‘Wu Assassins’ Star Lewis Tan is Assassinating Asian Male Stereotypes
Netflix continues to champion Asian representation with “Wu Assassins,” a new supernatural martial arts series that follows a warrior’s search for the powers of an ancient triad to restore balance in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
The show, which drops next week, stars Indonesian actor Iko Uwais (“The Night Comes for Us”), along with Hong Kong American star Byron Mann (“Blood and Water”) and British American actor Lewis Tan (“Into the Badlands”).
In an interview with NextShark, Tan, who plays Lu Xin Lee, revealed interesting details on his casting and character, whom he described as someone with “major identity issues.”
“I had just finished 11 months filming ‘Into the Badlands’ when I landed in Los Angeles and my agents sent me the breakdown for Lu Xin Lee, the character I play. At this time I didn’t know who was involved, just that he was an Asian American gangster set in modern times.”
“I was really interested to explore new dynamics after being on such a genre-specific show and doing specialized Hong Kong-style action,” Tan said. “The possibilities of this wild character and the violent gritty action style was alluring.”
“I sent in a tape I filmed in my kitchen eating noodles and had a long conversation with our showrunner John Wirth. After hearing his vision and passion, I had to be a part of it.”
Tan put in the hours to prepare for his exciting new character, which many would find relatable.
“Like every role, there is always preparation involved. Getting to understand the character, why he does what he does, his motivations, fears, desires and loves, then discovering how I can physically and emotionally embody it. I try new things, fail, try again until it connects and then finds its flow.”
“Lu Xin has major identity issues, deals with a lot of past trauma and covers it up with a flashy lifestyle, cocky attitude and making very risky choices,” Tan said. “This is a common theme in life.”
“Why do we need the fancy car, the designer jewelry? We feel the need for validation from strangers. We want to be loved, understood, valued. The more we stop and ask ourselves why the more we can get to the raw naked truth. Everything revolves around love or fear. Whichever motivates your thoughts, you will manifest.”
Tan, whose jaw-dropping physique has proven popular on TV, said that he is happy to break aged stereotypes about Asian men.
“There is a stereotype created long ago that Asian men are not attractive or masculine. Even recently, Steve Harvey made those comments on his show, in this modern time.”
“I am happy to help break those lies and open up a new and more accurate way of thinking. I train a lot, not for vanity purposes but because I love martial arts.
“It is an integral part of my life, it helps balance my energy. I love being fluid and powerful, responsive and fast.”
The 32-year-old star maintains a meticulous balance of a healthy diet and training — which includes a combination of various styles — to stay in shape.
“I mix up my training with different styles: Muay Thai, boxing, weapons, kung fu, and sparring. I add in weight training, calisthenics, yoga, meditation, and full-body recovery.”
“I eat as clean as possible and as balanced as possible,” he said. “I try to know where my food and water is from, removing processed food and sugars from my diet almost completely, and again, I enjoy the way I feel so it isn’t much of a sacrifice.”
“If I am on vacation or traveling and I see an amazing dessert or a fat-heavy food, I will eat it. It is important to be happy, let yourself live, but don’t overindulge. It is the same with all good things in life. Balance, but as far as being attractive goes, it is all in knowing yourself, embracing who you are and being kind — nothing more attractive than that.”
Tan likened the cast of the show to a “big family,” whose members know how to have a good time.
“Everyday was a riot. I mean that the entire cast got along like a big family. We would play tricks and pranks on each other, show up on set when we weren’t filming just to support each other, train together, eat together and celebrate together. This is a first, for this many Asian actors to be together in a modern original Netflix series.”
He especially grew close to Uwais, who allegedly enjoys singing and dancing in their makeup trailer.
“We knew and felt like it was bigger than us. We came together to do great work, not just for our series, but to open doors for generations to come. I have too many funny stories — remind me to post the video of Iko Uwais doing karaoke and dancing in the makeup trailer. I will be risking my life, so if something happens to me you know where to look.”
Jokes aside, Tan pointed out that he wants to leave a legacy in the industry, especially at a time when Asian actors are finding more representation.
“I am excited to be acting at times like this. I want to be remembered for good work and not just for working. I choose carefully and end up turning down a lot of offers. Legacy is my main intention.”
However, he pointed out that his ethnicity neither defines him nor his work.
“Film is a powerful medium, arguably the most globally influential art form if you look at past history. It has changed lives, laws, and cultures. I don’t take it lightly. Being Asian is something I was born with, but it doesn’t define me or my work. As an artist, we all want the work to come first — how I am identified should be of less importance. That is the goal here: show people we are much similar then it may seem; the power of unity and understanding.”
Still, Tan acknowledges misrepresentation in film, which could affect viewers — particularly young ones — for life.
“When you watch films, you see a reflection of what society is thinking or saying. You begin to believe those ideas and narratives to be universally true, even if they are not. That is why it is dangerous.
“If a young Asian kid sees 100 films where the young Asian kid is a nerd, how do you think he is going to feel? He is going to feel like people perceive him as a nerd. He begins to believe those things, and eventually, that mindset will manifest into reality with him accepting it.
“People at school watch the same films, so they have a similar perspective when they see this kid. It is a cycle.”
Nonetheless, Tan is proud of the work he has accomplished so far.
“When I see the response to my work, it makes me proud to represent a different perspective. When I meet fans or kids at Comic-Con or wherever, it makes me proud to have suffered so much loss, failure, and rejection. I see their faces and it is all worth it.”