(Photo by Lionsgate courtesy Everett Collection)
Once, during a long-ago era called The ’80s, Hollywood action heroes roamed the Earth with bulging biceps and names like Sly, Arnold, and Bruce. With a limitless supply of weapons and wisecracks, they saved the world countless times, only to be exiled to the land of Direct-to-Video for their trouble, where they wandered lost throughout the ’90s and much of the aughts. But they’re fighting their way back from extinction, thanks in large part to the tenacious efforts of steely-eyed roughnecks like Jason Statham, the veteran of latter-day genre classics like Crank, The Bank Job, and recent Fast and Furious sequels and spinoffs, who rose to stardom on the strength of his appearances in Guy Ritchie‘s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. To celebrate his bravery in the face of indie dramas and romantic comedies, we’ve rounded up all of his major roles to offer a comprehensive look back at all Jason Statham movies, sorted by Tomatometer.
This week in home video, we’ve gone out of our way to provide you with a nice variety of selections, as we always try to do. Of course, there are the newest of the new releases (Crank 2 and Dance Flick, both of which opened earlier this year), as well as a couple of classics getting the hi-def treatment (Friday and Creepshow). We’ve got one of the hottest comedies on television (The Office), and we’ve got a strange little half animated, half live-action gem from the Disney archives (Bedknobs and Broomsticks). If arthouse is your thing, we’ve got an entry on the week’s Criterion Collection releases and a visually sumptuous Terrence Malick film (The New World). So grab your popcorn and fire up them video machines, because it’s time for some DVD action.
Jason Statham is probably this generation’s closest approximation of the classic action hero, and he’s done a fine job bolstering his resume with roles that showcase his physical prowess and knack for extreme survival. 2006’s Crank was only borderline Fresh at 60%, but it earned a sort of cult following that led to its sequel, High Voltage. Statham is back as Chev Chelios, more amped than ever, and this time around, he’s forced to run around town in search of electrical jolts to keep the batteries in his newly transplanted (not by choice) mechanical heart charged. Amy Smart and Dwight Yoakam return to reprise their roles as Chev’s girlfriend and doctor pal, respectively, and there’s even a cameo by the recently departed David Carradine, playing (of course) a 100-year-old Chinese Triad boss. High Voltage will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Also coming to DVD and Blu-Ray this week is the latest entry in the Wayans dynasty, Dance Flick, a spoof film poking fun at the recent abundance of dance-themed movies and television shows. Ushering in the next generation of the Wayans family, Dance Flick stars the son of Damon Wayans, Damon Wayans Jr., as a defeated urban dancer who meets a female dancer with a troubled past of her own, played by newcomer Shoshanna Bush. The two hit it off and spark an interracial romance a la Save the Last Dance… except with a healthy of smattering of absurdist humor, thanks to the involvement of the usual Wayans suspects. Critics weren’t feeling the groove on this one, but if you’re a fan of the Wayans’ work, you’ll probably enjoy yourself.
Remakes haven’t been doing so well in Hollywood during the past several years, but one in particular has been continually bankable since 2005… and it’s not a movie franchise. The Office began as a US recreation of the original BBC series starring Ricky Gervais, but has since established its own unique tone and collection of story arcs, becoming one of the most popular comedies on American television and launching the careers of several of its stars. Season Five of the show arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray this week, with extras like webisodes, TV promo spots, episode commentaries, and the always entertaining gag reel, but for you diehard fans, there’s also a 100-episode collection of all five seasons, including all the extras.
Disney is well known for their policy of releasing their classic animated films on DVD for a limited period of time, then returning them to their “vault” until further notice. As such, this is not the first time Bedknobs and Broomsticks has been available (the film even got a 30th Anniversary Edition in 2001), but it does mean you’ll only have a short time to pick it up before it disappears for several years. For those who aren’t familiar, this particular classic is a combination of live action and animation, featuring Angela Lansbury as an aspiring witch who teaches a couple of lucky kids magic and takes them on adventures atop a flying bed. Oh, and it takes place against the backdrop of World War II. Sound wacky? Yeah, it kind of is, but who does wacky better than Angela Lansbury?
This week, Homicide is one of three Criterion Collection releases that will draw the attention of cinephiles and those looking to step away from more conventional fare. In his third directorial effort, David Mamet unravels a cop movie about self-discovery, morality, and conspiracy, with Joe Mantegna starring as a Jewish police officer who becomes embroiled in a murder case more complex than it first seems. Mamet’s trademark dialogue is on display throughout the film, which resonated well with critics. The DVD features a commentary track with Mamet and William H. Macy, cast interviews, and even a gag reel. Otherwise, be sure to look for the other two Criterion editions dropping on Tuesday: That Hamilton Woman, starring Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, and Masaki Kobayashi’s epic drama The Human Condition.
