From starring alongside Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny to playing a leading character in Netflix’s hit show Wu Assassins, Hong Kong-born martial artist and actress JuJu Chan seems to be taking the world of cinema by storm.
Having trained from the age of 10, Chan represented Hong Kong in the 2013 Taekwondo World Championship in Bulgaria. Since then, she’s gone on to win the championship in the 46kg category of the WMC The One Legend Thai Boxing competition. What’s more she’s a published writer, with two books to her name. We took a moment to find out about her inspirations and aspirations for her blooming career.
JuJu Chan demonstrates her martial arts skills at Hybrid MMA & Fitness Gym in Central.
Hair by Cannis Chan for BRUNEBLONDE and makeup by Kayan Lo.
Not at all. When I went to university I chose to major in computer science – because my father worked in that field – and a minor in dance. Meanwhile, I was also doing karate. Once I graduated I had to seriously think about my future, and I really couldn’t see computing being it. I realised I wanted to perform, but I had no idea how to make money doing that. So, I applied to do a Masters at NYU Tisch School, where so many famous performers had gone before. After graduating I saw myself as a stage performer and decided that the best way to break into the industry and get noticed was to compete in beauty pageants. It wasn’t until I met Director (and now husband) Antony Szeto that I realised I should combine my acting and martial arts skills to specialise as a female action actress.
I’m definitely in Hollywood at the right time as an Asian actor. My understanding is that there are a lot more roles available that are not race specific than before I was there. Certainly, I manage to do a lot of castings for major roles. But it’s more difficult for female martial artists to break into the movie business than for male martial artists, because there aren’t that many action roles for women. A war film or any action film usually has many male fighting roles, but less than a handful or in many cases, no female action roles at all. Things are changing, however, especially with the positive affect from the #MeToo movement and the demand for diversity on screen.
The most memorable role I’ve played would be Silver Dart Shi in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 2. At that time I had already played lead roles in several films, but they were all non-action roles. With Silver Dart Shi, not only did I love her character, but I also got to work with some of the biggest legends of Chinese action films including director Yuen Woo Ping as well as action stars Donnie Yen and Michelle Yeoh. Honestly, I had a blast making that film!
The most challenging has to be the role of Zan on Netflix’s Wu Assassins – an elite martial artist, lieutenant in a triad, and bodyguard to a high-ranking commander. I was able to help design her look, giving her a very edgy presence. The character was complex – I mean, how does a woman end up in such a high position in the triads? And as always, I did all my own fights and action in it. I had a fantastic fight team to work with, and a fight choreographer who was super creative and not afraid to give me challenging moves.
To me, it’s an honour to be given such comparisons; they are the extra forces that motivate me to continue improving my skills and performances. It also means that I need to always be at the top of my game. I need to keep training and improving, and not take things for granted. But of course, to me, I am totally focused on being JuJu Chan in the action film world.
Some of my favourite action stars are Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Gordon Liu, Kara Hui, Donnie Yen and Michelle Yeoh. They are all great martial artists and actors and I love watching their films, to be inspired by them and to learn from their work.
But my main influencers are Donnie Yen and Jackie Chan. I think that’s why I do many types of martial arts. Before them Hong Kong films were always about “Chinese Kung Fu” being better. But if you look at Donnie Yen, his martial arts skills are very mixed. Jackie Chan was more about acrobatics and comedy, which I would certainly like to explore for myself, too. I loved the fact that Jackie was making American films too. I was also specifically influenced by Michelle Yeoh’s career path. I love what she’s done in bringing women to the forefront of action, not so much in Chinese cinema which has a tradition of female action stars, and how she has made it into Hollywood.
I would really like to work with Damien Chazelle! This all goes back to my love for performance in its purest artform. I love dance, music and acting, and so I love La La Land. And Whiplash was so well done. I can’t wait to see what he does with his next film, Babylon.
Nicolas was such a great actor to work with. He really earned my respect. He worked super hard, never brought any ego onto the set, was amazing as an actor and generous towards everyone. I really want to work with him again.
Right now, I like Taekwondo and Muay Thai the most. Specialising in kicks and jump kicks is a lot of fun. I’m not a tumbler, so I don’t aim towards tricking. But I certainly enjoy challenging myself with working on effective spin kicks that also look great on screen.