The Crow Was The Light: Bai Ling on Knockdown
Alluring, intense, and bizarrely ageless, Chinese actress Bai Ling has been a popular cult fetish object for American genre fans since her smolderingly enigmatic, PVC-swathed appearance in 1994’s The Crow. Ling’s latest movie is Knockdown, a grit-caked noir thriller set in the mean streets of Bangkok. In anticipation of Knockdown’s release, Ling spoke with CraveOnline about working with George Lucas, the differences between Hong Kong and Hollywood, her budding music career, and the challenges and rewards of playing sexual characters onscreen.
CraveOnline: Hi! How are you doing?
Bai Ling: I’m great! I’m just in my bedroom, I am lighting a candle here. Very comfortable.
That sounds lovely. So the first question I wanted to ask you — I didn’t realize this until I was researching you, but I saw online that you shot some scenes for Revenge of the Sith that got cut out. Is that true?
Yeah, I think that right now it’s on the film, actually. Somebody saw it come back. I think it got cut out. I don’t know exactly how, but at the time it was like, the Playboy Magazine, all of that – controversial. So I don’t know what exactly happened. So I think – well, but for me, it matters. Like I worked with George Lucas, lots of hours. That’s a fact, I shot the movie. So that’s something good enough, you know?
Yeah, that’s really cool! What kind of a character did you play? What did you look like?
I play a senator. She’s very serious, kind of an alien. Kind of like purple, and designed for me. I don’t know where that design comes from, the purple cloak thing. And she’s very graceful and mysterious.
Was it all just costuming, or were they going to use CG or anything to augment it?
My part is all costume, there’s no CGI. She’s real dressed up – like me, like how I look is how I look in the film. There’s no CGI changing my look.
Have you talked to George Lucas since then? Because I heard that he claimed it didn’t have anything to do with the Playboy thing, that it was just a coincidence.
Yeah, of course I think whatever is the design of George Lucas, he has the right to decide whatever he wants to decide. But for me it doesn’t really matter, I think – you know, like I said, I really, really appreciate that he gave me this opportunity, and I went to Australia, and you know – very cozy work with him. I think he is one of the most brilliant filmmakers there. He makes our fantasy dreams come true, you know, this children’s playground – all these things come true. It is fascinating. So I was very lucky and very grateful for that.
Do you think he was your favorite director to work with? Because I know you’ve worked with Spike Lee, and with a lot of other really great directors.
I think George Lucas is really different, I think he’s like a standard point of view. Even when he directs, he’s like a master of more of the behind… basically, just his casting is very important. Whoever he casts, he just lets you be the role, the actor, he imagines you can be, to bring this character to life on your own. And for me, he gave me all the freedom – except the look, all of that was his design. But everything about how I behave, how I do, how I act, is really – he’s very comfortable just letting me do what I want to do. So that makes it very easy. Also, sometimes it makes you kind of insecure because he’s like, not really saying much, and you don’t know what to do. But then I find out, “okay, well, I’ll just be me and do whatever I feel is right.”
Yeah, that must really be kind of freeing and nice, actually. So anyway, I watched Knockdown, and in Knockdown you play a Thai prostitute – it’s a very sexual role, but also a really dark, kind of sad role. And I was thinking about how you seem like you play a lot of characters who are like that – who are really sexy, but in a really dark, or weird, or kind of scary way. But you do a really good job of doing both of those at the same time, so they kind of meld together and don’t overwhelm each other.
I didn’t even think that way, you put it together! You should just do this for me. [Laughs]
Yeah, well I think that’s maybe why you have such a cult following, is because you’re so good at that. But I was wondering, do you seek out roles like that, or do you feel like you get typecast and just get offered those roles a lot? Or is it something that really expresses something for you, about you?
