Distinguished martial arts star and actress JuJu Chan left a spritely impression with Adrian Castro’s award-winning short, Hit Girls alongside Maria Tran back in 2013 in my own discoveries. She’s been a sight to see ever since with hopes all the more prevalent that she’d become a greater film presence in due time, missed opportunities notwithstanding.
To say the least, the uptick in work over the last several years has been gradual and hugely welcome. Her status as a Hong Kong national athlete with accolades earned in Taekwondo and Thai boxing have paved the way for opportunities to work with and stand among the best in entertaimment with a current raft of TV and film titles coming forthwith.
For most action fans, the upcoming Netflix streaming release, Wu Assassins, couldn’t come any sooner, and with Indonesian action superstar Iko Uwais dominating the fray with a vision of fight choreography that has all but reshaped the landscape of martial arts action cinema since breaking out in 2009 with Merantau, and the perpetually violent hit twofers, The Raid and The Raid 2.
It’s an assuring legacy to be a part of – a career specialized in a feat of performance host to some of the most strenuous training, intensity and upkeep anyone could endure. It seems for JuJu, the givin’s been worth every ounce she’s gotten’ and it’s safe to say there’s no immediate end in sight.
The actress was in the midst of filming Dimitri Logothetis’s new film, Jiu Jitsu, when I shot these questions to forward via her fiancé, filmmaker Antony Szeto, so it took a little waiting before finally getting these answers back. Special thanks to co-authors Caitlin Hutson, Peter Pedro Gagnon, Jacques Karavasilis, Chad Cramer and Filmsmash.com’s own Cesar Alejandro Jr. for joining in to make this particular interview something special.
You just did Jiu-Jitsu with Alain Moussi and Tony Jaa, you have Wu Assassins coming soon as well as Invincible Dragon with Max Zhang and Anderson Silva. Has this been a banner year for you?
This has definitely been a very busy year for me. From shooting Wu Assassins which ended late last year, to taking meetings and doing castings throughout the early part of 2019, promotion of Invincible Dragon through June and July, dashing to Cyprus for Jiu Jitsu, back to HK and China for the Jackie Chan International Film Week Closing Ceremony where I was Nominated for Best Actress in Hollow Point, and now back in Cyprus to finish shooting. Plus organising my wedding! Well…. my fiancé Antony does most of that part. ? Meanwhile I’m preparing for the Wu Assassins launch, with all its promotion that goes along with it.
Talk briefly about Invincible Dragon and the role you play. I might add it’s been a few years since the first teaser released back in 2017 and so it’s a relief to see this finally make the rounds.
It’s a relief for me too that it’s finally released! I played Mrs. Lady Sinclair in Invincible Dragon, the wife on Alexander Sinclair, played by Anderson Silva. I absolutely loved the character, as she was both a very strong and loving woman. I don’t want to give too much away to those who haven’t seen the film yet, but the character becomes the prime suspect in a spate of murders, which leads me to have a spectacular fight against Max Zhang. Kind of a dream come true for me! The film centres around Kowloon, played by Max, who gets himself transferred to a quiet police station because of his heavy handed style of policing. There he starts investigating murders of police women which begin to link to his past.
I also read that your latest film with Daniel Zirilli, Hollow Point, made a more than favorable impression with audiences at the NOIDENTITY – International Action Film Festival with Dilan Jay becoming the first Sri Lankan to star in an award-winning American action movie. Talk about working with this cast and crew.
I’m so grateful to Daniel for casting me in this leading female role, where I play a kick ass vigilante. Everyone worked hard to try and deliver something great on what was really a very tight budget. I was really impressed by Luke Goss’s work, he has amazing presence! And I especially loved working with our DP, Carmen Cabana. So rare having a female DP, let alone one who knows how to shoot action.
That film was shot in a span of thirteen days. I read factoids like that about some films and I don’t have any set experience, so in my mind, 13 days feels VERY short. So I’m just curious to know about productions like that. Were those days consecutive? Like, back-to-back? How tight was it?
Yes, it was extremely tight! Shooting action normally needs more time in the first place. I think that’s one of the reasons why Daniel casted me for Amanda Ray. I didn’t need much preproduction training and I was able to work efficiently with stunt coordinator Arnold Chon and his team to come up with cool fight moments for me. It was also a first for me to help choreograph my own fights! Loved that opportunity.
PETER PEDRO GAGNAN: What’s your typical training regimen?
To start with, I walk as much as I can. Living in LA people think I’m crazy as I often walk hours from home to meetings. With my martial arts, I train almost daily if I can. I start my warm up by working my nunchucks, then it’s weight training followed by kicks/stretching and other martial arts work. I adjust depending on what work may be coming up.
CAITLIN HUTSON: What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a female martial artist on set?
