“Bruce Lee was the first star I idolized. Growing up as a Chinese American, there weren’t many people like me on the big screen,” recalls Daniel Wu. “Because Lee did kung fu, I wanted to learn kung fu.” Wu spent his youth in the San Francisco Bay Area practicing wushu, a full-contact discipline of martial arts. But it was a chance encounter on what was supposed to be a three-month-long trip through Asia after completing a degree in architecture that led the 40-year-old actor to his current career. While having a drink at a bar in Hong Kong, he was scouted for a TV commercial. “After that, a director named Yonfan cast me for the lead in his film. I initially turned it down, as I wasn’t a professional actor and could not speak Cantonese, but after a month of him trying to convince me to do it, I decided to give it a shot,” Wu says. “I ended up falling in love with the whole movie-making experience.” Cue more than 60 films over the past 17 years, establishing Wu as one of the most in-demand leading men of Hong Kong and Chinese gangster and kung fu flicks; he has even shared screen time with genre legends like Jackie Chan.
Work, and a growing family, keep Wu on the move between Asia and the States. He recently starred in A Rose Reborn, a surreal short film for Italian luxury brand Ermenegildo Zegna Couture, conceptualized by designer Stefano Pilati and South Korean director Park Chan-wook. The globe-hopping four-part series pits a businessman (Jack Huston) with Wu’s character, an enigmatic mogul with a penchant for riddles. For Wu, the wardrobe—slick, head-to-toe Zegna—was a plus, as was the chance to collaborate with one of his cinematic heroes. “I was dying to work with Park. Oldboy (2003) is one of those films you never forget. I tend to gravitate towards darker, more violent material, and Park masters that by adding his own layers of intelligence.”
As of late, Wu has branched out into writing, directing, and producing, with his next project, the AMC series Badlands, slated for release later this year. It’s almost as if Wu’s career is coming full circle—he’ll star in the martial-arts drama, based on the 16th-century epic Journey to the West, as a brutal warrior, mentoring a young boy toward the path to enlightenment. He says cogently, “I can’t help to think how surreal a trip it has been.”