Actually I did a lot of different roles, like I did a French movie with Luc Besson that’s comedy/action, that’s fun. I did comedy, I did the horror film Dumplings, which you can see on Netflix. I won the Asian canon award for it. It’s totally different from this young and sexual, kind of a dark, kind of seducing roles. I do many different roles. In Red Corner I play a lawyer, in Anna and the King I play someone who is very, sort of innocently, suffering from love, in a beautiful way. So just back to this, of course, it is more like movie makers, or a lot of audiences, like me to be, like you say, a very sexy, sexual, but also kind of lost. It’s not totally innocent, but kind of like this mystery.
I kind of like this role because I’m very comfortable being sexy onscreen, because I think that’s part of being real, or being me. I have that allure or aura of mystery that nature gave to me, and my body knows how to naturally be. I don’t have to do anything. So like in this role Knockdown, she is – basically, on paper, she could just be this really lost character, but instead I make her much more pronounced, much more powerful in a way, onscreen. I think I’m showing this sensuality as a woman. I think that’s an important part about the movie — for us to worship woman, and also for people to be enjoyed, of feeling that feeling of sexuality of a woman, as being sexy. Sex is beautiful in a way.
So I think she is in that part because she basically is very powerful, innocent, and vulnerable, and open with the man. She gives the message, and comfort, and basically makes harmony with this man so that she can comfort him, heal him. On the other side, because she’s so open and vulnerable, she cannot live life that way, in this harsh world. She has to take drugs, so she’s an addict. It’s a kind of unfortunate, mixed up character, and really actually is a complicated character in that way. I like that. I think in real life, when you’re lost, when you don’t know what’s going on – I think there are many levels of complexity to it. Especially in cinema, it’s very attractive. There is something it makes you feel, makes you wondering. It’s like you are solving a mystery of somebody massaging and touching you by candlelight. You’re not sure why they touch you, and it feels like this. It’s something I like for this character definitely, it brings that energy out of me.
Yeah, she really exudes so many different things. And in such a condensed – like, you’re really only in a few scenes, but they’re such pivotal, major scenes in the movie.
I like the words you’re using! You’re saying all of this better than me.
[Laughs] Well, sorry, I don’t mean to upstage you.
No, no! I like that, because a lot of interviews ask me these questions and they don’t really ask me to describe it. I think you already know her, I think you totally know her, and from your words I know that what I’m doing, I think, is right. Because I have that power onscreen to give this mystery, this mystery to woman.
Another thing I was going to ask – I asked you about working with different directors. I noticed that, even though you’ve obviously had a lot of success working in the United States, that you still occasionally, as recently as 2010, you’ve worked with directors in China. Do you prefer working there? I read somewhere else that you like China better, like that you just like being there.
I would say China is like my grandparents and parents, and the U.S. and Europe and the West world is like my lovers and boyfriend and husband. My time here, when I work here, is like a boyfriend or husband, that’s the description I’d give, is like more romantic, and more adventurous, and more new, and more up in the air – in the Western world, working in Hollywood. Especially in Hollywood, because it’s such a mystical, such a crazy world. But in China it’s much more grounded, and I feel much more at home. So that’s a much different energy, and they’re both sort of – I need both. It’s like, that’s my home, and I feel safe. It’s my good food, grandparents, and my parents there to comfort me. But in U.S., it’s the excitement that I like.
Do you have a big following in China? Because I know you have kind of a fan base here in America.
I have a blog in Chinese, which you can follow, Chinese signs. But I don’t even update at all, often I don’t. But I have like nine million people there following me! It’s a lot of people. I’m basically one of the 1.4 billion people there, and I stick out as the only one Bai Ling, because I did everything on my own. I did not depend on anybody, did not know the culture, did not know the language, did not have any money, didn’t know anybody. So I am living my dream right now, and I’m not saying I didn’t appreciate it – everything that people did to help me along the way, I’m just saying that I’m living my dream. I think that’s such inspiration, every time I go back to China, everyone everywhere I go has one question, “How did you do it?” So that’s something, that I can give encouragement to people. Like, you can find your dream, if you firmly believe. You have to have the innocence, and you have to have the daringness to trust. When you’re ready to walk down that road, you’ll find the dream, and it will surprise you. But a lot of people are afraid, and go to the merely safe one, so they never live their dream.