“I’m gonna get you high today, because it’s Friday, you ain’t got no job, and you ain’t got **** to do.” Though Chris Tucker is probably better known for his work with Jackie Chan in the Rush Hour movies, he and rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube succeeded in cementing their place in stoner lore with their turns as Smokey and Craig, respectively, in F. Gary Gray’s Friday, which Cube also co-wrote. As two slackers whiling away a lazy day in South Central, Tucker and Cube feed off each other’s energy, the latter playing straight man to the former’s fast-talking weed fiend. Its popular soundtrack, almost surreal comedy, and wealth of quotable lines fueled a fan following, sparking two sequels and elevating its two stars’ profiles, and now it’s finally getting the hi-def treatment. Pick it up on Blu-Ray, but hide it from Deebo, because he’ll snatch it up like a cheap gold chain. And you know this, maaaan!
Director Matt Tyrnauer followed legendary fashion designer Valantino Garavani and his partner Giancarlo Giammetti for the final two years of Valentino’s career, utilizing access to private meetings, conferences, and backstage areas for runway shows to bring the man’s life into focus. The film toured the festival circuit in 2008, receiving much acclaim, before opening in the US earlier this year. Finally here on DVD and Blu-Ray, this is the everyday Joe’s chance to catch a rare glimpse of the intimate inner workings of the glamorous fashion industry through the eyes of one of its most influential personalities.
Another cult classic finds its way to your Blu-Ray player in Creepshow, the 1982 collaboration between two giants of the horror genre: director George Romero and writer Stephen King. A compilation of five short segments inspired by the E.C. horror comics of the 1950s, three of which were not based on earlier stories by King, the film blended traditional elements of horror with camp and dark humor. Creepshow elicited a mixed response from critics but went on to spawn sequels (both official and unofficial), a comic book series, and a few similarly themed television shows. In fact, there’s even a fourth installment in the works, but it’s not slated to open until 2011, so this should hold you over until then.
The second F. Gary Gray film hitting Blu-Ray this week, Set It Off is a unique take on the heist film, starring an all-female cast that includes Jada Pinkett (before she added the “Smith”), Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, and Kimberly Elise. As with the Gray’s other film on this list, Friday, Set It Off featured a popular soundtrack, and though the film garnered a lukewarm reception from critics, it helped jumpstart the film careers of its four central stars. Pick up the Extended Director’s Cut this week and you’ll get a special featurette on the making of the film.
If there is one director whose films might be best served by the Blu-Ray treatment, it might arguably be Terrence Malick. His often striking cinematography and sweeping shots of landscape are, in fact, on full display in The New World, Malick’s romantic depiction of the relationship between American pioneer John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher). Though this is Malick’s least celebrated film thus far, somewhat splitting critics and barely earning Fresh status at 61%, it’s a unique look at this country’s origins that should look magnificent in high definition. What’s more, this is the Extended Cut of the film, with over 30 minutes of extra footage, and the special features include a 10-part documentary on the making of the film, a must have for Malick fans.
This week at the movies, we’ve got a high school do-over (17 Again, starring Zac Efron and Leslie Mann), some journalistic thrills (State of Play, starring Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams), and cardiovascular action (Crank High Voltage, starring Jason Statham and Bai Ling). What do the critics have to say?
If you’ve seen Big, Back to the Future, and Peggy Sue Got Married, you’ll have a pretty good idea what’s in store with 17 Again. The good news? The critics say the film may be derivative, but it’s also clever, entertaining, and poignant, largely thanks to an impressive post-High School Musical turn from Zac Efron. He stars as Mike O’Donnell, a big man on campus circa 1989 who, 20 years later, finds his life and his marriage to high school sweetie Scarlett (Leslie Mann) on the rocks. He gets a second chance to correct his mistakes when he’s magically transformed into his 17-year-old self — albeit with his late-30s personality intact — and discovers a thing or two about life. While some critics find the film’s premise a bit unseemly (a 30-year-old bro-ing down with minors?), most say 17 Again is mostly sweet, funny, and perceptive, and that Efron has a bright future as a leading man.
The newspaper industry is in bad shape these days, so it almost seems quaint to release a thriller about a principled investigative journalist in the midst of a vast conspiracy. But here’s a news flash: critics say State of Play is engrossing, smart, unnerving, and surprisingly timely, a tribute to the hardworking reporters that shed light on our political system. Russell Crowe stars as old-school Washington beat reporter Cal McAffrey, who’s had a solid professional rapport with up-and-coming congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) — that is, until some of Collins’ associates turn up dead. McAffrey uneasily joins forces with Della (Rachel McAdams), a blogger at the paper, to untangle a sinister web of secrets and lies. The pundits say State of Play may offer a few too many twists and turns, but its ensemble, which also includes Helen Mirren as McAffrey’s exacting editor, is unimpeachable, as is the immediacy and authenticity of the newsroom setting. State of Play is Certified Fresh.
It appears the folks behind Crank High Voltage were concerned it would make critics, ahem, cranky, because it wasn’t screened prior to release (strange, since its predecessor notched a perfectly respectable 60 percent on the Tomatometer). Jason Statham once again stars as Chev Chelios (apparently no relation to the Red Wings defenseman) whose heart is removed; he must do everything in his power to keep his battery-powered ticker going while finding his missing organ. Kids, guess that Tomatometer! (And don’t forget to check out Crank star Bai Ling’s Five Favorite Films.)
