Chinese actor/director Wu Jing has had a massive couple of years, starring in two films that have grossed over $1.5 billion, with nearly all the box office coming from the Middle Kingdom.
A one-time mid-level Hong Kong martial arts actor, Wu stormed screens with 2017’s Wolf Warrior 2—which he also helmed—and this year he was featured in The Wandering Earth, a sci-fi epic that made global headlines, but might not have gotten made had Wu not contributed $9 million of his own money to the budget. A powerhouse who became a household name only in his early 40s, he’s been hailed as China’s Rambo, though some disagree with that notion and wonder if Wu can achieve global stardom.
Frank Grillo, who co-starred in Wolf Warrior 2, calls Wu’s ascension “mindboggling”. When Grillo first traveled to China, after an offer from Joe and Anthony Russo, who were quietly consulting on Wolf Warrior 2, he says, “Nobody knew who Wu was.” Now, “He is the guy in China. The fact that he had taken on that kind of movie at that level with not a ton of experience, I was just amazed at the balls the guy had.”
The film was remarkable for its American-style action. “That has a lot to do with Wu Jing letting Sam [Hargrave, stunt coordinator] and the guys guide him through all these action sequences and having no ego about it. I think that was his greatest asset.”
Wolf Warrior 2 was a flag-waving story of a special forces operative rescuing Chinese citizens in Africa from a band of mercenaries. The Wandering Earth is set against the backdrop of the imminent destruction of the sun. The two films became the number 1 and 2 movies ever at the Chinese box office, giving Hollywood reason to consider locally-aimed partnerships.
Wu is next teaming with Jackie Chan for Climbers, the story of the first Chinese mountaineers to successfully ascend Mount Everest’s North Ridge. For Grillo, it’s smart of Wu to pair himself with Chan, but he doesn’t see the star as comparable to Chan or Sylvester Stallone quite yet. “He’s right now in a great position to be a huge Chinese movie star and that’s what he’s become. Is that going to translate to American audiences? I don’t know. But he’s very charismatic, he’s a smart guy. He was in the military, so he understands that aspect of what he’s doing. He’s extremely connected. He’s a stud and he knows how to make a film.”
But, suggests Grillo, “He has a great crevasse to jump over where he’s going to translate to global movie stardom… It could happen, it’ll be interesting to watch. But if he just stays in China he’s still making more money than all of us. It’s not a bad career.”
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