So I think that’s something that my life in the West – East to West – I’m the bridge of it. I think a lot of things, I’m very grateful that I have. And also, I know I have this responsibility or mission to show people, to encourage them to live their dream, too.
I heard the other day that they’re making a remake of The Crow, which was one of your first – maybe not your very first big role in the U.S. But a lot of people here know you for your role in The Crow. I was just curious what you think about that – do you think it’s a good idea, or do you think it’s pointless?
Well I think always, when you remake films, I always think the first one is most original, authentic. There’s energy. It’s like your first time making love. No matter how good the art is of the later ones, the first one you remember. There’s a rawness, a magic that you cannot replace. Especially with The Crow, what happened to Brandon. He has become legendary, very unique, special. There’s somebody’s life there, you can’t replace that. You can’t duplicate that. I don’t know about if the filmmakers have their own thinking, but that’s such a stature there. You can’t really do anything, any other things, to replace that, or to follow that. Right? Do you agree?
Absolutely. Plus the first one, for the time it came out, was such a cultural zeitgeist. It affected the culture so much.
Yes, it’s like leading culture at that time, in that genre of film, like that sort of magic people talk about.
Yeah, it’s become a really iconic movie.
Yeah, iconic. I also feel like, if you make anything of The Crow – I don’t want to say anything, but I feel like you’re under the shadow of something. You know? It’s hard to become the light, because The Crow was the light, so you are already there.
The last thing I wanted to ask you before I go is whether there are any other projects you’re working on right now. I don’t know if you’re acting in anything else right now, or if you do anything else besides film.
I actually have many projects going, I have one film called Back2Hell. It’s a 3-D movie I did in London, in post-production. They may change the name, but I am thinking it is still the same name. I play two characters, it is a fascinating 3-D movie. It’s like a mystical thriller. Then this week I am shooting three new movies, and then next week I start another new movie. One is called Kill Point, another one is Speed Dragon, and then I’m doing Yellow Hill, and another film I cannot say the name yet, because I have to talk to the director tomorrow. Each of the roles are very, very different, and also I’m producing those movies too. And also I have a story I want to make a film on my own, that’s like something fascinating about woman in the contemporary world, because I am ready to do something very challenging, very groundbreaking, something fascinating. So I think you’ll understand. I never told anybody, but I told you, because you’re just so – by the words you use, you’re so, easily understanding a lot of different levels.
Anyway, I am also writing a book, and it is already finished, but I don’t think it’s a good time to release it. It’s about my time in Tibet, over three years, in the Communist Liberation Army. It’s very brutally revealing, and naked, and challenging – in Tibet.
So then, basically, I want you to tell your fans to check me on my iTunes and YouTube. If you actually follow me [on Twitter] @RealBaiLing, and go to OfficialBaiLing.com, it will lead you to iTunes and you can listen to my music, because I write songs. It’s fascinating, I have three songs now. Each song takes me five hours to write the music, lyrics, and record it – only five hours creating one song. I think that’s kind of fascinating, to me.
I don’t even know music, but I just do it. It’s very hip, cutting edge. It’s kind of a fun dance song, and then a love song. So I just finished another song I think girls will like, called “I Am the Sexiest Girl In the World.” It’s fun! It’s a dance song. The other three songs from before are on iTunes. One song is called “Rehab,” another one is called, “You Touch Me, I Don’t Know You,” and it’s about social media. Like, you Tweet and you text me, you kiss me, we make love, and we don’t know each other. So it’s very contemporary. And then the first song is called, “I Love You, My Valentine.” It’s somebody I love, I wrote a song dedicated to him.
So I want your audience to hear my music, from my other, crazy one of my spirits, to be out there being a rock star, and celebrate life.