Best known for his work in John Woo's "Hard-Boiled" and "The Killer" as well as Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," international superstar Chow Yun-Fat is no stranger to action films. Chow is set to demonstrate his skills once again in the role of Master Yoshi in the live-action adaptation of Akira Toriyama's popular "Dragonball" manga and anime series, "Dragonball Evolution." The film, which opens in theaters April 10, features Chow's Roshi as the mentor to Goku, played by Justin Chatwin ("War of the Worlds"). Master Roshi learns that Goku is the grandson of his long-time friend Gohan (Randall Duk Kim, "The Matrix Reloaded") and trains him for the ultimate battle with Lord Piccolo (James Marsters, "Angel"), to prevent the villain from collecting the powerful Dragonballs and destroying Earth.
CBR News had the opportunity to visit the set of "Dragonball Evolution" in Mexico last year, and sat down with Chow to talk about his career, comic book movies and the process of brining "Dragonball" to the big screen.
CBR: Tell us about the character you play in the film, Master Roshi.
Chow Yun- Fat: I saw some pictures but I had the challenge of not having seen all the cartoons and the comic books. But based on the script, I think Master Roshi is a very funny guy, full of humor and he can master the super power. Because Master Roshi has a lot of super powers, he has to carry on for his good friend Gohan and take care of Goku. So I like the Master-and-the-student relationship. It is not like traditional Chinese kind of Master-and-student relationship, this is more like friends.
In the "Dragonball" books, Roshi's kind of a dirty old man and very lecherous. Does that translate into this PG=rated film version?
I think [director James Wong] did a very good job to balance the East and West. They know the audiences in West or Europe don't except this kind of over-the-top humor, you know. Maybe it's not very suitable for R-rating. If Master Roshi acts like his character from the comic book then that would be very crazy. I saw the script, which is very appropriate for my character now. Not too much but you can sense it a little bit. For instance, in the cartoon, Master Roshi is more than 300-hundred-years-old. He's a dirty old man with a white beard but this is different.
What's it like working with James Wong?
James Wong as a writer and director, he can show everything. He knows how to play every single scene. He gives me a lot of room to create Master Roshi. I realize that sometimes -- not sometimes, all the time, I'm over the top. He tells me, "Mr. Chow, Mr. Chow, too much, fall back." Which is good because this is the first time for this actor and this American director to make a movie together. So the East and West blend together is good. You have to think about it, you steal some technique, some skill to make it balanced. Yin and Yang.
Were you a fan of "Dragonball" before shooting the film?
Honestly, when they were released in 1985 or '86, in that period I was so busy when I was in Hong Kong doing all the John Woo movies, so I missed it. But I can catch up on it later.
How did you get along with your younger cast members on this film?
They more or less respect Master Roshi as Chow Yun-Fat, you know. We have a lot of fun on the set. You know, Emmy [Rossum], she knows how to sing and dance. Joon Park is a rap singer and Justin [Chatwin], he loves music. Every day on the set was like a party, a lot of fun. Even though I'm over fifty I'm still like twenty-five.
What was the most challenging scene for you in this film?
I think the comedy. The opening scene. You have to make it funny and make it serious to tell the younger generation because Bulma and Goku are coming to my home looking for the Dragonball. Finally, I have to tell them the background story. It is a fun scene but there is a lot of background story.
At this point in your career, how comfortable are you performing in English-language movies?
Honestly, I'm still learning everyday with my coach. My English is bad. But if you stick to Hong Kong, making all of the Hong Kong domestic movies, sooner or later you come up with good idea and Hollywood will buy you out, replace the director and some good actor replacing me. I think it was good opportunities that led to me learning more English because that gave me more opportunities for my age. You know, if I am acting in my country, that would be very limited character for me because I'm already over fifty. This is the fact, you know? You have to face it. So more or less, if I'm exposed in the Western world, maybe there will be more opportunities to let me play.
As an Asian actor in Hollywood, you get cast in a lot of stereotypical roles. Is Master Roshi in "Dragonball" a nice change of pace for you?
Yeah, the gangster, or waiter, or mafia, or drug dealer. So for an actor it is great opportunity to let audience see another side of Chow Yun-Fat. Or maybe you can see Yun-Fat in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," or you can see him as the King of Siam [in "Anna and the King"] but he always carries two guns, he's always the killer. So more as an actor on certain levels, we don't want to change, not on the money way or the working way. It's the interpretation of the characters that I want to take in a different direction.
Will you be doing either a sequel or prequel to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," as has been rumored for years?
I think they bought the rights but I don't know what happened to the writer and the studio. They have all the finance already but maybe they try to do it now, maybe a little later, I don't know. I hope so. Otherwise I'll be way old. I cannot wait.
Do you like making sequels?
Actually, if you are talking about "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," the sequel is more interesting than the previous one. It's talking about Michele Yeoh's boyfriend, and Li Mu-bai [Chow's character in the film] were buddies. By accident, Michele Yeoh's boyfriend saved Li Mu-bai and he sacrificed himself. It's very interesting. That's why Li Mu-bai has paid much respect to Michele Yeoh's character because he and she love each other but they still have a gap because they have a tragedy because of Michele Yeoh's boyfriend. Very interesting. Very shallow, but a lot of sentiments inside. It's more than the previous one. Because the people are more deep, they have more layers.
Is it always the script that draws you to a project?
I think the character is more important than anything. Like in the movie "The Replacement Killers," I play a killer, and in next movie, I play a dirty cop in "The Corruptor." Then "Anna and the King." "Bullet Proof Monk," I play a Master and now "Dragonball." I think different characters give me different inspirations.
What's the difference between making American films and making films in different countries?
More or less, men in China have more vision, different direction. Where in Hong Kong they stick to the commercial way. Hong Kong usually makes all the gang movies, action movies, Jackie Chan comedies or Stephen Chow comedies and that's it. They don't have this kind of money to invest in adventure movies or a thriller. So more or less in Hong Kong, our living and thinking is so narrow. The market is so narrow. So if you want to spread out your talent, you have to go somewhere else and find other resources to increase your ability in your performance, your language and your knowledge. Just like here, all the CGI amazed me. I've never seen that before. So this is a learning experience as an actor regarding to the blue screen, green screen. It's been a lot of fun.
Finally, with "Bullet Proof Monk" and now "Dragonball Evolution," you've been in two comic book films. Are you a comic book fan yourself and how do you feel about comic books being adapted into films?
Comic books are page-by-page, but now with movies, all the pages bring it together to become a movie. That is interesting. But I think comic books are more imagination, to let the readers think about something. Even some pictures without dialogue, you know, you see the picture and you have to fill with imagination. You can act your imagination with lines but in movie it's already there. It's two different issues. I'm not very fascinated about the cartoon character. But I saw a movie called "Sin City," it's from the comic, and it stuck with me. It's the content. The content of the movie is very extreme and very violent.
Check back with CBR News tomorrow for an interview with co-star James Marsters. "Dragonball Evolution" opens Friday, April 10.