Today sees the release of The Great Wall in China (US audiences will have to wait until February), a big-budget film with a lot riding on it, that has been subject to controversy over claims it has overlooked Chinese actors to focus on white ones.
With Matt Damon in the lead role (and Willem Dafoe as a minor one), much discussion has been about the casting a white male as the savior of the world.
In the past year, we have seen evidence that Hollywood very much understands the value (and money) that Chinese audiences can bring to the film industry. Likewise, Chinese filmmakers also realize that being able to reach Western audiences is the next step they need to take.
Therefore, Matt Damon.
But Jason Bourne is not the first famous western actor to make an appearance in a Chinese film. So let’s a look at the other Hollywood stars that have been forced to overcome language barriers to star in Chinese films as well as a couple that will be coming soon.
Note: there may be facts that some would deem to be spoilers.
Dragon Blade 天将雄师, Adrien Brody and John Cusack
What happens when ancient Chinese warriors meet Roman legions? You get an epic showdown between Jackie Chan and Academy Award winner Adrien Brody.
Not willing to simply stand by while Brody hogs all the attention from Chinese audiences, John Cusack (or Lloyd Dobler as he is forever known to some) has a starring role as the a Roman ally to Chan.
Big Shot’s Funeral 大腕, Donald Sutherland
A Chinese comedy from famed director Feng Xiaogang and starring Ge You, Big Shot’s Funeral is the story of a film director who falls into a coma whilst on set. His friend and cameraman then plans a big “comedy funeral”, believing it to be the director’s last wish.
Canadian acting savant Donald Sutherland plays the titular “Big Shot”, a man struggling to both connect with Chinese culture and find the inspiration to complete his film.
Wolf Warriors 战狼, Scott Adkins
When most people think of Chinese cinema, action is one of the first themes that come to mind. Genres such as wuxia, “gun” fu (you may not have seen the term gun fu before, but you’ve seen the Matrix, you know what it means), and triad films have seen the use of Western faces (mostly as villains for the main character to beat up).
While the likes of Chuck Norris and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar make up some of these names, an interesting recent addition has been Scott Adkins, you’ve probably seen in films such as The Expendables 2, The Bourne Ultimatum, and Dr Strange.
Wolf Warriors is a film about a Chinese special forces officer taking on a group of foreign mercenaries hired by a Chinese drug lord. No prizes for guessing who plays the final boss. While not a great film, the film does provide hilarious quotes (“They’re just Chinese soldiers” and “Never underestimate the Chinese army” are just a few) as well as enough fights to make it enjoyable…ish.
Jian Bing Man 煎饼侠, Jean-Claude Van Damme
Speaking of action stars, the Muscles from Brussels only made first appearance in a Chinese flick in the 2015 movie Jian Bing Man.
A film about making a film which ends with the promise of another film being made, Jian Bing Man features a litany of Chinese cameos. Van Damme comes on screen as himself playing the bad guy in the film within a film.
You got all that right?
The Flowers of War 金陵十三钗, Christian Bale
A brutal and jarring historical war drama, director Zhang Yimou could have done worse than to cast Christian Bale as an American priest hell-bent on saving a group of schoolgirls during the 1937 Rape of Nanking.
The best advice would be to mentally prepare yourself before switching on this movie. Also make sure the kids are asleep.
Back to 1942 一九四二, Adrien Brody and Tim Robbins
Mr Brody makes a return to this list aside Tim Robbins in this Feng Xiaogang historical film about the famine in Henan in 1942. They play a journalist and priest, respectively.
Ip Man 3 叶问3, Mike Tyson
The Ip Man trilogy contains some of the most intricate fight sequences you’ll see in modern Chinese cinema. The third instalment sees the Baddest Man on the Planet playing an American property developer (go figure).
Unlike other stars, Tyson does not turn out to be the final boss. Instead, he fights with Donnie Yen’s Ip Man and they part on friendly terms as equals, because no one can beat Iron Mike.
Gen-Y Cops 特警新人类2:机动任务, Paul Rudd
The most obscure appearance on this list comes in the form of Paul Rudd in the 2000 sci-fi action movie, Gen-Y Cops (sequel to Gen-X Cops), where he plays a cop who teams up with his Hong Kong counterparts to stop a rogue techie and his murderous robots.
Expect plenty of explosions, good-looking actors, and a handful of cheesy 90s special effects.
China Strike Force 雷霆战警, Coolio and Mark Dacascos
[Screenshot grabbed from Tudou]
OK, so I lied. Paul Rudd is not the most random entry—Coolio is.
The American rapper most famous for his 90s one-hit-wonder Gangsta’s Paradise followed up with a supporting role in this 2000 Hong Kong action movie along side martial arts mainstay, Mark Dacascos.
Coolio plays a…well…drug dealer named…Coolio.
And that’s all you need to know about this film.
The Bombing 大轰炸, Adrien Brody, Bruce Willis, and Mel Gibson
Scheduled for release in 2017, The Bombing features not one, not two, but three Hollywood figures.
And yes, that is Adrien Brody making his third appearance. Bruce Willis comes in as an air force officer in this historical war film (again?) set during the bombings of Chongqing in World War II.
Mel Gibson, unfortunately, does not feature in the film. Instead he serves as a creative director. So, expect buckets of violence.
Cover image from Mtime