IT ONLY takes Takeshi Kaneshiro to stand with his coat just off his shoulders for one of his entourage to leap up to remove it. Itâs superstar behaviour, but then the 31-year-old actor has parlayed his brooding good looks into becoming a pin-up, Prada model, pop idol and film star whose career straddles action and art house.
Heâs already been dubbed the Asian Johnny Depp. Now the Taiwanese-Japanese actorâs profile in the West is about to be raised with Zhang Yimouâs House of Flying Daggers, which continues the directorâs shift from neorealist rural portraits (Red Sorghum) and acclaimed period dramas (Raise the Red Lantern) to the recent martial-arts epic Hero .That film was a bouquet of elaborate aquamarine costumes, emerald-misted forests and golden-russet foliage. Daggers is another feast of blood, passion, lighter-than-air martial arts, silk brocade and leading players as eye-catching as the filmâs vistas.
Kaneshiro and the Hong Kong star Andy Lau play Tang Dynasty government officers, Jin and Leo, whose loyalties come into question when their pursuit of a beautiful rebel spy, Mei (the rising Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang, who now prefers this Westernised order of her name) turns into a love triangle.
âI knew I could play the love story, but I was daunted by the fight scenes,â admits Kaneshiro, a polite but guarded presence. âA month before shooting in China and the Ukraine we began basic training in knives and swords without being told what the story was about. I found that strange and was afraid I was going to make mistakes, but Zhang Yimou is like a storyteller â he acts everything out so I knew exactly what he wanted.â
Dagger’s casting reflects a growing trend to bring together Asia’s biggest names to maximise a film’s market (and so boost its budget) without relying on the American box office. The film became the second highest grossing movie in China, behind Hero, which itself has now taken $175 million worldwide.
Kaneshiro is well placed to enjoy this burgeoning “pan-Asian” approach to film production. Born and raised in Taiwan, one of three sons of a Japanese businessman and Taiwanese mother, he speaks Japanese, English and three Chinese dialects. He had no clear ambitions as a child (“I just played a lot”), but at 17 he starred in a soft-drinks commercial, which led him to being in a Taiwanese boyband called the Little Four Heavenly Kings.
The titles of his subsequent solo albums — Just You and Me, Ideal Lover, Tender Superman — reflected his growing persona as a pretty but virile lonelyheart that teenagers could fantasise about. The Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wei then cast him as a lovesick undercover cop in Chungking Express (1994). The film not only established Wong as the pop poet of night-time Hong Kong but also made it clear that Kaneshiro w as an actor to watch.
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