Interview with Action Actress JuJu Chan Szeto

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JuJu Chan Szeto is a female action actress host of many talents and skills.

JuJu Chan Szeto is a Chinese American action star who studied at the University of San Francisco and graduated with a bachelor’s degree with honors in Computer Science and Mathematics and followed it up with a master’s degree from NYU -Tisch School of the Arts TV and film School. She is an award-winning international movie actress, martial artist, Taekwon-Do (ITF) Hong Kong National athlete and medalist, Thai Boxing Champion, and Hong Kong Pop Singer. JuJu starring in several US, Chinese, and Hong Kong productions. JuJu is best known for her role as Silver Dart Shi in the latest Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny film, and in Rich Mate Poor Mate, a reality TV series produced by RTHK. JuJu starred also in the Netflix series Wu Assassins and Jiu Jitsu with Nicolas Cage. Being a professional martial arts actress, on set she fighting with stamina and energy, realizing amazing and mind-blowing action scenes. She is the only female actress in Hong Kong who has mastered the nunchucks, including double nunchucks.

This interview appeared first on Planet China Vol 11, Celebrating Women who push boundaries.

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You got into martial arts when you were around 10 years old. What are the best childhood memories related to that period? Where does your passion come from? What kind of martial arts did you practice?

At 10 I just loved doing lots of things. I was practicing judo at that time, but I wasn’t just doing martial arts. I was doing ballet, ice skating, piano, high diving, swimming, and tennis. It may seem a lot, but I loved doing all those activities and looked forward to going to all of them. I have no idea where that passion came from. I was just one of those hyperactive kids who loved constantly being active and doing different things.

JuJu is a real action actress with a powerful and dynamic image. She was called the next Michelle Yeoh and Female Bruce Lee by the Hong Kong Media

Crouching-Tiger-Hidden-Dragon-(Behind-the-Scene)
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Behind the Scene)

Who influenced you as a person, as an actress, and as a martial artist?

I think this all came in phases. As a child, I was influenced by my parents simply because they organised so much for me to do. I was constantly kept busy, but I loved it. I was also influenced by all the Hong Kong action stars I saw in the kung fu movies I watched with my dad, and that’s how I started copying their moves and eventually made my parents send me to learn martial arts. As I got into my late teens I specifically looked up to what my dad had achieved. He always advised me to work hard and never be afraid to try things. He headed an IT company, which is why I studied IT at university. But my passion for performing was something I always had, and it grew while I was in university. That’s why, after graduating, I went to NYU Tisch to do my masters. From there I started to be influenced by what actors like Michelle Yeoh had achieved, as an actress coming out of Hong Kong and making it in Hollywood. I decided that I needed to be in Hong Kong, and so I went the same route as her and competed in beauty pageants. On returning to Hong Kong I got to work in a TV series, but my first manager was for my singing, so I became more aware of what different singers in Hong Kong were doing. During all this time I had continued to train in martial arts, but it never occurred to me to use my martial arts skills as a performer. It wasn’t until a director I worked for advised me to use my martial arts skills as an actor that I began to go that route. From there I became much more influenced by what actors and martial artists like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan had done.

JuJu-Chan
In an interview she told that she would like to play a character in a musical action film, combining her singing and action skills

From martial arts to an acting career. How did you first get into acting? What motivated you? What do you like most about it? What were the biggest challenges on set?

I got into acting professionally when I was offered the lead role in a TV series after I had just graduated from NYU. At that time I wanted to be a performer, and acting was one of many things I wanted to perform. I loved to dance and was a good singer. I particularly love performing in front of a live audience, and so singing was one best way to do that professionally. I got signed first as a singer, and put out my first EP not long after, which won several music awards. At the time I think my motivation was mostly about not failing. Today, I just love being on set cause I get to do what I love doing. Performing, and doing martial arts. I think the biggest challenge of being on set is trying to shut out all the noise and concentrate on delivering a great performance.

JuJu plays Zan, a female bodyguard, in the Netflix series Wu Assassins

JuJu-Chan
JuJu is an award-winning singer. She released her 1st album in 2011 and had won 2 music awards in Hong Kong. JuJu also writes her own songs

What limits of life did acting and martial art help you overcome and what did they help you strengthen? What is the biggest lesson you have learned from them?

There’s a lot of discipline needed to succeed in acting. Having a background in martial arts definitely helps with this. In fact, I’ve noticed that the actors who do martial arts do tend to be more disciplined than those without that sort of training. So even when I’m not working on a particular film, I still wake up early to train in martial arts, keep up my fitness and work on my acting. The main lesson to take away from this is to keep up your training, so you’re always ready to take up a role at short notice.

Zan-kick
She is also a winner in the Miss Chinatown USA 2009 pageant, in San Francisco. JuJu has also participated at the United Nations Pageants International in July 2009 in Jamaica, where she has won Miss Congeniality, Miss United Nations China, Miss Photogenic, and Miss International Ambassador 2009

Do you practice meditation?

No.

You have work experience in Asian production and Hollywood production, what are the biggest differences? What do you feel before shooting on set?

The big difference is preproduction. A lot more time is given to preparation in Hollywood films. Asian films generally just get you on set to film. It’s in Asian films that you most need to be ready for changes and always in good form. I always feel good before going on set. In this tough industry, and especially nowadays, I feel it’s a blessing to be working.

In 2010, JuJu became the spokesperson and ambassador of Heroes2, a charity organization which focuses on reforestation throughout the areas of rural China

Zan-behind-the-scene-(Wu-Assassins)
Ju has also written her first semi-autobiographyTo Live a Beautiful Life, releasing it in June 2010. In the book, she discusses her feelings about life, ideas about charity, her charitable mission, and her experiences on Millionaires Fight Poverty

You have worked in many important productions. What is a character you played that has excited you the most? Is there one in which you felt more related and connected?

My favourite character so far is Zan, from Wu Assassins. I just love how she’s a woman in a man’s world, and how the audience gets to follow her rise in the show. Even though she’s a villain I get a lot of fan mail supporting her. I think there are many people out there who feel for her… a person who knows they have a lot of capability but is overlooked because she doesn’t belong. In reality, I’m certainly not like Zan, but I do connect with her feeling of being unfairly passed over.

In October 2019, JuJu married director, martial artist, actor, stunt coordinator Antony Szeto

Zan-Headshots
In 2013 she published a guide to Western dining called Food and Ordering at a Restaurant

Can you share with us any meaningful story from the backstage of the set?

I have mentioned this several times, but I like talking about the moment I met Nicolas Cage when we were shooting Jiu Jitsu in Cyprus. He’s obviously very famous, and I very much admire his talent as an actor, so I was a little nervous when I met him. But instead of me going to introduce myself to him, when he saw me he was quick to stand up and introduce himself to me. And this humility of his wasn’t a one-off. During our shoot, he was always gracious to others, hardworking and prepared with his work, and very easy to get along with. He was a real team player. I certainly want to be like him.

JuJu has enrolled in a local organization that works with children. She is part of the organization’s mentorship program that helps children in need

JuJu-Chan Nicholas Cage
JuJu Chan Szeto & Nicolas Cage

Covid-19 has slowed down many productions. How this pandemic has affected your job? Can you tell us how is working on set during coronavirus?

Like many actors, because of Covid, I didn’t get any work in most of 2020. So I certainly feel very lucky to be working right at the beginning of 2021. International travel has been a real hassle because of Covid, mainly because of the need to quarantine in many countries. I’ve already had to decline an offer for a role because it would mean I’ll be quarantined for five weeks! And right now I have to be tested 3 times a week, which I truly detest. It is extremely unpleasant having a swap in your nasal cavity thrice weekly. Everyone on the crew has to go through the same thing, so I do feel quite safe with the people I’m working with. And I try to be very careful with where I go and who I meet with when outside of work.

She emigrated to the United States with her parents and a twin sister, at the age of 3 and settled in San Francisco

Crouching-Tiger-Hidden-Dragon
In the beginning of my career as an action actress I was constantly having to prove my ability to do things for myself. Nowadays I don’t have to, but I still like to challenge fight choreographers and directors with coming up with new and exciting things for my character to do when it comes to action. I advise people to never take no for an answer. All push boundaries and never be afraid to try new things

You are a woman of action, and you perform high-level action, in a field that usually is considered male territory. Do you have inspiring and empowering advice to overcome gender bias and inequality?

At the beginning of my career as an action actress, I was constantly having to prove my ability to do things for myself. Nowadays I don’t have to, but I still like to challenge fight choreographers and directors with coming up with new and exciting things for my character to do when it comes to action. I advise people to never take no for an answer. All push boundaries and never be afraid to try new things.

Photos courtesy of JuJu Chan Szeto

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