-Hyung for I Saw the Devil, playing a whiny, vicious, pathetic serial killer. The performance was a massive comeback for him, and even critics of the movie praised his blood-soaked performance (Choi had a hard time with the part, claiming that all the fake blood made him feel ill). With Nameless Gangster he turns in another epic performance, etching into the screen the kind of character only he could depict, someone pathetic, intense, dangerous, obnoxious, sympathetic, horrifying, and lovable. In short, someone human.
Originally hailing from Canada, Infernal Affairsstar Edison Chen broke out into the Hong Kong entertainment industry with his acting debut and a major record deal at the age of 20. He has since built a diverse resume in film, music, fashion, and entrepreneurship. After recording several ‘Cantopop’ albums, Chen received critical acclaim as a rap artist with the 2004 chart-topping release of Please Steal This Albumand two subsequent hip hop LPs. As a founder of the CLOT Inc. empire, Chen has expanded into design, retail, consulting, and TV/commercial/music production, aspiring to bridge East and West with an international focus. Chen has been recognised as one of Asia’s most ambitious and versatile talents, with the launch of a successful streetwear label and a multimedia enterprise in 2007. Edison stars as triad member Jackie Ma in Square Enix’s Sleeping Dogs – scheduled for release August 14.
Not since Lana Turner was “discovered” in Schwab’s drugstore, has an actress gone from zero to 60 as quickly as Michelle Chen after her performance in You Are the Apple of My Eye. With her intense focus, her comic timing, and her unconventional good looks, her career has taken off so fast that it’s practically on fire. She went to the University of Southern California to study painting, but she switched from fine arts to music in the middle, then went back to Taiwan where she was advised to try acting since the music industry was in a slump. Without missing a beat, she dropped music and an actress was born.
After turning out some commercials and appearing in a few TV dramas, she received a Golden Horse nomination for “Best Newcomer” after she played a deaf swimmer in her first film, Hear Me. Then came the night when, on the way out of a party, she was standing in the elevator and saw Giddens Ko picking his ears with a housekey. She started to scold him and in that one, dumbstruck moment the first-time director knew he’d found the lead for his movie, a film based on his novel You Are the Apple of My Eye, which Michelle had already read. The movie went on to break box office records in Taiwan and Singapore, to become the highest-grossing Mandarin-language movie ever in Hong Kong (beating Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle), and the highest-grossing Taiwanese movie ever released in China. It also changed Chen from an actress, and made her a star.
Her next two projects are The Soul of Bread, a contemporary romantic comedy charting a love triangle in modern day Taiwan. Then comes the period piece, Ripple, in which she plays a Taiwanese geisha. Her success has also allowed her to return to music, and her first album is on its way. And, hopefully, so are many more movies to come.
More than any other country, actors in Japan are often associated with a single studio, so it makes a crazy kind of sense that one of Japan’s oldest and most respected studios is linked with the career of one of Japan’s youngest and most popular actresses. Nagasawa’s career kicked off in 2000 when she auditioned for the Toho Studios Cinderella Contest, beating out 35,153 contestants to take the top prize. Only 12 years old, she was the youngest winner in the contest’s history. Her first movie was the Shusuke Kaneko pyrokinesis film, Crossfire, but she really entered the public consciousness when she did a Nabisco ad, becoming widely known as “That Pretty Girl from the Nabisco Commercial.” Her first leading film role was as a girl who participates in a national robotics contest for high school students, Robokon, for which she won “Best Newcomer” at the Japanese Academy Awards.
Not long after, she started appearing in Toho’s flagship series, the Godzilla films. Not only did she play in Godzilla: Tokyo SOS she also sang “The Song of Mothra” on the movie’s soundtrack album, and she appeared in Ryuhei Kitamura’s epic kaiju hoedown, Godzilla: Final Wars. But it was the massively successful teen romance, Crying Out Love in the Center of the World, that cemented her position as a serious actress, and she has gone on afterwards to become a major star in both films and TV dramas. For three straight years (2005 – 2007) she was the cover girl of the Toho calendar, a public acknowledgement by Toho that she is one of its most valuable stars. Which isn’t surprsing, seeing that she was voted “Most Popular Actress” in 2006’s Oricon magazine poll, and was ranked 9th on a list of the Most Influential People in Japan (she is the only woman to appear on the list).
A face that international audiences will instantly recognize, Yoon Jin-Seo has appeared in numerous Korean films and TV series. Starting her career in 2002 with the romance, Bus Stop, she first attracted attention with a part in Im Kwon-Taek’s Chihwaseon, the same film that gave Choi Min-Sik his biggest starring role at the time. Then came a small, but unforgettable, performance in Oldboy, playing the sister of Yu Ji-Tae, seen only in flashback (if you’ve seen the movie you know exactly who we’re talking about). It was a risky move, but it paid off in spades. Following Oldboy she launched a music career, and starred in more films (also turning in a cameo in Park Chan-Wook’s Oldboy follow-up, Lady Vengeance). She also began appearing in TV dramas like Heffy End and How Are You. She has had a leading role in the crime/gigolo film, Beastie Boys, and the tragic romance, Secret Love. Yoon also writes for Movieweek magazine, contributing a regular column called “Yoon Jin-Seo’s Rolling Paper” since 2010.
Born in 1969 in Osaka, director Toshiaki Toyoda burst onto the filmmaking scene in 1998 with Porno Star (US title: Tokyo Rampage), a riveting and violent tale about a young, disturbed man who begins killing yakuza. Following up with the boxing documentary, Unchain, and the manga-inspired high school story Blue Spring (which launched the career of popular actor Ryuhei Matsuda, transforming him into a major star). He soon became a major film festival favorite with 2003’s 9 Souls and the 2005 masterpiece Hanging Garden, a movie that many felt was a superior predecessor to Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s arthouse-friendly Tokyo Sonata. Toyoda seemed well on the path to become an internationally-recognized filmmaker, but following an August 2005 arrest for possession of stimulants, he was effectively blacklisted from the filmmaking scene for nearly four years. The Blood of Rebirth (NYAFF 2010) marked his triumphant return to the screen, shot in almost in total secrecy in only ten days and clearly an artistic statement about losing his freedom. Monsters Club is his latest movie and it has polarized audiences around the world meaning that, of course, we have to screen it.