Also opening this week in limited release:
Teen prince Zac Efron aims to score his second number one opener in six months, but this time without the help of an established franchise, with the new comedy 17 Again. Boldly entering racy PG-13 territory, the Disney-bred superstar plays a thirtysomething man who is transformed into the body of a teenager. Matthew Perry plays the bigger version of the character. The New Line film is being released by Warner Bros. which will target teens and young adults but is also hoping to court the younger tween fans of the young actor despite the rating.
17 Again is essentially for Efron what Mean Girls was for Lindsay Lohan five years ago – a more mature PG-13 vehicle for a Mouse House star trying to branch out into older storylines without abandoning the young base. The Tina Fey-penned pic, Lohan’s last hit film, bowed to a surprisingly strong $24.4M in late April of 2004 on its way to a stellar $86M. Opening a film headlined by a High School Musical star just one week after the release of a Hannah Montana film is risky business. But 17 hopes to steal away much of that audience anyway. Debuting in 3,255 theaters, 17 Again could capture around $19M this weekend.
Action fans love them some Jason Statham and the actor returns on Friday in the adrenaline-pumping sequel Crank High Voltage. The R-rated followup to 2006’s Crank finds the rugged hitman on a high-octane chase through Los Angeles in pursuit of a mobster who has stolen his nearly indestructible heart. Certainly the audience is finite here and will not extend past Statham’s fan base of young men. Given the modest success of the first flick (Crank bowed to $10.5M and a $4,158 average in 2006), there is a built-in audience that caught the predecessor in theaters, on DVD, or on cable.
Lionsgate has marketed the new installment effectively generating interest with the target crowd. Fast & Furious will provide some direct competition even though it enters its third lap, but the rest of the current slate of films will not distract the audience. Statham crashed into multiplexes three times last year with The Bank Job ($5.9M in 1,603 theaters), Death Race ($12.6M in 2,532 locations), and Transporter 3 ($12.1M after a Wednesday launch in 2,626 sites). Casual fans may not want him again so soon. Bursting into 2,223 locations, Crank High Voltage could debut with about $12M this weekend.
Russell Crowe heads up the cast of the new political thriller State of Play starring alongside fellow Oscar winner Helen Mirren, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, and Robin Wright Penn. The PG-13 murder mystery involving politics and the media will play to a mature adult audience at a time when very few viable options are out there for that demo. Teen rockers, souped-up race cars, and cartoon monsters have been ruling the multiplexes for weeks. Even the two other new releases this weekend skew under-30. Reviews have been strong which will be essential as the Universal title will live or die by the opinions of critics.
Crowe may have been a box office draw at one time, but today his name means little. Moviegoers want to know what else the film has to offer and won’t buy a ticket just for him. Overall, the cast is somewhat valuable at the turnstiles, but there are no names here that carry a lot of box office weight. Look for a moderate bow followed by decent legs. Entering 2,803 theaters, State of Play may collect around $11M this weekend.
Following its sensational debut last weekend, Hannah Montana The Movie is set for a huge fall in its sophomore frame. Most of the audience rushed out upfront to see the teen sensation, plus the Good Friday holiday supersized the opening day tally so this Friday will be puny by comparison. In fact on a daily basis, Hannah only won the number one spot on Friday with Fast & Furious topping the chart on both Saturday and Sunday. Ms. Cyrus will also see Mr. Efron steal away younger teens so the extra competition will be a factor too. Sophomore drops last year for Hannah and High School Musical 3 were 67% and 64%, respectively, so expect a similar fate. A steep tumble of at least 60% should result giving the Disney hit about $13M boosting the ten-day cume to $57M.
By Friday, DreamWorks will see its animated smash Monsters vs. Aliens become the first movie of the year to break the $150M barrier. With no new G or PG pics entering the marketplace, a 35% drop may result giving the Paramount release roughly $14M for the frame and a $164M cume overall.
Fast & Furious already had its fierce second weekend slide so the racing sequel could stabilize a bit this weekend. Universal looks to experience a 55% decline which would put the Vin-Paul flick at around $12M pushing the 17-day tally to a turbo-charged $137M. Seth Rogen‘s Observe and Report got off to a lukewarm start last weekend and there is little buzz propelling the film forward. Look for a 45% drop to about $6M for a ten-day total of $21M.
LAST YEAR: Jackie Chan and Jet Li came to together at last and audiences came out pushing The Forbidden Kingdom to a top spot debut with $21.4M. The Lionsgate release finished off with a $52.1M total. Also debuting with strength was the comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall which bowed to $17.7M for Universal on its way to a higher $62.9M. Sony’s horror hit Prom Night crumbled 58% in its sophomore session dropping from first to third with $8.7M. Al Pacino‘s crime drama 88 Minutes earned some of the year’s worst reviews and crashed into fourth with a poor $7M opening. Sony’s final gross was a mere $17.2M. Rounding out the top five was Fox’s Nim’s Island with $5.7M.
Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com
In this week’s super-charged sequel to the 2006 sleeper hit, Crank (60%), the writing-directing team of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (known simply as “Neveldine + Taylor”) continue the adrenaline-pumping adventures of hit man Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) — who, as you may recall, experienced quite a rough 24 hours in the first film. You didn’t think a little high-altitude fall from a helicopter could keep Chev down, did you? This Friday’s Crank High Voltage picks up right where Crank ended, and Rotten Tomatoes was on set at various locations during production to witness manic action, public indecency, Bai Ling craziness, leather-clad biker shoot-outs and good old-fashioned fun — all the makings of a true-blue Crank flick.
Last spring, Rotten Tomatoes was lucky to be invited on two exclusive visits to the set of Crank High Voltage, where co-writers and co-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (Crank, Pathology) were putting poor Jason Statham through the ringer yet again. As the sequel picks up, Chev Chelios — who’s just killed his enemy, Ricky Verona, while falling from a helicopter — has survived the plunge and been scooped up by a band of Chinese medics. Chev wakes up after his heart has been surgically stolen and replaced, and must keep his temporary heart electrically charged just long enough to win back the girl (Amy Smart), fight off foes old and new (Clifton Collins, Jr., Corey Haim, David Carradine), and get his ticker back.
RT first visited the set during filming at the Hollywood Park Race Track, where Neveldine and Taylor were setting up Statham in scenes against the backdrop of live horse races. Only a section of the place had been roped off for filming; elsewhere, the track was filled with its usual Wednesday crowd. (Anyone in the industry will swear that movie sets are boring, but we won $15 between takes!)
Extras filled an outdoor scene as Statham stumbled through the crowd, in pursuit of Triad thug Johnny Vang (played by Art Hsu). It seems that Vang is connected to the Chinese gang that stole Chev’s heart, and though Lionsgate and the filmmakers are keeping a tight lid on spoilers, don’t be surprised if connections between familiar faces and new ones are revealed.
Off to the side, a little old lady sat in a chair patiently waiting for her big scene. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know which little old lady this was — Chev’s “dirty little whore” — against whom he rubs up at the track in order to generate friction. The entire set was tittering with anticipation to watch Statham slyly molest 87-year-old actress Danna Hansen, whose credits, incidentally, include bit parts in Being There, Stir Crazy, and The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington. Needless to say, Hansen took the Statham rubdown with admirable grace, giving Crank 2 one of its standout comic gags.
True to their reputations, Neveldine and Taylor are more hands-on in filming than most directors, and shoot most scenes themselves. They work in tandem, each operating their own camera, and have been known to capture action sequences by following a rig on rollerblades. It’s no wonder that co-star Bai Ling called the pair young, crazy, and free: for Crank High Voltage, they upped the DIY factor by daring to use equipment that no other studio filmmakers have — consumer cameras.
It’s a producer’s dream, since Neveldine + Taylor’s cameras of choice both cost only a few thousand dollars apiece (the $3500 Canon XH-A1 and the even lighter, cheaper, Canon HF10, which runs about $1000); using in-camera tricks and their own cinematography, they promise a film that’s stylistically close to the first Crank — kinetic and handheld, with a picture quality that’s something between digital and film.
Next: RT visits the Malibu mansion for bikini babes, Bai Ling, shoot-outs and more
A few weeks later, RT dropped by a Malibu mansion off the Pacific Coast Highway for more exciting fare: namely, to watch girls in bikinis, shoot-outs, Bai Ling, and Efren Ramirez. These were scenes that ostensibly occur at the end of the film — where else do shoot-outs belong? — and we were treated to one HUGE spoiler… which, of course, we can’t disclose here. More on that later.
It was a delightfully tacky mansion, rumored in real life to have been constructed as a gift from some rich man to his lady. In Crank 2, this is where the beaten Chev Chelios winds up, alone amongst his enemies including Clifton Collins, Jr., who returns as El Huron. Bikini-clad beauties (and one entirely naked actress) lounge by the pool, as kept hussies are wont to do in the movies. “Vegas-y, shiny, sparkly…slutty,” is how the costume designer described the ladies, who variously scatter and are hit when gunfire explodes.
It’s here that two angels of sorts come to Chev’s rescue. The first is Venus (played by Efren Ramirez) who is the twin brother of Chev’s former sidekick, Kaylo (also played by Ramirez), who met his end in Crank. Venus is the polar opposite of Kaylo in appearance, and Ramirez was clearly having fun with it. Shirtless and wearing black leather pants, he’s a 5’7″ Goth–punk dynamo who comes to avenge the death of his brother — with a little help from a gaggle of gay leather-clad thugs and eccentrics.
Equally bizarre is Chev’s other new sidekick, Ria (played by Bai Ling, who we interview here), a free-spirited street walker who devotes herself to Chev — against his wishes — when he saves her life. Ria shows up with her posse of Asian female toughs (and a machine gun) to help Chev at the mansion.
