As Wolf Warrior II takes international box offices by storm, we spoke to Celina Jade on her character Rachael and being reunited on screen with actor and director Jing Wu.
Wolf Warrior’s II sees you reunited with director Jing Wu, who you worked with on Legendary Assassin. What was it like teaming up with him again?
Really, really great. The first movie we worked together on was “Legendary Assassin” which was 10 years ago. I’m really grateful to him because he gave me my ‘break’ into cinema. I never wanted to be an actor – I started as a singer/songwriter – but he had faith in me and basically gave me my first break. I’ve been working in the [United] States for a long period of time, since 2009, so one of the things that I feel kind of sad about is that I haven’t really had many opportunities to work in China, even though I’m half-Chinese and I speak, read and write Chinese.
That’s something that’s been on my mind and I always wanted to make my mom happy because I know that is really important to her, so this offer to work in Wolf Warrior II came in great timing. Wu Jing, in ten years, hasn’t changed too much, in the sense that he still (laughs) he’s still Wu Jing – and a crazy kick-ass fighter – but you can definitely see the amount of pressure he’s under nowadays with filming this movie. He’s not only the director, but he’s also the screenwriter. He does action choreography, he sings the song in the movie, he’s using his own money [for the film], and doing all of his own stunts, so the pressure on him has really increased a lot compared to “Legendary Assassin.” He’s managing a huge team under him – a team with many different nationalities; there are African actors on set, there’s the American stunt team, led by Sam Hargrave, there’s the Hong Kong stunt team, and of course the local Chinese, which was great. It was really nice to work with him again. There’s a definite familiarity because we’ve worked together before, and I’m so, so proud of him for everything he’s achieved with [the film].
What drew you to the film initially?
I didn’t actually look at the script when I agreed to do the film. I was brought on board in the beginning, after they had already chosen somebody else but it didn’t work out. So [Wu Jing] called me as a favour to help him out because he’s my friend and I owe him my entire career since he gave me my first break. I agreed to it without hesitating. I just asked him two questions. The first was, Is there nudity? and he said no. Which was great because my mom is Chinese and I don’t want to make her feel uncomfortable with seeing her own daughter on-screen nude. (Laughs) And the second question I asked him was about my mom, who is very sick; he knew had terminal cancer. So I said, If I have two or more days of holiday, can I please go back home to spend time with her? And he said yes to that too. All I knew was that I was playing a doctor and he told me to just be myself since the character is a lot like me as a person. And I told him I had to go home and talk to my mom – I knew she would be over the moon because she always told me not to forget my heritage and my roots. So when I went home to tell my mother, she was in tears and absolutely ecstatic. She said: Oh, I’m so happy – I now have the motivation to fight cancer. I want to see the premiere and I want to come visit you on set… She was ecstatic.
What did you do to prepare for the role?
And then in terms of preparing for the role, I didn’t really have time because Wu Jing wanted me to fly out that night – he called me at 7:00pm and imagine, I mean had to go home and talk to my mom, dad, then go back to my apartment and pack and everything. So I told Wu Jing that I couldn’t make the last flight out that night, but that I could fly first thing in the morning. I flew the next morning to Beijing and read the script on the plane. I was pleasantly surprised by my character, that it’s not just any decorative role. To play a U.N. doctor is absolutely awesome because I believe in [having] women in these strong positions in society – and with such a great heart. So I literally landed and went straight into the hospital scene, if you’ve seen the movie, and filmed that scene [on] the first day. So yeah (laughs) not much time to prepare.
The second instalment of Wolf Warrior was a great success at the box office in China, how do you think audiences elsewhere will react to the film?
I think that the movie is a very solid action film. It has some incredibly creative sequences that haven’t been seen in the West, like the first scene where a character dives into the water, or the tank chase – which was really cool. So if you like a good, solid action movie, Wolf Warrior II is definitely a solid action movie. I think if you have Chinese heritage and blood, it will definitely bring up a lot of pride to be Chinese. I think it’s really great, because if you think about it, Chinese [people] overseas – may have left China generations ago or not long ago, so they go and live abroad. Now that China is booming so much, it’s becoming a superpower and is reuniting Chinese [people] from all over the world. So I think that definitely tugs on the heartstrings of Chinese people, and for me personally. So there are parts in the movie that have a great message. Like the scene where we’re in a warehouse and the warehouse manager says: Okay, I want Africans on one side, and Chinese on the other side. The Chinese people will follow me onto the rescue helicopter, and Africans stay… and Wu Jing’s character comes in and says: No, everybody leaves with me. Everybody will leave here today for safety – women and children can go in the helicopter, men will follow me, I’ll lead them out of this factory and this war zone. So I think stuff like that is great and this will also be a very attractive film for African audiences.
Many people would have seen you most recently as Shado in CW’s Arrow, what was the transition like returning to the film industry in China for Wolf Warrior?
The transition from Shado to Wolf Warrior II was not super-fast because in between I had some time. Because my mom was sick, I really tried to spend some time with her in Hong Kong – so I had ample time to come out of Shado’s character. You know, they have similarities – they’re both female characters that I really admire. It was great – I’m very lucky to play two strong characters back-to-back.
You’ve recently finished filming gritty action thriller Triple Threat, can you tell us a little bit more about that and your character Xian?
Yeah, I recently finished Triple Threat in Bangkok; it was absolutely cool. It’s so cool to have an Asian team of protagonists fighting all the best Western martial artists – Scott Atkins, Michael Bisping, obviously Tony Jaa, who are really great fighters, and Tiger – so I really enjoyed that. I did a lot of stunts. I didn’t do so much fighting, but I did a lot of stunt driving which was really cool. The [stunt] director told me that the only other woman actress who’s a better driver than her stunt driver was Cameron Diaz, so I was quite happy to hear that. But yeah, Triple Threat was fun and I play Xian, who is a very wealthy girl who lost her father, inherited his wealth, and basically decided to put all of her wealth towards fighting crime and humanitarian use, which pisses off all the crime lords and everyone comes after her. It’s a whole chase between the bad guys and the underdogs, so it’s a cool film. It’s a film where you really fight for the underdogs.
You’re also starring in Christopher Tedrick’s new film April Flowers, set in New York which sees you break away from the martial arts-based, action movies you’re known for and into the world of the romantic comedy, what was that like?
April Flowers was an amazing experience for me, because I definitely don’t want to be typecast into just being an action movie girl, you know? I am an actress first and foremost, and martial arts is a skillset that I have. For me, I’m here, I’m an actress because of storytelling. I want to tell stories that have good messages and play characters that I admire, and April Flowers is such a cute story that I just fell in love with when I read the script. Working in New York is such a great energy, it’s an indie film, and I just think it’s great for me to do different projects so I don’t get typecast.
Wolf Warrior II leaves open the possibility of a follow-up, what would you like to see happen to Leng Feng next?
You know, (laughs) I don’t know what Wu Jing’s going to do with [the possibility of] Wolf Warrior III. I don’t really know what to expect – he’s really pushed the envelope for Wolf Warrior II, so I think it’s going to take him some time to readjust and be inspired for Wolf Warrior III. So I don’t know, but I do look forward to what he presents to us later on.
Cine Asia and CMC Pictures presents Wolf Warrior 2 in cinemas from 4th August 2017.