No more Mr. Bad Guy

Updated: 2011-04-08 12:22

By Matt Hodges (China Daily European Weekly)

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Italian actor plans to smash ‘foreign devil’ myth and become the first white kungfu star made in China

Christian Bachini winces as he recalls fight scenes involving Western actors in some of the biggest Asian movies of recent years. The Italian hasn't spent half his life studying martial arts and stunt acting to become another crude caricature of a racist foreigner getting beaten to a pulp by an Asian kungfu star, he says.

No more Mr. Bad Guy

Martial arts actor Christian Bachini is set to appear in Jackie Chan's
100th film, God of Armor III. The 25-year-old Italian has big ambitions
to make it as a kungfu star in China. Provided to China Daily

Think of the steroid-primed Australian thug in the Thai blockbuster Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, who denounces Thai kickboxing and slaps around a waitress before getting decked by Tony Jaa. Then there is the Chinese biopic Yip Man 2, which features a racist boxer from Britain taunting, and waiting to be punished by Bruce Lee's noble-knight teacher, played by Hong Kong superstar Zhen Zidan (Donnie Yen).

Then think again.

"I want to become the first Western actor to become a superstar in Asia," says Bachini. "No one has really done it yet. Van Damme came close, very close, but he gave up after making a few movies with Hong Kong companies, especially after Double Team turned out to be such a turkey," adds the 25-year-old.

Bachini is tired after spending the previous week traipsing around a Hong Kong film fair trying to drum up financial support for Deficit, his first feature-length movie. Directed by American Richard Chung, the plot turns the tables on conventional generic offerings by having Bachini play a foreigner who has grown up as a Chinese gangster born and raised in the United States.

If all goes to plan, it may get a theatrical release in China this winter. After that, he is heading to the US to play an Italian-American cop in a movie based on the memoirs of a real undercover drug agent. And after that, he says, he'll probably move to Hong Kong.

Bachini is in Shanghai by accident after ditching a plan to study at China's Shaolin Temple and racing around the country in search of his idol, Jackie Chan.

When he learned that Chan was back in Beijing filming a remake of The Karate Kid, Bachini decided to stick around in Shanghai and try to smash the stereotype of the "foreign devil" that is so popular in Asian pop culture. Caucasians in Hong Kong are still routinely referred to as guilo, or "demon guys".

However with the local movie industry's penchant for playing up to nationalist sentiment, and China's censorship laws further constricting available roles, his dream, for now, seems almost as far-fetched as the martial arts genre in which he works.

"My dream, much more than Hollywood, is to make it big here in China, but I mostly just get offered 'bad guy' roles," he says. "If I wanted to read lines like 'kungfu sucks', and strut around being rude and disrespectful, it would be a lot easier to get into the business here."

He says he was originally offered the villain's role in Yip Man 2, but was later dropped as the producers opted for a muscle-bound boxer played by Darren Shahlavi, a career setback that the slim Italian now thanks his lucky stars for.

"When I took my (Chinese) girlfriend to the cinema to see that movie, all she said was, 'You're so lucky you didn't do that role, otherwise your career would be over'."

Another problem is that even one-dimensional foreign thugs are not as in demand as they were back in the 1980s, when Caucasians had more "face value". Now mainland and Hong Kong film-makers are selling to the Chinese market, most of whom want on-screen heroes they can identify with. This spells good news for American-Chinese like Yen, but not for Bachini.

"I think Donnie was a bit taken aback when he saw my show reel, and he saw that I can really fight. He said he would call me if they need someone, but that mostly they want big, muscular bad guys," Bachini says.

When he finally met up with Chan, the Drunken Master star advised him to chase every small role, be respectful and take his time. But Bachini says he is already growing tired of seeing Chinese producers drop their friendly tone after viewing his reel.

"They say, 'No way, we can't have our guys asses being kicked like that'," he says. "Most of the Chinese stars just look handsome. They can't actually fight."

In this respect, Bachini sees himself more as a Steven Seagal or Chuck Norris. Norris famously appeared in Way of the Dragon alongside Bruce Lee, but both actors built their careers in the US.

Bachini, who came to China in 2009, got his name about by working with foreign directors of shorts. His growing resume includes Kang: The New Legend Begins, Chung's 12-minute short revolving around a nightclub fight scene. It won the best short award at last year's Pasadena film festival. His latest short is Shangdown: The Way of the Spur, a "spaghetti western love story" is now in post-production.

Teasers from the latter make it clear that, at the very least, the Italian is a master of the fighting arts. Having spent more than half his life perfecting a unique synthesis of styles pivoted around kungfu, including Brazilian jujitsu, capoeira, silat (an Indonesian art that uses knife fighting) and taekwondo, he describes his niche as "being able to blend 30 different styles in 30 seconds". This is his edge, he says.

In fact, Bachini's Chan-o-philia has reached epic proportions. He is positively wired at the prospect of appearing in Chan's 100th movie, Armor of God III.

"I'll be the bad guy for that. I don't care," he laughs. "I just want to take a kick from Jackie. He's my idol."

Bachini has a shock of prematurely graying hair and together with his slate-gray Italian suit and pink shirt, his looks are a reminder that he is a long way from home. Yet every time he demonstrates a throat-strangle, or preying mantis, a steely glint comes into his eyes that is part-Clint Eastwood, part-Jet Li.

This hints at one of the ironies of his situation. Bachini hails from Prato, a Tuscan textile city that has made headlines for its flood of immigrant clothes-makers, most of who come from Wenzhou in East China's Zhejiang province.

Prato has become a symbol of cultural tension a place where East and West bump heads.

His decision to chase his dream on far-flung shores thus left some of his compatriots aghast. Local newspapers poked fun at him with headlines like "From Italy to China with Fists of Fury", he says. "I'm a symbol, or example, of how to make this work for everyone, of how this is the best deal for everyone," he says.

While the script remains unwritten for Bachini, who has picked up Mandarin with remarkable ease in the past two years, the irony of having a lone ranger take on the might of modern China's entrenched film industry, and possibly winning, is not lost on him.


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