Byron Mann and Tzi Ma Star in the Netflix Series Wu Assassins
Allison Kugel | 9/13/2019, 6:36 p.m.
Allison Kugel – What are your feelings about that? Do you feel honored by that legacy, or do you feel typecast by it?
Byron Mann: I have dual feelings about it. When I first started out in my career, all the roles were martial arts roles. Suddenly, I was the guy that does martial arts. He could be a lawyer, but he still did martial arts. He could be a doctor, and suddenly he is doing martial arts. At first, I didn't mind because I thought it was fun. Then I got to a point where I thought, "Come on guys," and I had to push back on it and say, There is no reason why this [character] should be doing martial arts. Now I'm reaching a third stage, where I am studying martial arts in my own life and appreciating that it came from thousands of years ago in China. In learning Chinese martial arts, I'm actually learning about my own culture.
Tzi Ma: My journey is kind of inverted from Byron's. I began studying martial arts when I was ten years old. I had stopped studying it because I wanted to focus on acting. I felt that if I was going to be a martial artist then I'm should be a martial artist, and If I'm going to be an actor then I'm should pursue acting as opposed to pursuing a career where I'm going to fight. So, I avoided it like the plague, particularly when martial artists at one time in Hollywood were mainly villains. For a long time, the way scripts were written, the hero was always white, and the victim was always an Asian woman. I made three rules for myself early on in my career. One: if you want me to be the bad guy, then the heroes must be Asian or Asian Americans; Two: there's no Asian or Asian-American woman being victimized; and Three: there's a balance of good and evil distributed evenly by race.
Allison Kugel: When did you see the tide turning in your favor?
Tzi Ma: When I saw the movie Rapid Fire, in which Brandon Lee was the hero, I felt that finally we had an opportunity for the Asian hero to come in and save the day, and where all the victims were organized crime figures. And there was no Asian or Asian American woman victimized. A lot of times the scenario back in the day was that the Asian woman was somehow sexually or physically violated and then you have the white hero who comes in and saves the day, and she goes to bed with him. I can't buy that scenario and it's offensive to me.
Allison Kugel: Why do you think Netflix has decided to take a chance on the martial arts/sci-fi genre at this time, with Wu Assassins?
Tzi Ma: Action/Adventure is very easy to sell because there is no explanation necessary; a fight is a fight and a car chase is a car chase. It's easy for the audience. The martial arts of late have experienced some recent changes, stylistically. I think that the fights are a lot more realistic given all the popularity with MMA and with UFC. All those things have re-sparked an interest in the martial arts genre. Netflix, at this point, their subscription base is saturated in the United States and they need to expand globally. I think this genre is a good opportunity for them to use as a vehicle to introduce the world audience to Netflix.