A God And A King: Chow Yun-Fat and Shah Rukh Khan

April 1, 2009 at 5:39 am 25 comments

Chow Yun-Fat sparks it up, A Better Tomorrow, 1986

Chow Yun-Fat sparks it up, A Better Tomorrow, 1986

After viewing Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, my first Shah Rukh Khan film, at this year’s San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, I’ve been happily watching as many of his films as I can get my hands on. Since I’ve been living under a rock since my first daughter was born in 2000 I’d never had the pleasure of viewing one of Khan’s movies, though I’d heard of him before. His dominance in the Hindi-language film market reminds me of the heyday of Chow Yun-Fat, another flamboyant and charismatic actor who in his prime ruled supreme over his film industry and who in the 1980s and 90s was the undisputed lord of Chinese-language cinema. However, Shah Rukh Khan’s fate may be very different than Chow’s, as he’s so far chosen a different career trajectory than his suave Chinese counterpart.

The King of Bollywood looking suave, 2009

King Khan looking suave, 2009

Khan, also know as SRK or King Khan to his fans, is the reigning monarch of Bollywood, India’s Hindi-language commercial film business that turns out movie musical extravaganzas by the hundreds every year and that’s one of the biggest film industries in the world. Khan is by nature an exuberant, flashy actor who’s also able to turn in more subtle performances as befits the role he’s playing. Like most Bollywood stars he’s also an excellent dancer and he’s got great comic timing as well. Not to mention dramatically arched eyebrows, dimples to die for and a recently buffed-out bod featuring a killer six-pack. Shah Rukh Khan’s first name literally translates as “face of the king” so it’s fitting that he’s the top actor in Bollywood. The 43-year-old performer has appeared in over sixty films since breaking into the scene in 1992, including Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, which has been running continuously in Mumbai theaters for a record-breaking 700 weeks since its release in 1995. Khan’s won seven Filmfare Best Actor statues as well as many other Indian film awards and his name is a virtual guarantee of box-office success throughout the subcontinent and beyond.

CYF in his prime, The Killer, 1987

CYF in his prime, The Killer, 1989

Similarly, from 1976-1995 Chow Yun-Fat appeared in more than 70 films in his native territory of Hong Kong and he was the standard-bearer for the heyday of Hong Kong cinema in the 1980s and 90s. His easy charm and screen presence, graceful athleticism and overall hotness garnered him huge critical and popular acclaim in classics like A Better Tomorrow, Hard-Boiled, and The Killer (all directed by John Woo), as well as City On Fire, Prison On Fire, and Full Contact (Ringo Lam), God of Gamblers and God of Gamblers Returns (Wong Jing), and An Autumn’s Tale (Mabel Cheung) and All About Ah-Long (Johnnie To). He was nominated ten times for Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards, with three wins, for A Better Tomorrow (1986), City On Fire (1987), and All About Ah-Long (1989). Like Shah Rukh Khan, his name on the bill meant surefire ticket sales, not only in Hong Kong but throughout most of Asia. At that time the native film industries of Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and other Asian territories had not yet fully developed and audiences depended on Hong Kong imports for much of their cinematic fare. Chow was Asia’s biggest movie star and was commonly known as the “God of Actors.”

Thai Chow, Anna and the King, 1999

Thai Chow, Anna and the King, 1999

In 1997, Chow decided to try his luck in Hollywood, hoping to parlay his huge popularity in Asia into a successful career in the West. Things initially looked promising, with the Los Angeles Times declaring him “the coolest actor in the world,” before he had even appeared in a Hollywood movie. But his first U.S. films, including The Replacement Killers, The Corruptor, and Anna and the King, were less than successful and since then the roles he’s gotten have been a mixed bag. Hollywood has never really figured out what to do with Chow, as evidenced by his relatively paltry output of only nine movies in the twelve years since his trek across the Pacific (compared to his starring in ten films in Hong Kong in both 1986 and 1987 each). He’s been in a few successful films, including Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but his highest-grossing Hollywood film to date has been Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End, where he played a sinister Fu Manchu-type character that was such a stereotypical caricature that the Chinese government trimmed ten minutes of his performance “for vilifying and defacing the Chinese” before allowing the film to screen in China.

Chow Hawai'ian, Dragonball: Evolution, 2009

Chow Hawai'ian, Dragonball: Evolution, 2009

CYF’s most recent film, Dragonball: Evolution, is a supporting, Mr. Miyagi-type role that’s a far cry from the towering heroes of his prime. Chow is obviously cognizant of his disappointing travails in Hollywood. In a recent tour of Asia in support of Dragonball: Evolution, he noted, “American audiences know only Chinese kung-fu movies and nothing else about us, and I am not a kung-fu actor. We (Asian actors) don’t get any non-kung-fu or non-gangster/fighting offers. We only get Asian-specific roles. They don’t offer anything non-ethnic to us, not like they would do for Denzel Washington or Will Smith.”  Chow has recently returned to Hong Kong cinema, appearing in Ann Hui’s The Postmodern Life of My Aunt (2006). His next role is the lead in the Chinese biopic of Confucius, the seminal Chinese philosopher and scholar, which began shooting this week.

