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Actor discovers his leading role

Updated: 2024-05-07 05:53 ( China Daily )
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Back to cinema

Fate has once again drawn Phillips, once praised by The New Yorker as "the most handsome Chinese man", back into the world of cinema.

In 2011, director Wuershan from Hohhot, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, confirmed that he would direct Painted Skin: The Resurrection, a fantastic romance loosely inspired by Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) novelist Pu Songling's Liaozhai Zhiyi (Strange Tales From a Chinese Studio), and invited him to play the role of a powerful sorcerer.

"I thought, 'well, maybe I'll give film a try again. Who knows what will happen?' After that experience, I've now come full circle back to doing film, which is so fascinating to me," he says, recalling the moment.

Kris Phillips, who is better known as Fei Xiang in China, acting as Yin Shou, the cruel and dangerous ruler in the fantastical trilogy, Creation of the Gods, by director Wuershan. [Photo provided to China Daily]

After portraying a villainous king in the 2016 film, The Monkey King 2, the performer took on his most popular role to date as Yin Shou, the cruel and dangerous ruler in the fantastical trilogy Creation of the Gods, a character he describes as a "sociopath".

One of the most expensive franchises ever filmed in the country, the trilogy is based on the 16th-century novel Fengshen Yanyi (The Investiture of the Gods), and employed a crew of 8,000 members and took five years to write all three scripts.

The epic blends myth, folklore, and history to depict the turbulent period leading to the collapse of the Shang Dynasty (c. 16th century-11th century BC), when the last of the dynasty's tyrants faces a war launched by an army seeking justice.

After the first installment, Kingdom of Storms, raked in more than 2.6 billion yuan ($358.8 million) and became a phenomenal hit last summer, Phillips made many young fans online, as evidenced by buzzwords discussing a number of topics associated with the star, from his charming accent to his chiseled physique.

Actor Kris Phillips [Photo provided to China Daily]

He feels that the trilogy exemplifies Wuershan's passion for cinema and his determination to present the Shang Dynasty, an ancient era that has been barely touched by recent TV series or movies, to a global audience.

"I was there for a year and a half during filming. Some of the young actors had been working for more than two or three years to prepare," he says. "I think that kind of scope for a project like Creation of the Gods is rare in Hollywood now; they don't undertake it anymore. It's too expensive and too financially risky for investors. Nowadays, film is not only entertainment and an art form, but also more and more a business."

Despite a strict schedule of exercise and diet, which Phillips teasingly describes as "tedious and horrible", he says his biggest challenge was keeping in mind the story arc over the course of the trilogy. In the second and third sequels, his character will undergo significant changes, relying on a fox demon transformed into a beautiful woman to seize absolute power.

"The training was rigorous, but it was kind of mindless. It was like a factory where not only I, but also all the young actors, who play zhizi (the sons of lords sent to the dynasty's capital to ensure their fathers' loyalty), had to undergo months of training to gain the musculature and physical shape for the film," he says.

"As long as you complete it, you will lose fat and gain muscles, and the results are guaranteed. So that part is like a scientific procedure and it's simple," adds the self-disciplined star, who woke up at 3 am to have enough time to exercise before starting makeup at 6 am.

Interestingly, the diligent star not only fulfilled his duty as an actor but also helped to write the film's English subtitles, based on which German and French were later translated respectively, as he wanted international audiences to better understand the characters' motivations and be able to follow the fast-paced story.

"It was very challenging to do the subtitles because you have to make choices. You only have limited space for a line, and you also have to convey the dialogue in the characters' voices," he explains, giving the examples of Yin Shou, whose lines are needed to be shaded, and Ji Fa, a zhizi, who would speak as a hot-tempered young warrior.

His efforts paid off. When the film was released overseas, including in the US, France and Germany, it was easily understood.

"I understand the importance for China to showcase more of its history, culture, and current film industry, as well as its entertainment capabilities to the world. I want China to present a multifaceted image to the world. I want my friends in America and Europe to have a better understanding of China, and film is one of the most direct and effective ways to create that emotional connection between people," says the impassioned artist.

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