Gunshots echo. Kevin Lee falls down in blood and another Chinese blockbuster movie ends with this scene.
An actor whose name is almost unheard of in Britain, Kevin Lee is a well-known face in China.
He always plays the role of a Western villain in Chinese movies, who is constantly beaten and killed by a Chinese hero, but always defeated.
Kevin Lee, known as Kaiwen in China, played a hit man in Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu Yoga movie and the blue giant in the fantasy movie Super Me, which was shot last year.
However, he became most famous for his role as American colonel Allan D Maclean in the movie The Battle of Changjin, which was released in China last year, and solidified his title as the favorite “Western villain” character of the Chinese.
“I think I am the most sought-after foreign actor in China,” Lee said in a recent interview with the BBC.
an accidental acquaintance
Growing up in Huntingdon, England, Kevin Lee was very fond of Chinese martial arts movies, and his biggest hero was Jackie Chan.
After completing his training in communications technology over two decades ago, he decided to study martial arts for a year in Mudanjiang, a small town in north-eastern China.
He was going to China for the first time in his life and his knowledge of Chinese was also very scarce.
Returning to England, he found a job as a salesman, but soon realized that he really wanted to be an actor. He studied acting at a school and returned to China in 2010.
But in the early years, his luck in the Chinese movie industry did not go well. Until 2013, when he met Wu Jing, the superstar of action movies, whose name is now synonymous with the nationalist-sounding films of Chinese cinema.
Kevin Lee had gone to extend his visa at the Security Bureau in Beijing that day.
He saw Wu Jing in the elevator. She had a sudden crush on him watching one of his movies just the night before.
“I approached him and said, ‘Hey, you’re Wu Jing, right?’ I asked.
Wu was surprised, but told him that he needed a large actor in an upcoming action movie.
Two weeks later, Lee was auditioned for the role. He made mistakes in his Chinese lines, but Wu still gave him the part.
This was a major turning point in Lee’s acting career. That movie would be the first movie in the iconic Wolf Warrior series.
‘Main tune’ movies
In 2014, Chinese leader Xi Jinping called for artists to “make patriotism a central theme in literature and other creative works.”
The following year, Wolf Warrior and even bigger hit Wolf Warrior 2 movies were completed.
Combining moving fight scenes with the great heroism of Chinese soldiers in foreign lands, the scenarios marked the beginning of a new era in Chinese cinema.
Traditionally, mainstream propaganda films in China used the method of feeding some battles, which are important in national history, with heroic dialogues and fictions.
But while China is getting stronger and more assertive in the international arena, more advanced productions around a strong image of China have begun to dominate the movie studios.
These action-packed and masterfully shot films are called “main tune” films, referring to their conformity with the official state ideology.
These films often present China as a world power doing whatever it takes to protect its citizens, and feature “revolutionary heroes” resisting Western “imperialists”.
Kevin Lee plays most of the roles that represent the evil, imperialist West.
Lee says he’s very excited about this breakthrough in his career, but he also knows that he needs to be wary of his fan base. For example, he always keeps the audience in mind when he plays an American colonel fighting the Chinese forces during the Korean War in the movie Battle of Changjin Lake.
“I have to respect what this movie means to the Chinese people. It’s not just a movie. Because I’m a foreigner, my role in the movie essentially entailed killing large numbers of Chinese soldiers.”
On social media, the British actor is often criticized for acting in Chinese propaganda films.
“I honestly don’t care what people think because that’s my job. I’m just an actor. I’m not an official of the Chinese government. I usually respond to such criticism with a smiling emoji,” she says.
“Foreigners don’t get a chance to play lead roles here, because this is the Chinese market. The same goes for the West. Look at Hollywood movies. How many Chinese or Asian actors are starring? The Chinese and the Russians always play the bad guy,” he continues.
But if there’s one thing that bothers Kevin Lee, it’s censorship.
In films shot in the West, he says, “We can talk about our presidents, our prime ministers, we can talk about drugs, we can talk about gangs. But of course, Chinese cinema is a bit more limited in what you can talk about.”
“Even when the shooting is over, the movie can’t be released right away. It has to go through the censorship board first.”
“I think that if China had been a little more comfortable with the texts and could tell a little deeper story, these films would have had a better chance of getting into the Western markets.”
Although Kevin Lee is proud of his success in China, he still wants to be able to try different roles and even act in Hollywood or London.
“It might be nice to play the good guy, but I have to admit that if I’m going to be an actor here (in China), I’m going to play the bad guy.”
“(But) if I always play the same role, I’ll always look the same in all movies. The directors won’t be able to see me as a multi-role actor. My biggest dream is for someone to block my way while walking down the street and say, ‘Kevin, you’re such a great actor.'”