‘Arrow’ star on rising Asian influence in Hollywood

Gail Chai
Singapore Showbiz

Hong Kong-born actor Byron Mann says Asia still has a long way to go before having a significant influence in Hollywood.

The 45-year-old actor – who moved to California to study a degree in philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) – is one of the stars of breakout TV series “Arrow”, which has received glowing reviews since its US debut last year.

Speaking to Yahoo! Singapore during an embargoed interview last December at WarnerTV’s office at Lorong Chuan, Mann says he has reservations about the so-called “Asian emergence” in Hollywood.

This despite an increasing number of Asian artistes breaking into the US market. China’s Li Bingbing and Yu Nan starred in Resident Evil sequel, “Retribution” and “Expendables 2” respectively, while even “Iron Man 3” is being partially shot in China. Singapore’s very own Chin Han has also been able to make a name for himself by snagging plum roles in The Dark Knight, 2012 and Contagion in recent years.

“I think Hollywood is definitely acknowledging the emergence of China, or the enormous potential of the China market,” said Mann, who is best known for starring as Ryu in the 1994 film adaptation of arcade craze, “Street Fighter”.

“China is currently the number two film market in the world and very soon it will be number one in terms of box office receipts. Why wouldn’t it be because they have 1.3 billion people, almost four times the size of America?”

“But Hollywood is still producing shows that they think the American audience wants to see and it’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s difficult enough satisfying one type of audience but to satisfy two types of audience, that’s a tall order,” cautioned the lean and well-built actor.

Having been based in Hollywood for the last 20 years, Mann admits he was lucky to have it so easy.

“It feels like I’m in Disneyland everyday and I can’t believe they’re paying me to “goof around” on set. For me, breaking into Hollywood was easy because it was fun and I felt like I could do it reasonably well,” said the star.

“For now, I’m in an interesting period of time, with the emergence of China. I am open to having a career in Asia and I don’t limit myself but I think it boils down to the fact that I love what I do.”

Archery master

Turning to red-hot TV series "Arrow", Mann plays Yao Fei, an enigmatic hermit who teaches protagonist and billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (played by Stephen Amell) how to survive after the latter is shipwrecked and left stranded on an island.

“My character is very authentic and we wanted to give him mystery and dignity because he plays a very important role in the series,” said Mann.

“He’s not just a master, you’ll see; a lot of things go on. There will be a lot of twists and turns so his role and relationship to Oliver Queen will continue to evolve and I don’t think he is what people think he is,” he added.

Loosely based on DC Comic’s crime-fighting hero Green Arrow, the hit show opened to rave reviews and attracted 4 million viewers in the US in its first episode. It will debut in Singapore on WarnerTV on 11 March.

Mann said as part of his role, Patricia Gonzales, an Olympian archery coach had to train him on how to use the bow and arrow. He also said he had to input into his “sifu” character.

“Initially, I felt some of the dialogue was long-winded so I simplified it. I know how a man – whose first language is Chinese – would express something in English because I spent half my life in Hong Kong and China,” said Mann, who can also speak Cantonese and even Thai.

“The writers said (in their words) that they did not want to do a “Mr Miyagi” (the fictional karate master in “The Karate Kid”). We wanted to do something edgier, fresher, more fun and unpredictable; and I think we are achieving that and that’s gratifying,” he said.

Richard Gere: A class act

Mann, also stars in the Hollywood gongfu flick “The Man with the Iron Fists” alongside Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu, admits he has been fortunate to act with the very best.

“I will never forget acting with Richard Gere in “Red Corner". He is a charismatic and sexy man and there is a very strong inner strength about him. His actions have stayed with me because he is just so natural and when we were filming the movie, I couldn’t tell when we were acting and when there was a cut scene at times. We just nailed it naturally,” said Mann.

Not surprisingly, Mann also looks up to American action star, Steven Seagal, who he starred with on “Belly of the Beast”.

“In the 90s he was the action superstar of the world but he knows how to protect himself and he’s smart about how to make any material suit him. He may not be the acting king of the world but he does one thing well – he roughs up the bad people.”

“Arrow” makes its debut on WarnerTV on StarHub cable TV channel 515 on 11 March at 9pm.