Buff, toned and cut Shah Rukh Khan, Om Shanti Om, 2008

Buff, toned and cut Shah Rukh Khan, Om Shanti Om, 2008

At 43 years old Shah Rukh Khan is now about the same age as was Chow Yun-Fat when he left Hong Kong in 1997 to try to conquer Hollywood. Khan is at the top of his game both as an actor and as a producer, with his Red Chillies Entertainment putting out hit movies like 2008’s Om Shanti Om, which is the second-highest grossing Bollywood film of all time. In 2008 Newsweek named him one of the 50 most influential people in the world (Barack Obama topped the list).

With his fluent English and charisma to burn it might seem like SRK could be a crossover performer, yet when asked if he’s likely to try his hand breaking into Hollywood, Khan is philosophical, noting, “It’s not like Steven Spielberg is waiting with a script for me. I don’t think I’ll ever be offered a great international film in my lifetime, so I’d rather be a king here.”  However, SRK fans spotted him paired as a presenter with Slumdog Millionaire star Freida Pinto at the last Golden Globe Awards and in front of an international television audience he came off like a champ.

Khan may also be approaching Hollywood from a different angle, as a mogul rather than as a performer. At one point there were reports that Walt Disney Productions planned to invest $30 million in Khan’s Red Chillies production house. This might ultimately give him more creative control over any roles he might take in Hollywood, since money talks in Tinseltown.

I can’t help but think that SRK has learned something by observing Chow Yun-Fat’s frustrating attempts to break into the top ranks of Hollywood. Other Hong Kong actors also seem to have been watching Chow’s painful efforts and are either approaching Hollywood with caution or are sidestepping it altogether. Comedy superstar Stephen Chow Sing-Chi so far has simply re-packaged his HK product for the U.S. market (Shaolin Soccer; Kung Fu Hustle), though at one point he was slated to star in and direct the big-screen version of The Green Hornet. Instead of braving Hollywood, Francis Ng has polished up his Mandarin and is mostly taking roles in Mainland China productions. And the numbers of Asian American actors who have had to flee from the U.S. to Asia to find success are legion, including Daniel Wu, Daniel Henney, and of course Bruce Lee. Although times are changing and Slumdog Millionaire won Oscar’s Best Picture this year, roles for Asian lead actors are still non-existent in Hollywood (sorry, John Cho). If Chow Yun-Fat, God of Actors, with his mind-blowing charisma, talent, and good looks, has had to struggle to make it in the U.S. and is relegated to crappy films like Bulletproof Monk, why should lesser mortals expect any better?

NOTE: Thanks to my colleague Marlon Hom for the Chow Yun-Fat interview translation.

UPDATE: Rumor alert! I just heard that Chow Yun-Fat is possibly slated to portray Sun Yat-Sen in the new Peter Chan-produced HK blockbuster, Bodyguards & Assassins. No link yet–will update when confirmed.

UPDATE 2: Alas, rumors about CYF playing Sun Yat-Sen were inaccurate. He decided to take the part in Confucius instead. Though I’m sure he would’ve been great as both Chinese icons. Now Leon Lai Ming is rumored to be Sun Yat-Sen, which would probably suck, since Lai Ming is boring, can’t act and has no charisma. But he’s tall, so maybe that’s all that matters.

UPDATE 3: Maybe SRK is heeding Hollywood’s siren song after all. Reports state that he’s angling to meet “serious” film director Deepa Mehta in hopes of landing a role in one of her arthouse flicks, the better to possibly attract the attention of Oscar voters in the near future. If this is indeed true, let’s hope that King Khan fares better than CYF in his dalliance with Hollywood.

UPDATE 4: Go here to read about my night with Shah Rukh Khan, as an extra on his latest film, My Name Is Khan.

Here are a couple Shah Rukh Khan musical numbers for your viewing pleasure.

Dard E Disco (Pain of Disco), from Om Shanti Om:

Suraj Hua Maddham, from Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham, with Kajol:

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No Regrets: San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, part two 10,000 maniacs + gratuitous Francis Ng pix

25 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Wilson Wong  |  April 1, 2009 at 7:36 am

    Actually CYF wasn’t in “Bullet in the Head”, but it did star another incredible actor, the one and only Tony Leung Chiu Wai.

    Speaking of Tony, Chow Yun Fat was originally up for his role (Zhou Yu) in Red Cliff, reuniting him with John Woo! Asia’s Deniro/Scorsese combo! But I read that after signing on, Chow quit before shooting began over insurance issues or Chow wasn’t prepared to learn mandarin.

    The result, Chow makes Dragonball Z (which I ain’t gonna watch), now Woo-Chow reunion, and this fanboy’s heartbroken. Anyhoo love the blog Valerie! Hope all is well.

    PS: SRK got abs i envy. Damn him and his dramatic eyebrows.