Being babied by other male martial artists is very annoying to me. To make a fight scene work you have to work together, but if your opponent is holding back, or worried that I might make a mistake and so delays his punches, then the fight scene won’t look good. I just wish people would trust woman more when working on fight scenes.
CH: Do you ever feel the need to “man up” in order to be taken seriously, or have things evolved enough in the industry that you no longer feel this is an issue?
I’m actually kinda of a girly girl, so I don’t like to “man up” for anyone. That being said I feel that I’m quite assertive. I think the industry still has some way to go before woman can really feel that they’re being seen as equals by men (and sometimes other women). It’s certainly improved after the Me Too movement, but the road is still long.
CHAD CRAMER: How do you feel about being referred to as the “Female Bruce Lee” and does she feel like that puts added pressure on here to succeed?
It’s the scariest thing in the world being called the Female Bruce Lee! For starters, I don’t think anyone can live up to being called the “anything Bruce Lee”. Bruce Lee just has too big a pair of shoes for anyone to fill. But I certainly believe in his philosophy as a martial artist. Having competed in fights at an international level I’m very aware of the difference between fighting on screen, and really fighting opponents. I train hard, and I’m always interested in learning different styles, separating what’s practical from what looks fancy. One thing’s for sure, since the press gave me this title it’s made me train even harder!
Wu Assassins has a LOT of martial arts fans bulging with excitement right now. Talk about this series for us and the role you play, Zan and working closely with Byron Mann.
I’m SOOOOOO excited about Wu Assassins. Firstly, as an Asian American it’s fantastic to have a contemporary story that’s centred around our culture. Secondly, of course, it’s a martial arts action TV show with actual martial artists in starring roles… FINALLY!!! I mean, okay Warrior is now first with doing this by having great action actors like Joe Taslim, Jason Tobin and Andrew Koji… so happy that they’ve made such a success of that. But Wu Assassins, being a contemporary setting, allows for much more scope in terms of martial arts variety. There is also an entire supernatural element to it that hails back to the old Hong Kong martial art films where heroes fought villains with fantastical qi gong abilities. But by no way will the actual martial art skills be watered down. Iko Uwais, Byron Mann, Mark Dacascos, Lewis Tan, Katheryn Winnick (who’s a taekwondo black belt herself) and myself, all being familiar with the action genre, have all worked hard to make sure that we deliver what the martial art fans will want. And, OMG, I so loved playing Zan. She’s the right hand (wo)man and bodyguard of Byron Mann’s character, Uncle Six, who’s the head of the San Fransisco triad. Now think of this… for anyone to become the bodyguard of a triad boss you’re going to have to have had cracked a lot of skulls! Zan is a fighting machine!!! I couldn’t have asked to be casted into a better role. And Byron, with all his experience, was so great to work with. He is tremendous as Uncle Six. But don’t just take me on my word, go watch Wu Assassins to find out for yourselves!
Tell us about the team involved with fight design and stunts. I know your co-star Lewis Tan has spoken highly about them on social media.
Wow… that fight team…DREAM COME TRUE! Of course you’ve got the Uwais fight team working on this, so no need to say more there. But what I didn’t expect was the local Canadian team from M1 Fight Design, kinda like the 87eleven of Canada. Fight choreographer Dan Rizzuto has an amazing depth of knowledge both in the martial arts and in film making. This means on top of great original actions, he also knows how to work the camera and edit so that we get the most incredible shots. I now want to work with his team all the time!
JACQUES KARAVASILIS: On Wu Assassins, was it difficult to adapt to the Silat-based choreography? Your base style is ITF Taekwondo, right?
After getting my black belt, I competed in ITF Taekwondo tournaments. But before that I had already trained in judo, karate, and various styles of kungfu. Indeed silat is different to all these styles, but not so far off either, so it didn’t take me long to get a general hang of it. I certainly don’t consider myself proficient in silat, which is why I want to train more at it. I think the Uwais team gets a little sick of me grabbing them to teach me more moves. ?
Working with a cast like this, and especially with someone like Iko who has been SO transformative and influential for the genre in the last ten years – what goes on in your mind when you reflect on that fact?
When I first found out I got the role in Wu Assassins, and I knew Iko was leading it, I was totally wowwed! I’ve seen the Raid and Raid 2 when they all first came out, so I was a fan of his from way back. It really was a dream come true for me to have this chance to work with him. The great thing was when I finally got to meet him he was so down to earth that it made it really easy to be around him. We’re now great friends, and along with Mark Dacascos, who before this film I only knew as my fiance’s friend.
Favorite Iko film. Favorite fight scene. Go.
The Raid, Table fight.
We’ve had several amazing years with Into The Badlands, Cinemax is bringing the heat with Warrior and both those shows bring their own original flair and purpose. Some fans might say there’s a certain expectation for these shows to top each other, I guess. In your view, would you say that’s the case? Or would you say it’s just more about being part of that pantheon of TV greatness?
