The 29-year-old actor represents a new generation of actors who are just as comfortable in a Beijing hutong as they are on the boulevards of Hollywood.
The Power Rangers have come a long way since Ludi Lin, who plays the Black Power Ranger in the latest iteration of the teen-superhero franchise, was first introduced to them.
“I was a fan even before I knew the Power Rangers series existed,” Lin told China Film Insider at the CAA offices in Beijing in early May.
Lin explains that he was around three and a half when he left China for the West via Hong Kong, where his mother bought him the action figure.
Confused and scared in his new environs, Lin felt like he was a world away from Fuzhou, where he was born.
“As a kid, five hours is a lifetime away to fly thousands of miles to Hong Kong and so obviously I was crying non-stop,” Lin says. “So just to shut me up, my mom bought me that yellow action figure.”
In the kitschy 90s series, the yellow Power Ranger was played by Vietnamese-born American actress Thuy Trang. The black Power Ranger was played by African American actor Walter Emanuel Jones.
The none-too-subtle tokenism didn’t end there. The only other female Power Ranger, played by Amy Jo Johnson, was Pink. The remaining two white guys were a jingoistic red, white, and blue.
In Lionsgate’s latest film, which opened in China last week, the characters are considerably less on the nose. Lin joins a multicultural cast that includes actress and singer Becky G. whose character Trini questions her sexual orientation, and RJ Cyler, whose character is autistic and black.
Lin’s character Zack Taylor also confounds the stereotype of an Asian-American character as rich and successful. Halfway through the movie, we discover that Zach lives in a trailer park where he takes care of his ailing mother.
“A lot of Americans or a lot of Westerners even view Asians or Chinese people in their own country that were born there in a certain way – a stereotypical way. Whether they have a lot of money, whether they are into video games or cartoons.”
“Asian-Americans or Asians Australians — they feel more Australian than Asian. And some are poor just like Zach is poor. He lives in a trailer park. There are a lot of Asians also under the poverty line and they have to struggle as well.”
Not fitting neatly into ethnic stereotypes is something the sporty 29-year-old is used to after a life lived in Fuzhou, Hong Kong, and Australia before ending up in Canada.
That background allows Lin to fit easily into a new generation of actors who are just as comfortable in a Beijing ‘hutong’ as they are on the boulevards of Hollywood. At times in our interview, he drops Chinese idioms, waxes lyrical about US pop-culture and even occasionally slips into an Australian drawl.
“You know throughout my life I moved. I was born here, moved to Hong Kong, I went to Australia, I went to Canada and the States, and each time it was different,” Lin said.
“Eventually I always got in but it was always after some pretty bloody fights. And then finally getting accepted there’s this term in Chinese called 不打不成交 (Bù dǎ bùchéng jiāo) which means if you don’t fight then you can’t become friends.”
It was at Lin’s suggestion that his character would speak in Mandarin with his mother in the trailer home.
“It was something I discussed with the director after I got cast,” Lin says. “I told him that this is how people live at home. As a Chinese kid you go home, your mom doesn’t speak English – you’re not going to speak broken English to her, you’re going to speak her language.”
While the film hasn’t exactly gone gangbusters in China, local viewers have appreciated the casting of the China-born Lin in a meaningful role that doesn’t just have him there to “get some soy sauce,’” 打酱油 (Dǎ jiàngyóu) — slang for when people take part in something but do not put in any effort or get any results.
Lin is also keen to smash the stereotypical depiction of Asian characters in Hollywood films who he believes have traditionally been “emasculated and stripped of sexuality.”
And it looks like the young actor will have plenty of opportunities to lay those old stereotypes to waste. Just this week he landed the role of Murk in Warner Bros.’ James Wan-directed DC superhero film Aquaman.
“I’m going to keep trying to fight for more complex roles,” Lin says. “Roles that might want to pigeonhole — might want to put me in a box as an Asian or an action star or a kungfu fighter — but I’m going to do my best to break out of those roles and bring complexity and reality to them. ”