As Ramirez practiced his stunt moves and his nunchaku skills by the pool, Bai Ling told us about how she played her character. “Ria is a beautiful, free, giving and loving character,” she said. “There’s an innocence in her. She’s crazy, but she’s innocent. I was telling my stunt double, she said, ‘How should I run through this fire?’ I said, you have to be crazy free, fun, and not controlled.“
While Statham gets most of the action in High Voltage, Ling says she gets a fair share of her own. “I have lots of ‘I’m gonna kick your ass!’ scenes. I kick them, I run through fire, I get hit by a car, I’m running with one shoe that has no heel…it’s a lot of action, a lot of humor. The film has a sense of humor; [my character] is kind of wacky, funky, modern, young, a free-spirited character.“
But back to that spoiler. Suffice to say, there’s a surprise waiting for Chev Chelios when he gets to the mansion…a real “WTF?” moment for fans. All will be revealed this Friday, as Crank High Voltage opens nationwide.
Rotten Tomatoes caught up with actress Bai Ling (Red Corner, Southland Tales) on the verge of her latest film, Crank: High Voltage, to talk movies and learn more about the bold and sensual artist, who at times is better known for her off-screen persona than her expansive body of work. Below, find out which romantic classics and modern films Bai Ling names among her Five Favorite Films and read on for our in-depth conversation about her work, her life, and her pursuit of happiness as we peel back the layers of the force of nature known as Bai Ling. Click to go directly to our interview with Bai Ling.
Mentally, Casablanca connects with my world. It’s very romantic, about giving and testing, and trusting and loving… And there’s the romantic music. Everything is [in line with] my tastes of romance. It’s also about an unfulfilled love, which makes everything more beautiful because you can’t have it. It’s just human nature. If you have it — you see the person, you see the romance — then the story becomes practical, like reality. But because it’s unfulfilled, it’s always a fantasy because we add so much of our own beauty, and romance, and poetry, into it.
Also, Casablanca is about the sacrifice of giving love. Real love, I think, is unconditional; you give your love away to love somebody. Otherwise it’s not real love, it’s possessive, it’s ownership.
I like movies like Gone with the Wind, or The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but I’ll actually choose Traffic. When I did not speak the language, I watched the movie sex, lies, and videotape, and I didn’t understand; I thought American movies were always blockbusters, hard movies, with action and male leads. But that film was like pieces of life, pieces of dreams. I did a movie called Nipples, based on my dreams, with different characters coming together…very sexy, and very modern, and very open. I think that’s something that’s very contemporary and I didn’t think a lot of American directors were [that way]. [Steven Soderbergh]’s mind is very modern. I like Traffic because he shot it like a documentary, but there’s mystery, there’s modernity. There’s an unknown danger in it. When the characters are crossing the border — I just like the momentum of life, when people cross each other, when lives cross each other. In that moment of life, what can happen.
Wong Kar-Wai is one of my favorite directors from Asia. I’m a natural romantic. I feel like his movies — slow motion, the momentum of people, even a clock running — are non-traditional filmmaking. Normal movies [have scenes set up] like, I talk to you; you talk to me. Those kinds of movies are boring to me, but his films are advanced. He’s also extremely private and personal. His stories are all about innocent love, sort of like teenage love. How people need; how you love. They’re very, very romantic. When I talk about it, I feel this slow motion romance, high heels, the mystery of women, sexy, walking by. I recognize things in my soul that are unspoken; a lot of those longings, and unfulfilled romances, and dreams within [Wong Kar-Wai’s] films — they make me feel that.
I’d like to pick Red Corner, because Bai Ling’s in it. [Laughs] Actually, I choose it because out of all the movies that have Asian leading characters, it’s the first to have the most feminine — the most brilliant, modern, intelligent, female character ever in a Hollywood film that portrayed Asian characters. In all other films, it’s a mystery, romance, or kung fu; but here, I played a lawyer, a contemporary woman. And she has a romance with this sex symbol — Richard Gere. That combination is really rare on the silver screen, in Hollywood.
I play a lawyer and I fall in love; I’m under a Communist government and helping a foreign man. There’s also a lot of unspoken love underneath. I would sacrifice my life for him. She gives on many, many levels; she’s not only tough and sexy, but there’s intelligence behind it, and a total giving of unconditional love for this man for whom she would die and do anything for. There’s a beauty to her giving up everything for a man whom she’s helping while she’s under danger and pressure from the government — choosing between a country’s love, and being in danger of being destroyed and never seeing this lover that she would do anything for. It’s extremely beautiful and romantic to my heart and my soul, and I have a fantastic and beautiful relationship with my co-star, Richard Gere. So that’s one of my favorite movies forever, because I’m so close to it. These two [characters] are giving their lives to each other, and that love must remain hidden on the surface of the court system; the modern world is harsh. I like that under the harshness there’s a romance, and that romance is so free and so true.
Do you still remember what it was like when you were filming?
When I talk about it, it’s like I’m there! I feel emotional, like it’s going to make me cry; because I gave my life to the character, and to Richard Gere’s character. For me, it’s real; it’s not acting. And we had this beautiful, loving relationship just like in the movie. You know how sometimes when you’re in love for a lifetime, you remember a one-night stand? It’s not about the length, it’s about the impact and how pure, and how right, that person was to your soul and to your heart in that moment.
