Yeo Yann Yann Rates Her Screen Husbands, Including Chin Han In American Born Chinese: “I Love Them All”
Yeo Yann Yann has a history of playing mothers onscreen.
Maybe because she’s a mother herself — to a 10-year daughter whom she shares with Hong Kong action choreographer husband Ma Yu Sing — the two-time Golden Horse Award winner isn’t worried about getting stuck in the maternal gear.
In fact, she’s barely scraped the surface.
“There’s a Chinese proverb, the same kind of rice provides for 100 kinds of people,” the Malaysian actress tells 8days.sg over Zoom from Los Angeles. “Yes, I always play this anguished mother, but her anguish comes from different places.”
In American Born Chinese, Yeo and Singaporean-born Hollywood-based Chin Han and Yeo play Christine and Simon Wang, the Chinese immigrant parents of Jin (adorkable Ben Wang, channelling Michael Cera’s deadpan awkwardness), a teen trying to navigate the badlands that's high school.
The eight-part series is based on Gene Luen Yang’s 2006 graphic novel and executive produced by Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings helmer Destin Daniel Cretton and Fresh Off the Boat showrunners Melvin Mar and Jake Kasdan. The show is in English and Mandarin.
Outwardly, Christine isn’t unlike the other mothers Yeo has portrayed before: she nags at her child, quarrels with her spouse, agonises over the finances… so what makes Christine stand out from the other variants?
Oh, did I forget to mention that the Wangs are pawns in a heavenly power struggle involving the Monkey King (Daniel Wu), Guanying aka Goddess of Mercy (Michelle Yeoh), Ji Gong aka the Mad Monk (Ronny Chieng), and Demon Bull King (Leonard Wu)?
Christine is an amalgamation of “many women” Yeo has encountered in her life — people she’s worked with, met on the street, and her family. “[Christine] is a warm, loving, flawed woman and everything she does comes from love,” she adds.
American Born Chinese was shot in Los Angeles last year and Yeo says the differences between an American and local film set are superficial.
“Everywhere is the same,” she quips. “The focus is really on the character, on the film, serving the film as an actor, working closely with our co-actors, and communications with the directors.”
“He really took care of me the whole time while I was here,” she says.
Between Chin Han and her other screen spouses — Lim Yu Beng (Singapore Dreaming), Chen Tianwen (Ilo Ilo), Christopher Lee (Wet Season), Mark Lee and Jack Neo (King of Musang King) — does Yeo have a favourite?
“I love all my husbands,” she says, laughing. “I love them all. All of them come in different shapes and sizes, and levels of handsomeness — they’re all great screen partners; I worked well with all my husbands!”
The same goes with her pretend brood: “I love them all, too!”
On Wang, her latest ‘offspring’, Yeo says, “Ben is very special — he is from theatre, like me. We just hit it off. We didn’t get a chance to talk about it during our chemistry read. But after that, we just immediately connected because [our shared background].”
In a show packed with SPFX and stunts, Yeo says her biggest challenge didn’t involve anything overtly physical: a karaoke sequence.
“We did the show during Covid time and it was quite a difficult time and people were wearing masks and sometimes they would call in sick,” Yeo recalls. “I was recovering from Covid, I was a bit tired and I was having a really sore throat and I had to sing the song. I had to tell the director, can you please go one key lower?”
After American Born Chinese (which ends on a cliffhanger but a second season has yet to be announced), Yeo has Havoc, a Netflix action thriller starring Tom Hardy and Timothy Olyphant, slated for release later this year. The movie also stars Geylang’s Golden Horse Award-nominated stunt choreographer Sunny Pang.
When weighing in on her career path, Yeo says she’s on an odyssey akin to the one the Monkey King embarked on in A Journey to the West, where she has to encounter “81 trials”.
“I don’t know where this journey will take me, but I still enjoy it,” she says, beaming.
A break from playing anguished mothers would be nice. “I want to play a damsel in distress!” she wisecracks. Either that or something with tons of green-screen like Avatar.
Or the next Marvel movie perhaps?
Given that Cretton is now developing a Shang-Chi sequel and Avengers: Kang Dynasty, maybe she has a shot to play in the Marvel Cinematic Universe sandbox.
“Oh, of course,” she says. “I’m a good fit in any film.”
Watch our separate video interview with Yeo and Chin Han as they talk about their “surreal” tour of the White House, where American Born Chinese was screened in honour of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.