Chin Han is a serious actor and he has played many serious characters.
Ever since his Hollywood breakthrough as the scheming and stuck-up criminal bookkeeper Lau in 2008’s The Dark Knight, the LA-based Singaporean has appeared in over 15 movies and TV shows, working with the likes of Roland Emmerich, Steven Soderbergh and the Russo Brothers.
He’s often called up to portray characters that are sombre, calculating, humourless and, shall we say, morally flexible. You know, very Lau. (In short: folks you find it hard to care about. He’s no Tzi Ma.)
In his latest, Mortal Kombat, now showing in cinemas, the live-action adaptation of the ultra-violent video game, he plays Shang Tsung, an evil sorcerer from Outworld plotting to take over Earthrealm by way of the titular supernatural MMA tournament.
What does Chin Han, 51, look for when playing a villain?
“If you can make sense to it, if there’s a logic to it, then you can play it,” he tells 8days.sg via Zoom. “You’re looking more at the person who can exist in that world and when you find that relation to the world that you’re creating, then I think you are quite free to explore that world.”
And in Shang Tsung’s case, he’s from a dying world and his desperation to save it “creates the engine for the character to do what he does,” Chin Han continues.
“Whether Shang Tsung is doing it for Outworld or Jia Sidao [his character in the Netflix series Marco Polo] for the Sung Dynasty, these are things that one can identify with and use as a tool to portray the character.”
At a time when movies like Minari and Yellow Rose humanise Asian characters, is he concerned that Mortal Kombat — despite its strong diverse cast that also includes Ludi Lin, Joe Taslim and Tadanobu Asano — might continue to perpetuate the martial arts stereotype?
“No, I feel there is enough space in the film world for all kinds of movies and they fulfill different social functions,” says Chin Han, who was made a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2018.
“Mortal Kombat, if anything, emphasises the diversity of people in the Earthrealm and how it is important to work as a team to defend and protect their kind,” he explains. “A movie like Minari or Jump [the volleyball flick starring China-born Singaporean actress Gong Li], they are about different realities of being Asian. There is no one reality to be Asian, let alone one Asian monolith.”
Here, we revisit some of Chin Han’s Hollywood roles over the years, ranking them by seriousness, from dead serious to there-is-room-for-more-levity. Ramblers, let's get rambling!