I think martial art fans will always compare one show from the next. And for sure there’ll be disagreements amongst them as to which is better or worse. But we can probably agree that if you do a martial art show without using martial artists, then chances are the show will suck…BIG TIME! The great thing with Into The Badlands, Warrior, and now Wu Assassins, the fights are done by people who can both act AND do their own fights. The very fact that Wu Assassins will be at the level that fans will compare it to the cool shows like ITB and Warrior is a compliment to us. I’d like to think we’ll deliver something better though ? …and I look forward to hearing what the fans say.
I think these shows are part of a beautiful and livening trend. It harkens back to my days as a 12-year old watching Russell Wong in Vanishing Son and shows like Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. What were some of your favorite television, or even film influences growing up? Any anime in that line-up too?
Being from Hong Kong and growing up there, I watched lots of home grown films. So I guess a lot of these films influenced my in some way. Apart from the obvious like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Donnie Yen films, when I really think about it I’m sure that Stephen Chow gives me a lot of ideas when I develop characters. With anime, as a little girl, I was totally into Sailor Moon and Doraemon.
PPG: How do you see the martial arts/action film genre evolving?
I think it evolves as it has always evolved: looking for new and surprising moves, and personalities that are new and relevant to the generation. When things go down in this genre I don’t think it’s because the genre is tired, I think it’s because the people doing it is old and there’s no new blood.
CH: How do you think the role of female action stars, and particularly women of color, will evolve in the next 5-10 years?
I think the next 5 to 10 years will be the growth of opportunities for all minorities. From my answer above, it’s about being new and relevant to the times. What better way to be new than to find a woman of colour to be a martial arts star? But whoever that person is they need to be relevant to the audience of then.
CH: What’s the coolest or most challenging skill you’ve ever had to learn for a project? What was your process for learning it?
Because I’m always trying to do something different I’m constantly trying to learn new things. It’s part of the job. What tends to be really challenging is not at all to do with the action side, it’s always more to do with the acting side. Like trying to put on an accent, or have a peculiarity to the character that’s really not me – okay, that might not be considered cool to most people, but it’s cool to me when I can do it.
PPG: How can filmmakers get better at shooting action?
Practice practice practice, be extremely critical, then practice lots more… listen to criticism… repeat.
CESAR ALEJANDRO JR.: Traditionally Asian roles have been fairly limited in Hollywood television and film though that seems to be changing in recent years. What kind of challenges do you think have been removed, lessened, and/or changed just within the span of your career in the entertainment industry?
The big change is the entrance of Netflix. As a global TV network they need to cater to global tastes. That’s meant they bring in more diversity. NOW look at their audience! Meanwhile, films that have added more diversity have proven successful. While films that have white washed have had some bad box-office experience. Okay, I’m generalising here, but there’s certainly enough evidence to make producers and investors very aware of the importance of at least considering more diversity when casting a film or TV series.
What are some other trends and topics about the industry, be it Hollywood, Asia or elsewhere, that are important to you and that you would like to see improve or approached more?
Women’s stories, character depths and their empowerment are very big to me. Okay, I’ve done some pretty two dimensional female roles in the past, but I had to start somewhere. But as I’m allowed more and more say in my characters I do take the time to give these characters more depth, and way vessel to tell a story really from a woman’s perspective. That’s a very cool thing for me.
What would you say are some of your biggest lessons and takeaways in your career going forward?
Don’t take no for an answer. When something looks like shit, fix it! Surround yourself with good, hardworking, positive people. I’m sure there’s more… but that’s off the top of my head.
JK: When I asked Jesse Johnson why you didn’t have any fight scenes in Savage Dog, he replied that when he set-up the film, he had no idea at the time that you are a trained martial artist? How disappointed were you?
VERY!!!! OMG… I so wanted to fight in that film. And really, the character I played was so far from the type of character I like playing. But hey, as I said above, I had to start from somewhere. But now that Jesse’s worked with me I hope he’ll find a character more challenging to me.
Can you give us any particular updates on Jiu Jitsu?
It’s all in the can! We’ve wrapped!!! I just flew back to Hong Kong today and so had time to answer all these great questions.
Do you and Szeto have any star/director projects in the works? I spotted something on IMDb called Wild Kat, so that had me curious.
We’re been trying to get Wild Kat off the ground for a few years now. It’s a real quirky female lead actioner. But Antony’s also got a couple more scripts in the works for me. I love working with him so fingers crossed we get something funded to work on together again.
PPG: What are your goals for 2020 and beyond?
I want to star in a Marvel film!
Thank you so very for taking the time out of your busy schedule to partake in this Q&A of ours. On that note, do you have any final thoughts to share as we exit this sesh?
I super appreciate the time and thought put into all these questions you’ve all given me. Please support us by watching Wu Assassins. The more fans we get, the more we can make, so please be there for us. Much love to you all!!!