With the release last month of her latest big-budget film—hello, Mrs Money—celina Jade is continuing to make waves. Marianna Cerini meets the rising star to find out what she’s doing to shake things up
With the release of her latest big-budget film, Celina Jade shares what she’s doing to shake things up
elina Jade is a rare breed. To begin with, the 33-year-old has been racking up successes in the entertainment industry for half her life. Second, she’s a legitimate multihyphenate: she sings, she acts and she’s a pro at martial arts. In a sector increasingly dominated by reality TV stars and social media personalities, she has real talent—and she’s level-headed about it.
“Throughout my career, I’ve always worked to the best of my abilities,” says the star, who as a 2018 Generation T lister appeared on the cover of the June edition of Hong Kong Tatler with fellow Gen.t members. “I started so young and what I’ve constantly asked myself is, ‘Am I becoming someone I admire?’ I have applied that question to every project I have approached and honed my skills to make sure I could answer yes.”
Born in Hong Kong in 1985 to American actor and martial artist Roy Horan and Hongkonger Christina Hui, Celina entered the limelight when she won an Asia-wide singing competition at the age of 14, after which Sony Japan signed her. Within a few months her EP Good News Bad News was released and she became a huge success in Hong Kong. That’s when she started thinking about the question of whether she would be admired and respected for her choices.
“I was a teenager and it was all extremely daunting,” she recalls. “I didn’t write my songs. I was told what to say in front of the press. I didn’t really have a choice in deciding what I would sing. I felt I wasn’t really being myself. Then the company asked me to quit school to focus on making more albums and I said no. Giving up my education was out of the question. I didn’t want to be a singer— and a woman in general—who couldn’t hold her own 10 years down the line.”
She focused on her studies, graduating with a management degree from the London School of Economics—“music is a business, after all.” She moved back to Hong Kong in 2007 with singing “still very much on my mind. I decided to give myself two years to make it—and then the martial arts thing happened.” During the recording of her first Chinese album, her manager had called, asking if she knew how to fight. “Which I did, given my dad’s job as the token white guy in all the Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies,” she laughs. She met— and sparred with—chinese director Wu Jing and a few weeks later landed the leading female role in his 2008 action movie, Legendary Assassin. “I told Jing I was an economics graduate who could kick but had absolutely no idea if I could act. I was afraid of failing. But he saw something, I guess, and convinced me to take the opportunity.”
After Legendary Assassin, Celina starred in a string of Chinese films and TV shows. Hollywood soon took notice and, in 2012, she landed her first role in a US film, The Man with the Iron Fists, and TV series, Arrow. Last year, she was reunited with Wu Jing in Wolf Warrior II, the first and only non-hollywood film on the list of 100 highest-grossing films (it made US$874 million). Her cachet has only grown since.
“Acting has been an incredible discovery,” she says. “It has helped me with the singing, but also in my private life. It has boosted my confidence and helped me through some tough times.”
In 2012, Celina suffered third-degree burns in a kitchen accident that required surgery, and “working in film became a sort of anchor.” The accident also led her to a more holistic lifestyle. “The doctor told me I was going to have keloid scars as the burns were so bad. My then fiancé [Christian Mongendre, founder of vegetarian restaurant Mana!] pointed me towards a raw, organic diet, and the wounds healed almost completely. Now they’re coverable with a bit of make-up. I have been quite conscious about what I eat since, though I am now pescatarian; sustaining a vegan diet when you’re in the middle of nowhere filming in China can be quite challenging.”
Celina is now focused on broadening her acting range. “I’ve been mostly cast in fast, action-packed roles and I have enjoyed them. I have an aversion to the damsel-in-distress type of female character, and there are still way too many, particularly in China. But I also really want to take my career to the next level, with comedy and drama and indie productions—and, of course, to go back to singing one day. I’d like to shake up the industry a little.”
Her latest film, the Chinese comedy Hello, Mrs. Money, which opened in September, is a definite step away from the action genre. So is another title she couldn’t discuss during our interview but which has since been announced as the Chinese feature A Sweet Life, slated for a Chinese New Year release.
And then there’s a project she’s developing independently with her partner, Chinese actor Han Geng. “I’m writing the script and it’s all very exciting,” Celina says. “I’m really interested in creating strong female roles. It all goes back to that question—am I someone I would admire?”
Looking at her success to date and her plans, the answer can only be a resounding yes.