It’s a very personal choice because when I came to America from mainland China, I was an actress, but I never knew about Hollywood. I had heard of Hollywood but we didn’t have access to see Hollywood movies. A photographer was taking pictures of me and said, “You remind me of this actress named Audrey Hepburn.” I said, “Who is that?” He said, “Bai Ling, you have to watch her films,” and he found me Roman Holiday. That was the first Hollywood movie I’d ever seen. And it’s still one of my favorites, because it first introduced me to Hollywood — beautiful, romantic, very graceful, and elegant. I would like to remake it — I hope some director can help me, maybe Steven Soderbergh or Wong Kar-Wai. [Laughs] What I remember about those old Hollywood films is that when a leading lady and a leading man meet, they don’t have to say anything; you already know they’re in love. You root for them; you want them to be together. That’s the magic of Hollywood. I think somehow today we’ve lost a little bit of it, and you don’t care as much if two characters get together. But Roman Holiday makes you smile, makes your heart smile, makes your heart sing for these two people. Gregory Peck is gentle and elegant, the kind of tall leading man that I like.
I think we should remake the film. Everybody in America, in Asia, and in Europe, would appreciate it. The beautiful, pure, romantic story — I wish I would play a role like that, because I have a romantic soul. I’d like to bring that purity to the audience, to have their fantasy fulfilled.
Check out Bai Ling’s Five Favorites when she sat down with Current! (and yes, we realize that she added in Slumdog Millionaire with our friends at Current)
Living one’s life in the spotlight is a daunting undertaking for most, but few celebrities set themselves up for negativity as bravely or unapologetically as Bai Ling. After making her Hollywood breakthrough opposite Richard Gere in 1998’s Red Corner, the Chinese-American actress has since racked up an impressive number of credits, zooming breathlessly through mainstream roles and independent films alike. Yet, Ling has become best known in some circles for her off-screen persona, her antics on the red carpet, and the sometimes strange (and wonderfully frank) sayings she shares with press and on her candid personal blog, Naked Seduction.
RT sat down with the Crank: High Voltage star to talk movies over lattes in a Beverly Hills cafe and to learn more about the woman behind the persona. We learned that Ling’s brand of celebrity comes at a cost; the Chinese-born actress willingly lives her life in the open, channeling her very existence as a gift unto the world, a candidness that often invites the harshest kinds of criticism. And Ling is not without her moments of vulnerability, as we discovered when she shared her sadness at being exiled from her homeland following the release of Red Corner, or when she revealed the difficulty of keeping a smile when critics attack her in public.
Despite all that, Bai Ling soldiers on by living life on her own terms (and by enjoying the hell out of her work, which includes appearing in this week’s Crank: High Voltage opposite Jason Statham and in Taylor Hackford’s upcoming Love Ranch, opposite Helen Mirren). Read on for our candid interview.
Bai Ling: I feel like I’m not in this world; I feel like I am here, but every day I’m living in my own world. I don’t read anything, I don’t really watch anything, I’m in my own world, with the spirit and the soul of the universe, that have been given to me. I think that through my blog and my movies, in my own way I give a little bit of this to other people’s soul, people who forget about life, forget about romance and love, every day they’re trying just to make money and be successful. You wake up and you have tons of money, and you’re bitter; but the blue sky, and the birds and clouds and the romance are passing by you. A lot of people say how rich I am, I have a house, I have land. I say, I am the richest person in the world, do you know what I have? The universe.
It seems like very few people would embrace something like that.
BL: I’m not just saying that; I live that. And I’m innocently in it, and so happy; I’m like a little girl. Today I opened my curtains and it was sunny, and suddenly I just smiled. To me every day is a new day, a new moment in life, there’s no time…society is time. We’re always late, we’re always rushed, we’re always leaving, but in nature there’s no time. When there’s no time, there’s no hurry. There’s no agenda, there’s no purpose. You just [share the moment], you smile, you talk, you have coffee, you share that moment.
When you have an agenda, you don’t see what nature gives. When a moment comes, [like when] the sun sets and [creates] light sculptures… for me, I enjoy that I saw it. I saw it! They’re more real than a real thing you can touch. Because it’s for your soul, it’s food. And that’s what gives you the beauty and the romance and the delightfulness of the spirit, and you can basically affect others. That’s my gift, I feel. I talk to you, and other people read it — truthfully — if they allow themselves to not be judgmental about what Bai Ling says and not criticize me, they will see I’m not here to talk about myself; I’m sharing with you what I see that people don’t notice, but that’s there everyday.
It’s the appreciation of the small things that many people have a hard time embracing.
BL: It’s like breathing; without breathing, there’s no other thing. You’re alive, can you imagine? What a gift! We don’t see it. Like air — whether you notice it or not, it’s there, serving you every moment. How generous, to just give for free. And we take it for granted. But when someone takes your breath away, you go ah, you were right! You don’t know how beautiful we have it. I think that’s the most valuable thing we have.
