All the articles I can find on the subject right now are from 2014, so I don’t know how things have or haven’t changed for him. But Chow Yun-Fat was, in 2014, banned from making movies in mainland China for being too pro-democracy. His response was not to cave in to the government but to shrug and say, “I’ll make less, then.” I admire that, that determination not to give in to a power that intends to silence his voice. That’s pretty cool, especially given the sort of thing we know the Chinese government has done to people in the past.
I haven’t seen much of his early work from Hong Kong, I’ll admit, because it’s not really my genre. I’ve seen one of his movies in the theatre, but I don’t think people will be impressed, because that one is Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. As it happens, I am the only person on Earth who likes that one best of the series, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s not exactly representative of his work. He is one of the people from martial arts films whose name I know, which says something, but that doesn’t mean I want to rush out and watch his movies.
Still, I have seen several of them, and that’s because he is, even in movies that aren’t really my thing, the kind of actor I enjoy. I don’t dislike Jackie Chan, particularly, but it isn’t just “I don’t like movies where people kick each other in the head” that keeps me from getting into his movies much. It’s that there’s a bluff, hearty jokiness to his movies that doesn’t work for me no matter what else is going on in the story. With the Chow Yun-Fat movies I’ve seen, he’s playing a thoughtful, intelligent character who happens to, you know, kick people in the head or whatever. I’m much more inclined to that sort of movie, though still not a passionate fan.
For some years, he seems to have been one of Hollywood’s go-to guys for East Asian gravitas—with or without a side of butt-kicking. Which, okay, he projects that pretty well. It’s probably what he was doing in At World’s End, really. But it’s probably also how he ended up in Anna and the King, and that phase of his career probably ended with the poor reception of Dragonball: Evolution, or maybe that was the point where he just noped out of Hollywood. It is interesting that his response to the Chinese government was not a cavalier assurance that he could still make plenty of movies in the US.
In fact, all things considered, I’d be surprised if he were a passionate devotee of Chinese governmental policies. After all, he was born in Hong Kong when it was still a British colony. Neither he nor anyone else in Hong Kong got a choice as to whether their home would stay British, revert to the Chinese, or become independent. The decisions were made without them. The people of Hong Kong, many of them, are understandably less than thrilled about that, and it appears what he supports is self-determination on a level that Beijing does not permit. And if standing up for that means making fewer movies where he kicks people in the head, so be it.