By Ninette Cheng
Northwest Asian Weekly
This week, I talked with Chinese-born American actress Bai Ling over the phone. We discussed her new movie, being
an Asian actress in Hollywood, China, and — of course — the controversial Playboy photo shoot.
Hello, Bai Ling. How are you doing?
Good. I am in beautiful San Francisco.
Tell us about your new movie “Crank: High Voltage” and your character.
The film opens on the 17th of April all over the world. It’s a comedy-action. My role, she is hilarious. … She has high-heel shoes, and one heel is gone. The first [time] you see my character, [she is] blown up, dropped from the second floor [onto] the ground. Jason Statham’s character saves her life. … She says “I am yours,” [as] Statham’s character is looking for his heart. It’s funny; it’s shocking; it’s crazy. I think the young kids will really like it. [And] I did my own stunts.
What are some of the differences you’ve noticed or experienced regarding being an Asian in Hollywood?
I noticed the reality of the fact [that] Hollywood is an industry making a product for consumers. The consumers here are Caucasian, obviously. People trying to change [it] and complain [about it] are just not realistic. In Asia, all the lead characters are Asian.
For me, I am just very lucky to show my talent, to [play] the roles that I got. They are all characters not [originally] written for Asians — like [in] “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” (2004). I’ve been working so much. I’ve enjoyed the process of just giving my talent to the art. … The gift that I have is not for me to keep, but to give. That’s why I’m in Hollywood. Right now, the one thing that I feel a little bit frustrated about is that I would like to [play] more quality characters. But I’m grateful. I enjoy working.
Do you think opportunities are opening up for Asian actresses? Do they still mostly just get “Asian” roles?
I think there are no roles opening up to Asian actresses. With “Love Ranch” (to be released in 2009), the role is nothing like me — blond, big boobs, 20 years old, white. … [but] I got the role. It’s an individual journey, and you have to open the door [and] show yourself. It’s not like Hollywood will intentionally open the doors for you.
You’ve posed for Playboy and revealed a little extra in your outfits in the past. What is the reaction to your public persona at home in China? Do the antics outshine your acting?
Each passing day, [I] enjoy the moment. Whatever I’ve done before, it’s like a chapter I’ve closed. For me, I’m glad I was the first Asian actress [on the Playboy cover]. I come from such a primitive place, and this is the Western man’s bible, and I’m on the cover. That’s something for me.
I’m just very grateful. … I don’t think anything is bad. As long as you put your good intentions to it, it’s all going to be positive and good. … I have to dance to the extreme. Otherwise, I feel like I’m not living.
I was in the studio and doing interviews, and this woman came to me and said, “I bought a Playboy magazine that I would never buy.” She gave it to her friend in mainland China. The experience of [the Playboy shoot] was really enlightening and liberating. You need to cherish and celebrate [the body].
The only thing that shocked me was the day that Playboy actually came out. I was flying to San Francisco. I saw some people looking for autographs. I realized, from that day on, everybody would have my nude pictures. … It’s funny. I was hiding! … At the time, I did not call my parents because I did not know what to [say]. But my sister left a message: “You must call [our] parents.”
When I called, my mother was in a public place and said, “I cannot talk about it now. Talk later.” [I didn’t] know how to talk to [my] father about [it]. He said, “Next time you come back, can you bring some of your magazines back?” With [my] parents, I don’t know exactly what they think. They probably don’t like it. I’m modern. I’m liberated. I probably feel different. I enjoy the freedom of nakedness.
I said to my father, “I’ll see.” Probably the day I’m leaving, I’ll give [the issue] to him. I cannot be there. What is he going to say? It’s just embarrassing. Strangers I can deal with because I have no connection to [them]. I don’t know how I can look into his eyes.
When do you go home?
It depends. I shot two movies in China. I took those two roles so I could have the excuse of shooting in Asia. I would like to go much more often. … I miss China.
What about your CD and book?
I recorded a CD with 11 songs already. The book I already finished. I’m still doing a little bit of editing. It’s the perspective of how I look at life. I just think the world is larger and bigger than what we physically can see. … It all tangles toge-ther with my spirit. Very random, very romantic, very sexual, very open, honest. I think hopefully, both will come out later this year.
Where would you like to see your career go in the future?
I’m the one who has no plans [for] the future. I live life, and it leads me. (end)
“Crank: High Voltage” opens nationwide on April 17. Check local listings for showtimes.
Ninette Cheng can be reached at email@example.com.