Taiwan’s Timberlake Takes the States



Taiwanese mega-pop star Jay Chou has a song on an early album called “Shuāng Jié Gùn.” Translation? “Nunchucks.” The album came out 10 years ago, long before Chou knew he would take on a role famous for its association with nunchucks—Kato in The Green Hornet, portrayed in the 1960s television series by Bruce Lee, with whom nunchucks have become nearly synonymous. Chou’s song now appears at the end of the film, which opens Friday and is directed by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’s Michel Gondry.

During a recent appearance on the Today show, Seth Rogen—who stars in and co-wrote the film—said that Chou refers to himself as “the Taiwanese Usher.” Rogen prefers him as the Taiwanese Justin Timberlake. Rogen’s probably more accurate. In Asia, Chou’s stardom is huge: Like Timberlake, he hasn’t only sold millions of albums, but has also starred in films and even directed one himself. We talked with Chou this week via translator about playing Kato, working in America, and how a funny co-star takes the pressure off.

ESTHER ZUCKERMAN: How did you get involved with The Green Hornet project? How were you approached to do the film?

JAY CHOU: There was a casting, and this producer asked me to go to the casting because Stephen Chow wasn’t going to be a part of it.  And then I thought it was cool that Bruce Lee played this role before. A lot of different people from Asia, like Korea and Japan, came for casting for The Green Hornet. Bruce Lee is Chinese so I was really happy that in the end I was picked for the role.

ZUCKERMAN: Were you familiar with the comic books and storyline at all? How familiar were you with Kato?

CHOU: I saw the TV series a long time ago. I thought Bruce Lee was really entertaining in the series, and no one could replace Bruce Lee, so I kind of changed it up with the Kato that I’m playing—like I play piano in the movie. I made my fighting style really cool and fun in my role as Kato.

ZUCKERMAN: Did you want to play the piano, or was that suggested by someone else?

CHOU: The director wanted me to play piano to begin with, because the director is a musician.

ZUCKERMAN: What was it like doing comedy for the movie? Did you have a lot of experience doing comedic roles in Asia?

CHOU: I’ve never played comedy in Asia before. It’s all very cool. Since Seth was already so funny to begin with, I don’t have to be as funny. I wanted to be like a different character than Seth.

ZUCKERMAN: What has it been like promoting the film in America, considering you have such a huge fan base in Asia?

CHOU: I feel like not a lot of people know me in the States. So I feel really relaxed here, kind of like a newbie.

ZUCKERMAN: How would you describe your music to North American audiences, who maybe haven’t heard it before?

CHOU: It’s like a combination of all different kinds of music. There’s country, there’s rock, there’s hip hop. There’s no age range or anything. It’s for everybody.

ZUCKERMAN: Your music is in the film. Are you going to try to bring more of your music to America now and try to get more listeners here?

CHOU: I want more people to know my music and listen to my music, but language is a problem.