    Reply
    • 2. valeriesoe  |  April 1, 2009 at 3:17 pm

      Hey Wilson,
      Thanks for the correction re: Bullet In The Head. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it & it was late when I wrote that so I’m glad you caught it. Now fixed.
      I heard about CYF & Red Cliff–I was so excited when I heard he was teaming up with John Woo again. When it fell through I too was heartbroken. Plus Tony Leung CW would’ve still been in it, in the Takeshi role, I think, so it would’ve been a double reunion. Chow’s learning Mandarin now anyways to play Confucius so it’s our loss all around. : (
      I agree, no Dragonball for me, either, unless I see it on youtube for free. And, yes, SRK’s abs are something else, which is why I’m happy to post the picture and the video of them. Apparently he got all cut in only three months of working out, after his young son told him he was fat (which he totally wasn’t). Plus he wanted to compete with Salman Khan and Hrithik Roshan, who are seriously buff.

      Reply
  • […] A God And A King: Chow Yun-Fat and Shah Rukh Khan « beyondasiaphilia […]

    Reply
  • 4. _ram-jaane'  |  April 1, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Frankly, I think there is a certain attitude here that I respect of King Khan. We have an industry that we can put across on a larger platform. We don’t need you, you need us & Sony / Disney, even Universal agree with this.

    You might find this article of interest:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/22/movies/22chop.html

    Reply
    • 5. valeriesoe  |  June 5, 2009 at 9:14 pm

      This is a great link, thanks! And thanks for reading. It will be better if Bollywood lets Hollywood come to them, instead of the other way around. It’s always better to be the one being pursued. Hopefully SRK and the rest of Bollywood will just bide their time until the right offer comes their way.

      Reply
  • 6. indigo  |  April 3, 2009 at 12:41 am

    hee hee, i was waiting for you to post something about your new srk obsession! pain of disco — it hurts so good!

    Reply
  • 7. valeriesoe  |  April 3, 2009 at 3:25 am

    Hi Indigo,

    you wrote:

    hee hee, i was waiting for you to post something about your new srk obsession!

    Not to mention my longstanding Chow Yun-Fat obsession! He was my first big HK actor crush, though he’s been supplanted by Francis Ng. But CYF will always have a special place in my heart : )

    But I’m glad to have an excuse to post that SRK picture—you know the one I’m talking about. : p

    v.

    Reply
  • 8. judith  |  April 24, 2009 at 1:53 am

    este hombre es un super hombre quisiera conocerlo

    Reply
    • 9. valeriesoe  |  April 28, 2009 at 11:32 pm

      !Yo tambien—quizas algun dia!

      v.

      Reply
  • […] known for a while that Shah Rukh Khan’s newest movie, My Name Is Khan (MNIK), would be filming in California this summer and I was […]

    Reply
  • […] Samurai! has gone viral. This very blog entry has outstripped the site’s previous champion Shah Rukh Khan (and his six-pack) as the top post of the week and news of the faux-site has travelled far and wide around the […]

    Reply
  • 12. barbara  |  October 16, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    teamo sharu khan eres mi amor platonica cuando vienes a peru aca todos te amamos tu saves yo principalmente barbara La UnIcA te amo mucho y me encanta como actuas y bailas eres un amor

    Reply
  • […] reasons for the healthy traffic on this site. Along with fellow semi-naked movie star Edison Chen, SRK’s posts have received fully one-quarter of the total visits to this blog. Nothing like a little celebrity […]

    Reply
  • 14. melek  |  November 11, 2009 at 8:20 am

    i love my man shahrukh khan he is the best (I LOVE HIM SO MUCH)

    Reply
  • 15. malika  |  January 5, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    wow du bist der Hammer
    du bist soo süß
    und ur geiles KÖRPER dazu
    woooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow

    Reply
  • 16. Ramona  |  January 21, 2010 at 12:16 am

    wooow echt hamma geiloo möchte dich gern treffen

    Reply
  • 17. Ramona  |  January 23, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Filme von Shahrukan echt hamma die lieb ich

    und sein Körper hamma geil und süß grrr I Love You

    Reply
  • 18. shahid khan  |  March 8, 2010 at 6:09 am

    i love shahrukh

    Reply
  • 19. dikra darin  |  March 16, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    i lik srk so much and i respect him for his works

    Reply
  • 20. saima  |  March 27, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    i love srk.

    Reply
  • 21. Tony Birganza  |  April 10, 2010 at 3:42 am

    ” I Love King Khan”
    aapke” six pack” mujhe Bohot Acche Lagte Hain. Main Ghar Par Sabse Aapki Bohot Tarif Karta Hoon.

    Reply
  • 22. chandana  |  May 13, 2010 at 7:08 am

    i just love srk so much……

    Reply
  • 23. manouch  |  May 27, 2010 at 10:02 am

    I love him, he is the best actor in the world and i wish i met him

    Reply
  • 24. rishav  |  June 13, 2010 at 11:37 am

    he is dashing ,sexy and handsome ,good personlaty he is having . i m a big fan of srk. i wanrt to meet him .

    Reply
  • […] where I experienced a full-on immersion in Asian films. Officially I was there to present a paper (A God And A King: Chow Yun-Fat and Shah Ruhk Khan) at the Asian Cinema Studies Conference at Hong Kong University, but I also attended the Hong […]

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