Tatler Singapore



The actor has his father to thank for his interest in his craft, and in telling diverse stories

Lewis Tan has been in some pretty exciting Hollywood movies: Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (2007), for which he skipped his last day of classes at college to fly to the Bahamas to play a Chinese pirate; Fistful of Vengeance (2022); Mortal Kombat

(2021) and its 2024 sequel; and

Deadpool and Wolverine (2024).

He’s certainly been working hard to get these roles: he has a prolific martial arts profile—muay thai, kickboxing, karate, jujitsu, wrestling, nunchucks, katana sword, kempo, wing chun and boxing—and he performs all his stunts himself. But his proudest production to date is his directoria­l debut that will start production this year: Goldenboy, a fictional action drama based on his father Phillip Tan’s life story, from his traumatic childhood of being abandoned by his parents in mainland China and his struggles of growing up Asian in London to making a successful career as the British men’s taekwondo champion in 1985 and Hollywood stunt choreograp­her.

“He designed the fight scenes for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Batman with Tim Burton. He was there working with Jack Nicholson [in Batman]

and teaching Ke [Huy Quan in

Indiana Jones] all those moves. He has accomplish­ed so much [even though] he had to deal with adversity,” Tan says with a beam. “No one else can make that movie but me.”

He says that not only because he’s his father’s son; he also feels that their experience­s as martial artists in the film industry are so different just over the course of a generation, reflecting how far the opportunit­ies to tell Asian stories in the west have come. In the 1970s, when his father first moved to London, there weren’t many opportunit­ies for Chinese actors and he wasn’t offered roles until years later. He first did action design for films, fight choreograp­hy and stunt directing, before being cast in Tango and Cash (1989) and Lethal Weapon 4 (1998), in which he was asked to do an Asian accent, despite his English fluency. If he wanted to make a living, he didn’t have the freedom to reject the roles or speak up.

Today, his son, who joined the industry due to his father’s influence, has seen representa­tion of the Asian community on and off screen become one of the most talked-about topics in the industry. “It’s a beautiful time to be working [in films] right now,” he says. “For many years, Asian people were seen as femmes fatales or some nerdy guy. Now, we’re starting to tell more nuanced, deeper stories of human experience­s. The race thing is so silly because we all feel loss, pain, joy, fear, insecuriti­es and anxieties. To be able to showcase Asian people in a way that’s not one-dimensiona­l is important.”

He has experience­d this change first-hand. In 2019, he starred in Wu Assassins, the first Netflix original drama with an all-asian cast. When he played Shattersta­r in Marvel’s second and third Deadpool movies, he felt “a huge shift in the way I was being looked at. I went to Comicons [the comic book convention]—asian kids came up to me and said, ‘I love your movies.’ They’re looking at me in a way that I didn’t have anyone to look at.” The actor says while he doesn’t know if what he does will lead to change, it does make people feel more accepted in a society where “maybe they didn’t feel so comfortabl­e. Everybody wants to feel confident, look cool and have that sense that they’re part of this big, general narrative.”

That doesn’t mean his career—or personal life—has been smooth sailing. “I was born in England. When I was growing up, everybody looked at me as like this Chinese [boy] living in London, and I wanted to know more about my culture and people,” he says. Then when he became an actor, the most difficult thing for the first eight years was how “casting directors didn’t know what to do [with me]. They were like, ‘Is he white? Is he Asian?’” That didn’t discourage him from chasing his dream, but rather made him more determined to “establish who I am, what I can offer as an artist and be looked at like a normal person. I hope that’s showing in my work.”

Looking at the heroes who inspired him—bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and his father—he feels they have laid a foundation for Asians to be seen and respected in the industry. “Because I’m mixed race, I have a completely different perspectiv­e than what they had. Now it’s my turn to take [their efforts] even further. I’m finding my place and telling my story,” he says. “And I’ve only just begun with it.”

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 ?? ?? From far left: Lewis Tan wears Zegna outerwear and knitwear; his own pants
From far left: Lewis Tan wears Zegna outerwear and knitwear; his own pants

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