SAN FRANCISCO — Bay Area native Daniel Wu still smirks at the idea of being a celebrity despite being one of Hong Kong’s brightest film stars. And unlike other Hong Kong film stars of late, Wu has avoided scandal by staying grounded.
“I’m the same guy inside, just older,” Wu said in March when he was in town for the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, where Wu’s new film Blood Brothers screened. “I still head down to Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley for a slice of Blondie’s or down to the Mission for a burrito when I’m back.”
But Wu’s busy schedule keeps him away from his old haunts as well as his family and his friends, many of whom were classmates from Head-Royce School in Oakland.
But he’s wasted no time making new friends. Blood Brothers, the work of first-time director Alexi Tan, is the story of three brothers who are seeking a better life in 1930s Shanghai and end up working for the mob. The film was a rare opportunity to work with China’s newest diva, Taiwanese actress Shu Qi. “She’s a bombshell that can act up a storm!” Wu said of the former nude model.
Wu is also still in awe of co-star Ye Liu (Dark Matter, Curse of the Golden Flower), who plays his brother in the film. “He’s got these really powerful, lonesome eyes,” Wu said.
He could take notes from Liu, considering his dream project is to do something “darker, offbeat.”
“I like to do things different than what everyone else is doing just to keep my mind fresh,” he said, adding that the types of roles he is offered lie in audiences’ hands. “If you want to see an Asian American male who is not emasculated or desexualized or evil like what has been presented in mainstream American media, then you as the audience will have to demand it. Only then will someone like me have a chance out here.”
And Wu has taken the first step toward audience empowerment. He and RottenTomatoes.com founder Patrick Lee, along with former ALIVE band member Terence Yin, have formed a social networking site for Asian and Asian American performers and their fans. AliveNotDead.com was originally formed to fill a void in Hong Kong’s entertainment industry, but has since grown into a global phenomenon. Users can even find Wu’s personal profile online, and he vows to answer each and every e-mail personally.
“We have done almost no advertising for it, yet it has grown tremendously over the past year by word of mouth alone. … Commerce often times ruins art, so we are very conscious not to make this a business that ruins the pureness of the idea.”
From modeling to films to start-ups, Wu promises one thing he’ll never revisit: singing (he played a Hong Kong Cantopop boy band member in the 2006 mockumentary The Heavenly Kings).
“I really can’t sing! Karaoke is pure torture for me and for those who hear me.”
Blood Brothers will be shown at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (vconline.org/festival) on May 2.