I just hope that you can help in a way — media, how they portray me; they don’t understand me at all. Or they prefer it that way; I know how magazines want to sell. If Bai Ling’s sophisticated and elegant, there’s nothing really to talk about. If she’s crazy, or her nipples are always out, there’s something to trash and to talk about and to laugh at. But, I understand the magazines’ relationship with Hollywood; I accept that I’m an actress — and I’ve said, I have eight little spirits within me — one of them is crazy, she’s courageous, she’s out there. She enjoys showing off, because she thinks she’s beautiful; she is! And I’m ok if you trash me. I dare you to trash me, and I also dare you to celebrate me. Why only one way? Why not embrace day and night? People don’t know the darkness, the nighttime, how pure and valuable it is. Without the darkness, without pure black, you’d never see the stars and moon. You can’t ignore it. And those things have a higher purpose.
I think you’re very courageous to live like this; the nature of it leaves you open to both good and bad, and most other celebrities are very guarded.
BL: People tell me, “Don’t trust journalists,” but if I don’t trust, I can’t talk. What would be the fun for you? Sometimes I get trashed because I’m so open; it’s like saying “I love you,” and getting slapped. It’s kind of sad sometimes. I’m so open, so pure, I give you love, and a person steps on me… even then, you have to dare to love. Otherwise, why live? So therefore, I have to be loyal to myself, and I have to be truthful. Hopefully if I have ten interviews, just one person grabs it, and I’d be happy. I think it’s a rare thing that few people can appreciate it, because they’re too busy being brainwashed by society, by the magazines, by other people’s views, they forgot to have their own views, their own voice, and their own talents. I think everybody’s a star and a magician, but you give that up to follow others. I think if you’re loyal to that, you will like me, because you’ll know what I’m talking about. Otherwise, you won’t understand me, and you’ll think, “She’s out of her mind!”
Did you always have this philosophy?
BL: I think when I was in China, I grew up like a wild animal and adopted a human form. And I don’t know how to function because I’m so free. I’m a totally free spirit. When I say everything it seems wrong, because my mind functions differently, like I’m running a different program. I was constantly writing apology letters when I grew up — to my parents, to my school teacher, to my army leader, to my government — and I thought about it, what did I do wrong? I’m only having fun playing with my own thoughts. My own soul, my own structure…I think society is formatted, like with time, systems, boundaries. I’d think, one day I’ll rule the world, and the world will be so much more beautiful, because I’d abort boundaries that divide people, create violence, and pit people against each other.
I believe in the universe, in nature. Like my name; Bai is the simplest character, it means white. In writing, it’s the simplest character you can have. It means white and purity. Part of me is childlike, simple, pure, white. Ling, I just learned, in the complicated Chinese character, is like lightning. It’s like a light storm. It’s intriguing, it’s so dangerous, and it changes… I think I’m basically the circle of life; I’m like a child, but I have the wisdom of the universe.
I’m not out to get something, I just want to share who I am. There’s no agenda. I talk about my nipples — I think they are beautiful! And people say, she’s doing this for what? I’m doing this for nothing. I’m totally being who I am. A lot of people don’t understand. They’re living in a shell, bitter, trying to trash others. Why don’t you come out of life, compliment somebody, give them love, and say something that you know in your heart is right. For me, I believe that being Bai Ling, in this body and soul, is a gift. And this gift is not for me to keep. You only live once. I feel like the only brilliant, most beautiful thing you can be, is to be the pure extreme of who you are. No matter who you are. You have to go extreme to show it.
Next: Bai Ling on what she needs to win an Oscar, how she chooses her roles, and how she nabbed her role in Taylor Hackford’s Love Ranch, opposite Helen Mirren
Let’s talk about your acting. How do you view your career and your talents?
BL: I’m really a genius. I’m so talented. But the stage and the road of opportunities I have are not equal to my talent. Dumplings — I won four awards. It’s just magic. If you give me the stage, I’ll make magic for you. Therefore, I hope directors and producers can see it. I just want to give the gift; I know I have it. They talk about winning the [Academy Award] — I just need the vehicle. Not for winning, but to show you the brilliance that I can do. Like Sean Penn, my friend. All the brilliant actors say, “if I had the vehicle, I would be there.” Just to show people the talent that you have. The award is to celebrate; they’re not important to me, but of course it’s important that because of that, people would give me more opportunities, a stage to shine your talent. That’s what I want, not the awards.
We all have the special potential that only you have, nobody can do better. But you have to find that. There are people stuck their whole lives because they want to be movie stars, they want to make money and be famous. Money and fame are not the same as doing it to shine; those are the things people reward you with. If you hold on to [those things], you would be miserable.
You seem very fearless, in life and in your work.
BL: I really, really love what I do. I’m so daring; if a director asks me, Bai Ling, jump, I would jump. I’m not bulls***ing; I do everything for real. I do action myself. You see Crank 2; they hang me in a car, and you’ll see the car crash. At the same time when the car almost hits my body, they lifted me up. If they screwed up, my head would be gone. I have a stunt double, but I do it myself. People don’t know how hard I work. How much I give. I give everything. I was shooting Dumplings, and it was 100-something degrees, in a little apartment building with no air conditioning, and the meat was rotting… But I loved that character — so daring, so bold, so sexy. She tested me, tortured me, teased me.
Is it hard to deal with the negativity inherent in the entertainment business? How do you deal, knowing that you put yourself out there for all to accept, or not accept?
