Male Asian actors gaining a following abroad

By Yin Lu Source:Global Times Published: 2016-2-22 18:23:01

It was a chilly day in Milan, Italy, on January 17 and Eleanor Clark was already waiting for hours outside one of the shows at Milan Fashion Week when some Italian girls sidled over to her.

"Are you waiting for Giacomo Gianniotti (a famous Italian actor)," they asked.

"No, we are here for Wang Kai (a popular Chinese actor)," Clark responded with pride.

Some of the Chinese fans at the scene overheard and, having found a kindred spirit, excitedly started sharing their love for Wang Kai with Clark and her four foreign companions.

When Wang finally exited the fashion show, escorted by his security detail, he was immediately thronged by his Chinese fans. Clark could not get close, so she did her next best - she called out his name in her loudest voice. To her surprise and glee, he heard her and turned around. "We made eye contact," Clark said. "His eyes got a little bigger with surprise, seeing a non-Chinese fan."

The moment was soon over as he was hustled into a vehicle, but Clark remained euphoric. She has seen her idol "Kai Kai" in the flesh and, more importantly, he saw her.

Clark, 31, an English teacher at a university in South Korea, is originally from South Africa. She was visiting friends and family in Germany when she heard about Wang's attending Milan Fashion Week and trekked across Europe for a chance to see him.

Clark is only one of Wang's many overseas fans. And the presence of a number of international fan forums and organized fan activities overseas shows the growing popularity of Chinese actors abroad.

Jasmin Hennig shows a picture she drew of her idol, Chinese actor Wang Kai. Photo: Courtesy of Jasmin Hennig

Universal charm

Now a loyal fan, Clark said her obsession with Wang began in 2015. She had been watching Asian productions for years, starting with Bollywood movies then Korean dramas, until one day, in 2015, she stumbled upon Nirvana in Fire (2015). "I fell in love with Wang Kai's marvelous portrayal of the upright and righteous Prince Jing."

Clark was never a fangirl. She remained unaffected throughout her entire youth, even when the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls were popular. She surprised herself. Never had she imagined that she could become "all bubbly and excited" over a Chinese actor in adulthood.

Clark wanted to learn as much about Wang as possible. She read and watched all the interviews and social media posts about Wang she could find. That was how her love for Wang grew and mellowed. Over time, how she felt about Wang changed from merely admiring his looks and acting skills to his personality and who he is on the inside.

"It became quickly apparent that Wang Kai is an honorable man who treats people around him with kindness," she said. "He really is the perfect gentleman. It is something you can't fake. He is a genuinely good human being, and I love that." 

Clark said that she likes guys with an "adorkable" quality, people who are both dorky and adorable, and Wang Kai falls into this category as well. "Wang Kai has a great sense of humor and has the best facial expressions. He is like a 'walking emoticon,'" she said.

Due to his lively facial expressions and popularity, Chinese Net users have made a lot of emoticons and stickers based on Wang's pictures, most of which are from his performances and behind-the-scene shots. "He is not afraid to be a little silly. I actually find this incredibly attractive," Clark said.

International fans are drawn to Chinese actors for their good looks, excellent acting skills, charming personality and a taste of the Chinese culture. Photo: IC

Overseas fan clubs

Clark met a few fellow fans while helping some international volunteers to do subtitles for the TV series Nirvana in Fire and The Disguiser (2015), both of which are quite popular among foreign viewers.

In December 2015, Clark and some of her fellow Kai admirers created an online forum, Wang Kai International (WKI), where they translate news, interviews, Sina Weibo updates, and other information about Wang Kai into English for non-Chinese fans.

WKI members are from all over the world, including the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, Singapore, Malaysia, India and Sri Lanka. Besides the website, they also created a Facebook page and a Sina Weibo page.

Compared to domestic fans, overseas fans often feel more eager to reach out and connect with other fans, despite the distance and time difference.

Jasmin Hennig, 22, a university student from Germany, drew a picture of Wang and posted it on Facebook, to show how excited she was to discover like-minded people online.

In addition to watching his dramas, which is not easy in Germany due to a lack of access and subtitles, Hennig also enjoys his interviews and behind-the-scene videos, and collects and creates wallpapers of him. 

"I don't know if there are more fans of him in Germany, but I suppose there must be more than me. How can they not like him?" Hennig said.

She loves Wang's deep, soft voice, which she said gives the characters he plays a touch of "coolness, softness, much kindness but also an untouchable will and power." For her, the most impressive thing about Wang is the amount of effort he puts into figuring out his character and fully expressing it.

Drawn to Chinese culture

The last time she was a fan of anyone, Hennig was 17. Like Clark, she didn't see her crush for Wang coming at all.

"I felt like - Wow, I'm in a fandom again, funny!" she said.

Hennig told Metropolitan that her love for Wang came about in part because of her being drawn to the Chinese culture in general. She also has a passion for martial arts and has been practicing tai chi for several years now. Her dream job is to work for a cultural heritage project in China.

Elizabeth Ross, a mother and artist, from Mexico, is one of the many international "Huomi," fans of Taiwan-born actor Wallace Huo. 

Ross fell in love with Huo while watching The Vigilantes in Masks (2010).

"It was the first time I was so attracted to an actor. I've liked Harrison Ford, Sean Connery and Brad Pitt, but never to this extent!" she said. "The craziest thing is to become a fan at this stage of my life. It really makes me more energetic!"

Inspired by Huo, Ross is learning Chinese and volunteers in subtitle translation projects for TV dramas and interviews that feature Huo on, an Asian drama-sharing platform. "I have double motivation - to learn more about the Chinese and Chinese culture, and to make his work available to more people around the world," she said. 

Initially drawn to the handsomeness of the actors, overseas fans are also eager to learn more about their idol's personality and internal charms, although the language barrier makes it much more difficult for them to do so.

Editing the interviews has allowed Ross to understand Huo better. "I like the way he thinks and behaves. He's an honest, generous, down-to-earth and straightforward man. His life is his career."

Huo has gained a reputation for being a "big brother-type" idol. He speaks directly to his fans, often telling them not to spend their money on chasing celebrities. Like any big brother, Huo frequently gets lightheartedly ribbed by both his local and international fans for his efforts.

"The majority of his fans are very young, so it's natural he worries about their safety and act as a caring uncle for them," said Ross. "What I appreciate in Huo is what I appreciate in humans, be they men or women."

A call for acknowledgement

The dream of 21-year-old medical student Thien Huong is to travel from California to China to work as Wallace Huo's personal physician.

She has Huo's songs in her playlist, visits Huo's fan forum every day, and owns a large collection of cups, blankets and pillows with Huo's picture on them.

"He is the brother, the role model that I can look up to. His caring, patience and consideration are the real deal. His outer [appearance] will change in time, but his genuine personality will never change," said Huong. Her mother, aunt and cousin are all fans of Huo's. "We'll talk about his current project, his wardrobe, his hairstyle and his body too!"

Growing up in the US surrounded by "cowboy" type boys in Texas, then moving to Santa Barbara, California and dating blond surfers, Huong said she is smart enough to stay away from using Huo as a guide for her future husband, "since it's impossible from every angle."

She said she would love to see Huo in the US but doesn't think Huo should come to Hollywood since it's "not a friendly place for Asian actors."

There's a growing number of international fans of Chinese actors, but there's also a lack of acknowledgement, Huong said.

Clark thinks Western film and television media is dominated by people who often "fail to realize that women (and men) around the world appreciate men from many different cultures and backgrounds."

"I think that there is also a very huge online community that has loved many Asian dramas and actors for a long time, but mainstream TV channels and entertainment companies just have no idea that we exist," she said.

Bolstered by the crowd that came out to see Wang Kai in Milan, Clark said she is glad that more Asian actors are getting the recognition they deserve.

"We are glad that all the fans together could help legitimize Wang Kai's being someone to support and invest in," she said. "We hope that we had a positive impact by being there."

Newspaper headline: I’m your biggest fan!

Posted in: Metro Beijing

blog comments powered by Disqus