Asian Air 


(Updated Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008, 05:09:32 PM)

oan Chen had all but vanished from the Hollywood scene until transforming a friend's short story into Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl (1999) and reemerging as a director. Most of the film's $1 million budget came out of Chen's own pockets. The six Golden Horses it won in Taiwan translated into barely $1 million at the U.S. box office, however.
     Its critical notices did persuade MGM to let Chen direct Autumn in New York (2000). A $50 million production with Richard Gere and Winona Ryder as the leads couldn't save the morose chick flick from box office oblivion. More recently Chen's prospects as a Hollywood director dimmed when she was dropped from the helm of an upcoming remake of The Apartment. joan
     Chen herself admitted that she turned to directing to escape the B-movie rut into which she had fallen after portraying a seductive and mysterious mill owner in 16 of David Lynch's offbeat Twin Peaks TV series. The sole exception was her skillful portrayal of a 60-year-old Vietnamese peasant woman in Oliver Stone's critically acclaimed but money-losing Heaven and Earth (1993). Now, at age 40, Chen's acting career seems to be winding down. Her most recent roles are a middle-aged Vietnamese American housewife (What's Cooking? -- 2000, independent) and a 90-year-old drama queens (Avatar -- 2001, Singapore). A far cry from her heyday as the world's reigning Asian screen goddess on the strength of her doomed junkie empress in The Last Emperor (1987).
     But this isn't the first speed bump in Joan Chen's fairy tale life.
     She was born Chen Chung on April 26, 1961 to a pair of eminent Shanghai doctors. They were among the elite sent down for reeducation during Mao's Cultural Revolution. At age seven Joan and older brother Chase found themselves sharing their home with several other families. At age 14 Joan was recruited into the state-run acting school. Within a year she was becoming famous throughout China by playing virtuous peasant girls in state-sponsored propaganda films. The social constraints imposed by the revolutionary heroine roles began to chafe, and as she neared the end of her teen years, Chen was desperate to escape. Fortunately, in 1980 her parents were invited to conduct research at New York's Sloan-Kettering Medical Institute. A year later Joan Chen obtained permission to leave China to study filmmaking in the U.S.
     Within months China's most popular actress found herself waitressing in a San Fernando Valley Chinese restaurant while attending Cal State Northridge. To supplement her income she began auditioning for bit parts in small films. At age 23 she married a young entrepreneur named Jim Lau. Chen's first acting break came when Dino DeLaurentiis spotted her leaving an audition. He cast her as the concubine in the much-panned Tai Pan (1986). That role led to the breakthrough role in Bernardo Bertolucci's acclaimed 1987 costume epic. Her marriage was already on the rocks.
     After the 1990 Twin Peaks series Chen settled into a string of a dozen B movies, including On Deadly Ground (1994), Judge Dredd (1995) and The Hunted (1995). During this period she seems to have gone out of her way to avoid sexual or stereotypical roles. She did portray a sexpot in a Hong Kong production called Temptations of a Monk (1993), but it was hardly a reprisal of the stereotypically submissive concubine.
     As she entered her 30s Joan Chen had lost little of the petulant beauty and allure that had once made her "China's Elizabeth Taylor" and one of the "World's Most Beautiful People". Her aversion to sexual roles may have been prompted by her 1992 second marriage to San Francisco cardiologist Peter Hui with whom she had a daughter in 1998.
     Chen may well have painted herself out of the Hollywood scene by her self-professed artistic integrity, both as an actor and as a director. As an actor, she has expressed open admiration for Bertolucci and Stone and unveiled contempt for Stephen Segal. Of her experience directing Autumn in New York she expressed frustration with having to defer major decisions to studio execs.
     Her latest hiatus as a director may simply mean that she's developing another film project on her own.
     Is Joan Chen done with Hollywood? Or is Hollywood done with Joan Chen? Or are they just taking a break from each other?

This interactive article is closed to new input.
Discussions posted during the past year remain available for browsing.

Asian American Videos

Films & Movies Channel

Humor Channel

Identity Channel

Vocals & Music Channel

Makeup & Hair Channel

Intercultural Channel


© 1996-2013 Asian Media Group Inc
No part of the contents of this site may be reproduced without prior written permission.


[This page is closed to new input. --Ed.]
40 is geriatric for an actress. H*ll, 25 is old nowadays. Everybody wants to see the next Hot Young Thing.
Women age like beer?
   Monday, January 27, 2003 at 14:50:40 (PST)
I love Joan Chen. I wish she would return to filmmaking. We are in desperate need of Asian American filmmakers--someone who has control over the content of the film, not someone who's just the actor.
Freckled Face
   Thursday, April 25, 2002 at 03:12:35 (PDT)
Joan Chen, is a wonderful actress. Her beauty and her grace are perfection. I love to watch her in movies. I miss her prescence. I love What's Cooking? I loved her motherly portrayl, and her sincerity in the execution of the craft was stellar.

Lynn    Thursday, January 10, 2002 at 21:13:58 (PST)
"Autumn in New York" tanked in the U.S., but it made a lot of money in Japan. A popular white male actor, romance, and New York City -- usually a winning combination among female Japanese filmgoers.

Joan Chen shouldn't wait for Hollywood. I think she has enough clout to attract independent financing to make low-budget art-house faire on the scale of "Xiu Xiu".

I just hope she acts like the black directors and commits herself to giving her people a face on the silver screen. Or at least acts like Ang Lee, who might make a film with an all-white cast (as he has every right to), but then always returns to giving a face to Asian humor, heroism, romance, etc.
   Sunday, January 06, 2002 at 01:09:50 (PST)
I think raising the question of whether not Joan is done with Hollywood or vice-versa gets peoples attention. But do I care? No. I have enough of her DVD's to satisfy my lust for her incredible beauty. She has nothing to prove. If she is now a Mom, then she has a much more important job ahead of herself. I think great people recognize great talent, and sooner rather than later she will get a call from an Oliver Stone to star in another Last Emperor type epic. I just wish her the best.
Pu Yi    Thursday, December 13, 2001 at 15:07:58 (PST)