BL: I’m very proud that I did everything by myself. Nobody supported me; I didn’t rely on anybody, even my family. Sometimes I feel vulnerable, when people don’t understand me and try to trash me instead of celebrate me. I did everything — came from a foreign country, no money, no language, no nobody… and I made it, because purely I trusted. But sometimes I may get sad because people trash me and use harsh words, and wish for the worst. But I don’t want to be afraid…I still feel like a light, innocent, pure spirit, because I think in your heart there’s a candle light, and I have to protect that flame of fire, because it’s so fragile. Wherever you talk to people, wherever the darkness comes to you, you always imagine this little flame of candle light that you have to protect. If you feel it’s dark, then you move away. You don’t fight, because that’s when the light’s going to die for sure. Whenever you feel the shadows you close your eyes, smile, and leave, and don’t take it with you. But I’m a human being; those things hurt me, because I’m human and I have feelings. I can’t take the negativity because it’s a shadow on my soul; I’m here for a higher purpose. I have to protect myself. I just hope people see the beauty…
Years ago you went through a hard time when Chinese officials took offense to your participation in a film that criticized the government. How did you get through that time?
BL: Yeah, after Red Corner. But now it’s all solved. I went through a hard time, and I learned that politics are so much more complicated than my comprehension. I don’t like politics; I think most of the people are benefiting from the power. But also I learned there are consequences for my actions; I did Red Corner, I thought it was a brilliant woman that I was playing, but I got punished. So it’s kind of ironic; you learn things about the world that you just have to accept, and overcome your sadness to understand the other part. To understand China, which I did — I apologized, because that’s my country and I have to go back. It was a hard, hard experience for me, but I’m glad I went through it, just to learn and experience life in a harsh way.
Talking about the roles you choose, you seem to go for consistently strong and sensual female characters, but has it been difficult to do this as an Asian in Hollywood?
BL: In Love Ranch, there had been no Asian roles. It’s a true story about the first legal brothel in America, in Nevada. The role I got was written for a twenty-year-old white girl with big boobs, long hair, from Vegas. Her name is Samantha and she is the highest earning prostitute in that ranch. She’s not Asian, she was white. I auditioned with Taylor Hackford; I got the role with this audition. I’m so excited to see the movie. Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci [co-star], I’m so happy to work with both of them, and Taylor Hackford — I’m just really, really grateful that he gave me this role. He changed it. My character’s so arrogant; so mysterious. Helen Mirren was so nice to me. By the end, [Taylor Hackford] gave me a postcard with a note that said, “Bai Ling, you have no clue what a fascinating Samantha you created.”
Do you improvise very often? You’ve said you don’t act, you just live your roles.
BL: I think most brilliant actors are very intelligent. Like Helen Mirren, for example: when she played the Queen, the choices she made. How subtle; how brilliant. It’s about the intelligence behind the artist. You know the character. It’s how much you understand life. I assume, I think, most actors are intelligent people.
You’ve worked with many notable directors, including Richard Kelly; I was at the infamous Cannes premiere when Southland Tales debuted, which you had a role in. How did you reflect back on that experience given the reaction critics had to the film?
BL: I don’t judge people’s films like that; I think a person’s artistic journey is like a person’s life journey. It’s up and down, naturally. Natural growth is up and down. I think that the moment an artist goes through is the perfect moment that artist needs to go through, and for him in the moment, it’s the masterpiece he can give. I don’t really criticize or judge others; I find the beauty. For example, my own character is a brilliant character, and just for that I’m satisfied. And Justin Timberlake’s character — look how brilliant it is, what he created! I think this format is art, it’s not perfection of things. Art is supposed to be moving; film is a moving image.
I think critics have format in their minds. Of course, they’re brilliant and they know what is good or bad, they watch everything and they know every movie. You have comparison, you have knowledge. But I think sometimes you have to nourish an artist, it’s their journey. You can’t criticize Picasso’s blue period — that’s what made him, that’s his journey. It’s like the four seasons; you can’t say raining or snowing or too much sun is bad. If you think something is not an artist’s best, you can nourish them. You can say, that’s what I don’t like, and I understand why.
You have also worked with Luc Besson. What do you remember of that experience?
BL: You know what I learned from him? That human beings’ potential is unlimited. Because I learned French. I thought, how can I learn French, when I only had two weeks? I worked so hard; I worked until 12, and practiced my French until 2am.
You have a lot of projects coming up, and your career of late has included a lot of independent films. Is that all part of a deliberate career choice, or is there just a lack of roles available in studio films?
BL: I’m not planning or thinking too much. I think the roles just come my way. I had a lot of offers; like, last year I was working nonstop, from this set to that set. Sometimes I hadn’t even finished the script and I go. I feel like I’m lucky to be working and that I’m made offers. For me, it is work but it’s life; for example, one film takes me to Thailand, so I’ll go because it’s in Thailand. Another role I play because I like to play the role, and also because of the economy — and last year there weren’t a lot of films, and a lot of actors were not working, so I feel I’m lucky to be working.
You can find Bai Ling on her personal blog, and catch her next in Crank: High Voltage, which opens nationwide this Friday. Get the latest reviews and trailers here and check out more Five Favorite Films in our archive, including: