“What I find really exciting is the increase in female-driven projects, as well as female directors in mainland China,” says our cover personality, the Chinese-American actress Celina Jade.
“Most producers I meet are women, and when I was working in Hollywood, most of them were men.” On Chinese screens Jade is encouraged by seeing “women being better represented every day here; women of all kinds are being written about and it’s very empowering”.
If you tried hard to dream up an actress meant for the modern age, she might well look like Jade on paper. This martial arts-trained, bi-racial, trilingual, multi-hyphenate professional was born and raised in Hong Kong, lived in London and the US, and now resides in Beijing. Highly bankable in both Western and Eastern markets, fluent in Cantonese, Mandarin and English, it helps that Celina Jade is gorgeous, strangely relatable and could probably also kick your ass.
With two blockbuster films and an indie flick awaiting release in China this year, the star’s schedule has been demanding. One is a tomb-raiding movie based on the popular Chinese novel Legendary Hunters, starring alongside Zhang Han Yu and Jiang Wu. Another is China Top Arms, about the country’s first all-female special- forces unit, and there’s an indie picture alongside Guo Tao, where she portrays “a pregnant woman facing the challenges of late-stage cancer”.
Jade is clearly determined not to be typecast; and is rather “excited to see how audiences will react” to these three different roles in succession.
Growing up surrounded by nature in Hong Kong’s Discovery Bay to film-veteran parents Roy Horan (who was one of Asia’s few successful Western kung fu stars) and Christina Hui, Jade admits that “in some ways I’m more of an island girl than a city girl”. For our cover shoot in Beijing, however, she ditches some of that natural girl-next-door quality, instead serving up bold, couture-clad fashionista with a razor-sharp attitude. She looks every inch the stone-cold fox.
“My red-carpet style is my little alter ego that my stylists have fun with, and my day-to-day style is just whatever this Gemini is feeling at the moment,” says the actress, with a laugh. “It’s ever-changing – like my nail colour.”
We start talking about dream projects; in the future Jade would love to work with Gong Li (“one of the most powerful actresses on screen, in my opinion”) and Wong Kar-wai as a director (“he could teach me a lot about my craft”), as well as Chow Yun-fat, whom she admires – “I think he’s such a humble person and I feel I could learn a lot from him as a human being,” she says. In the West, it’s veterans such as Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman. With her career in such ascendency, perhaps none of these seem like such a pipe dream.
I first met Jade when she was a sweet girl studying at Island School – we were both teens, growing up in Hong Kong’s tight-knit international circles. She was modelling at 13 (“it taught me to handle rejection”) and launched
a singing career at 14, fulfilling a childhood dream and releasing her inaugural EP under Japanese producer Tetsuya Komuro. Jade had her first Asian hit at the age of 15.
If she seems quite philosophical about her career, it’s perhaps because she realised by those teen stardom years that “fame is an illusion, and that it’s called the ‘wheel of life’ for good reason … What goes up must come down.”
Dad always told me the only still and peaceful place in a wheel is the very centre. And meditation helps you find that centre,” she muses. “You start to reflect on your identity and what defines you as a person, I love being in the arts, it’s all about expression, but in the end, the result really doesn’t matter as it’s not real.”
Before delving seriously into acting, Jade released her first self-written album in 2012, and wrote and performed theme songs for Chinese films and TV series. She’s since fronted campaigns for the likes of Audi, La Mer and Christian Dior. Today she’s a Lululemon ambassador in China.
After studying management at the London School of Economics, she eschewed a corporate career to pursue her passion. Forgive the “brains and beauty” cliché, but in this case, it’s true. There came a handful of Hollywood roles (The Man with the Iron Fists, Skin Trade, Triple Threat, Blue Bloods and April Flowers). And her portrayal of Shado in the DC Comics series The Arrow earned her a loyal legion of American and international fans.
“There are a lot of unknown elements in this industry, and talent doesn’t always equal success. I don’t fear ‘failure’ as I always know that I have other options,” says Jade, “In some ways, that brings me a lot of freedom in life, if that makes sense.”
When she eventually moved back to Asia, Jade starred in China’s highest-grossing box-office success Wolf Warrior 2 alongside her long-time friend actor Wu Jing, who also directed the film.
“To be honest, when Wolf Warrior 2 was released, I didn’t know exactly what to make of the box office,” she says. “When I was told we hit number one in the history of China and I saw how happy it made the whole crew, I was so happy for everyone. I’d watched Wu Jing struggle and work so hard over the years, so I really feel he deserved all the glory that came with the movie’s success. I was just lucky to be cast as the female lead.”
It was this role that cemented Jade’s star status – and a life in the mainland, where she’s been grateful to be “so welcomed over here by the industry and fans alike”. Charming Chinese audiences with her ethereal good looks, dynamic acting, and impeccable Mandarin, she’s riding the wave of China’s booming film industry (the Chinese box office overtook America’s last year) and experiencing first-hand the shifts in this colossal market.
“The work ethic here is incredible – people are so passionate about their work …There’s such a beautiful camaraderie on movie sets, you can feel that of us is grateful to be doing what we love.”
Jade’s development into a Chinese and international actress with complexity and range has been a joy to watch. But she admits that she “only got into acting because Wu Jing convinced me to. He changed my life 14 years ago by giving me my first break, in Legendary Assassin. I’m forever grateful to him. Once I got that acting bug, I was stuck … I love working in the mainland, to be honest. I was very, very lucky with Wolf Warrior 2, as it opened many doors for me.”
“I also met my husband here,” she adds, “so I really owe Wu Jing a lot!”
Marrying singer and actor Han Geng in an intimate New Zealand ceremony on the last day of 2019, Jade delighted family, friends and fans. Han, a former member of Korean boyband Super Junior, is also a prolific performer and currently stars as celebrity judge on one of China’s hottest TV talent shows. Now she’s really begun to embrace her life in Beijing, setting up a routine and doing “normal” things, such as discovering chic little spots around town and farms where she can pick up organic vegetables.
“We love the countryside just outside of Beijing and hiking has become a big part of our lives when we have time off. It’s just a beautiful place to be,” Jade says. “I also love Hebei nearby. If you’re an avid snowboarder or skier, ChongLi is just a few hours’ drive away.”
It all sounds rather charmed, but Jade admits that their schedules can get busy. “I think the most difficult thing in married life is finding a balance in how you both live,” she says. “My husband’s extremely supportive, so I’m really lucky.”
Even with taxing film schedules for months at a time, the pair have found “our way to connect despite the physical distance … It’s a good lesson for me. It teaches me not just to find happiness in another person, but also find it on my own and spend time sharing that happiness with my partner … When living together, it’s so easy to hope your partner fills your void, sort of thing, but that’s not the healthy way to go.”
The entertainment industry is known for its often- unhealthy doses of hedonism. Jade, however, has always seemed grounded – even in her teens. As a celebrity she’s remained scandal-free and has even unwittingly emerged as a wellness advocate due to her own healthy lifestyle: the nature-living vegetarian regularly practises meditation, sports and martial arts.
“It’s a mindset,” says Jade. “True martial artists aren’t violent and don’t seek conflict. They learn that the greatest battle is that of the monkey mind – and learning to control that is the key to happiness. Fighting is just a physical expression of that kind of control.”
Her father is her biggest influence in this aspect of life. Now a professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, a “neuroscientist and quantum physicist”, as a martial-arts actor in his youth, Horan was one of the few Caucasian faces to find success in Asia. He broke into Hong Kong films with roles in Bruce Lee’s Deadly Kung Fu (1977), Snuff Bottle Connection and The Ring of Death, before being cast as a Russian assassin in Jackie Chan’s Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow.
He began his spiritual path of self-discovery in the early ’80s, when he started practising yoga and meditation daily, which he taught his children. “He never missed a day till now,” says Jade. “Can you believe that? He really is the definition of self-discipline.” Growing up in that family, “he was the go-to person if you wanted to talk about the yi jing, feng shui, bazi or kung fu.”
Jade and her sister studied martial arts from childhood and the family “discussed big philosophical questions on outings”. Essentially, Horan wanted his daughters “to be fearless, independent women”. In this context, Jade’s character begins to make a lot of sense.
Emerging as one of China’s most sought-after leading ladies, as well as an embodiment of modern cross-cultural appeal in film, Jade has perhaps inherited some of her father’s discipline and her mother’s compassion. Her journey towards the top has been about professional development but also self-learning, spirituality, and constant evolution.
“I went through a difficult time with the passing of my mother to cancer, so I know that one day we must face death alone,” says Jade. “We really should spend our valuable short time on this Earth being present in each moment, present with ourselves, and if we’re with others, spreading our love and giving. Only when we give with open hearts will we be able to receive. That seems to be the law of the universe.”
Jade tells us that her mother always encouraged her to use fame to empower women, talk about the environment, and spread love and unity, “She said, ‘Be the light the world needs.’ And my dad’s attitude was always to go kick some ass!”
CREATIVE DIRECTION & STYLING ALVIN GOH
PHOTOGRAPHY SHENG YANG
ART DIRECTION TETEZI
STYLING ASSISTANT LULU
LIGHTING ASSISTANTS HAOCHI, LIANGLIANG
This story first appeared on Prestige Hong Kong.