Crazy Rich Asians star Chris Pang may be playing the bad guy in the new Charlie’s Angels reboot, but the Australian actor is far from the ‘Asian villain’ that Hollywood has portrayed in the past.
For many years the film industry has stereotyped Asian men with accents and swords, making a caricature of them as the ‘oriental criminal’ or ’mysterious Chinaman’ that film critics argue is linked to Yellow Peril – a racist colour metaphor dating back to the late 19th century that deemed East Asians dangerous to the Western world.
Chris, whose parents are of Chinese and Taiwanese descent, said he “played a bad guy with an Asian accent before”, but this role strayed from racial stereotypes and allowed him to speak with his Australian twang. However, it wasn’t the original plan.
“Firstly I wasn’t supposed to be Australian,” the 34-year-old told HuffPost Australia. “The original role was for a 40-year-old Russian so they changed it up a fair bit once I came in.
“I was supposed to come in with maybe a bit of an Asian accent and speaking Chinese,” he said, explaining that after the production team “heard the Australian accent, they just loved it so much that we completely changed the character to be Australian”.
“Obviously I’ve done some action films, I’ve played a bad guy with an Asian accent before and so we wanted to change it up,” he said.
The movie star didn’t want to reveal any major spoilers ahead of the film’s release, but said he and the production team discussed the character at length and made some changes to the role that will hopefully surprise audiences.
“We definitely talked about the character, we definitely changed a fair bit up and he’s interesting,” said Chris.
“As an actor, you’re always trying to expand, you’re trying to play roles you haven’t before,” he continued, “It’s not just your straight bad guy role”.
Charlie’s Angels is a big project for Chris following his performance in box office winner, Crazy Rich Asians last year alongside Henry Golding, Constance Wu and Awkwafina.
He said it’s “such a weird thought” that he’s following in idol Lucy Liu’s footsteps by representing Asians in the blockbuster franchise.
“When Charlie’s Angels came out in 2000, it really impacted me that Lucy Liu was one of the angels,” he said. “Out of all the women in the world to represent that generation of talented, beautiful women that were on screen kicking ass, we had an Asian woman and that was really important for me to see.
“Now, I’m in the film. I might not be the role model that people want... but I’m in the film and I’m representing. There’s an Asian face in there.”
Chris also applauded the diversity of the greater cast, saying: “It’s just an amazing mixed cast from all different backgrounds”.
The three angels in this film are played by Naomi Scott, whose mother is Indian and father is English, Ella Balinska, whose mother is Jamaican-English and father is Polish, and American actor Kristen Stewart.
The reboot follows the 2000 film of the same name which starred Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu. The trio reunited in 2003 for a sequel, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.
Charlie’s Angels releases in Australia on November 14.