Amer­i­can face stands out on lo­cal screens

China Daily (Canada) - - NEWS CAPSULE - By XUFAN

In 2008, Matthew Knowles was sad when his sports ca­reer at Clem­son Tigers Foot­ball, his univer­sity team, ended due to a knee in­jury. But a call from South­west China’s Guizhou prov­ince be­came a turn­ing point for the Carolina na­tive.

A friend who was then work­ing as a vol­un­teer English teacher in the moun­tain­ous Chi­nese prov­ince in­vited Knowles to ex­pe­ri­ence an un­likely life: To teach lo­cal chil­dren in the re­mote city of Duyun, in south­west­ern Guizhou.

“I did not have a job. When I was a teenager I al­ways wanted to help oth­ers. So, I thought it would be a good idea to go to China de­spite know­ing noth­ing about the coun­try back then,” he says at a Bei­jing ho­tel.

The in­ter­view took place just be­fore Christ­mas, af­ter Knowles had com­pleted an ex­haust­ing day of film­ing for the forth­com­ing fan­tasy epic Asura in North China’s He­bei prov­ince.

Asura, which has a bud­get of around $100 mil­lion, stars Wu Lei, one of China’s most pop­u­lar teen stars, award­win­ning ac­tor Tony Le­ung Ka-fai and Hong Kong veteran ac­tress Ca­rina Lau.

The Chi­nese-lan­guage film, set to be re­leased across China in 2018, has a crew from 13 coun­tries, among whomare vet­er­ans from The Lord of The Rings fran­chise and Pa­cific Rim.

Knowles, 31, says he bagged the role thanks to his Man­darin skills.

Ex­plain­ing how he learned Man­darin, he says he was forced to learn the lan­guage af­ter his Amer­i­can friend left the coun­try.

“All my Chi­nese friends spoke very lit­tle English. So, it made the lan­guage-learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment per­fect,” he says.

“If I were in Bei­jing or Shang­hai, then I would prob­a­bly not have im­proved myMan­darin so quickly.”

Knowles soon be­gan to speak Chi­nese flu­ently thanks to watch­ing Chi­nese tele­vi­sion pro­grams and singingMan­darin pop songs in lo­cal karaoke halls, and this gave him the op­por­tu­nity to en­ter China’s show­biz in­dus­try.

In 2012, Knowles got his first role in the Chi­nese TV series Big Sis­ter’s Store.

It was also the same year thatChina over­took Ja­pan to be­come the world’s sec­ond­largest movie mar­ket, which grew at an av­er­age rate of over 30 per­cent year on year un­til 2016.

“Those were the best years. Iwaslucky to en­ter the in­dus­try at that time,” he says.

Mean­while, Knowles was ad­mit­ted by the Bei­jing Film Academy, a cra­dle for most Chi­nese stars, as the first non-Asian stu­dent to be

All my Chi­nese friends spoke very lit­tle English. So, it made the lan­guage-learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment per­fect.”

granted a 2013.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the one-year pro­gram, Knowles found his path to star­dom be­com­ing smoother.

“Most ac­tors or ac­tresses I met on the sets were grad­u­ates from the academy. I call them ‘ shi ge’ (se­nior alum­nus) or ‘ shi jie’ (older alumna),” says Knowles.

Knowles, who­has­been­fea­tured in more than 10 Chi­nese TV series and movies, is now one of the best-known Cau­casian faces based in China.

His works in­clude the No­bel-win­ning Mo Yan’s tele­vi­sion adap­ta­tion of Red Sorghum, the bi­o­graph­i­cal series Deng Xiaop­ing at His­tory’s Cross­roads, and the hit ro­mance thriller series Love Me If You Dare.

For most China-based for­eign ac­tors, a com­mon prob­lem is that they get stereo­typed.

Asked if he faced the prob­lem, he says: “I thinkChina is mov­ing away from this model. As sto­ry­telling skills de­velop, the (for­eign) char­ac­ters are be­com­ing more in­ter­est­ing and com­plex.”

Speak­ing of Asura, he says he does not look very dif­fer­ent from the Chi­nese ac­tors in the film. He says the main rea­son that the di­rec­tor picked him is his strong physique.

Knowles, who trained for three months, in­clud­ing prac­tic­ing stunts for the movie, says: “Peo­ple were ‘fly­ing’ be­tween moun­tains us­ing wires. I’ve never been in such a big ac­tion movie.”

Knowles, who now di­vides his time be­tween Los An­ge­les and Bei­jing, sees a bright fu­ture for him­self on the main­land.

On Dec 28, the day he con­cluded film­ing for Asura, he wrote on his WeChat ac­count: “Good­bye China, I will def­i­nitely come back.” full Chi­nese gov­ern­ment schol­ar­ship in

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