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SHOWBIZ: Mann for the job


Acting is more than just a job for Byron Mann. He tells Loong Wai Ting why

BYRON Mann is  perhaps better known as the main protagonist of the popular video game, Street Fighter’s Ryu. But Mann, who has made films in both Asia and Hollywood and is based in Los Angeles, considers this part of the world his home.

“I am home!” he quipped when met in December at the promotion of his latest television series Arrow, which premieres on WarnerTV (HyppTV, Channel 321) on March 11 at 9pm. “I was born in Hong Kong and I consider Asia my home.”

Mann, who starred alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme in Street Fighter and stars with Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu in the upcoming action flick, The Man With The Iron Fists, says his passion for showbiz keeps him going.

“It’s always about the work, you know. At the end of the day, it’s really entertaining. The challenge of being able to play or inhabit different characters is very interesting. It takes you on a journey that you never imagine yourself taking sometimes.

“For example, last November I did a movie in Bangkok. I played a Thai gangster and I had to speak Thai. I didn’t know it until I got to the set. So the producers (all Americans) said I look Thai and I should speak Thai (laughs). The fact is, I don’t. So I had a crash course and learnt my Thai lines in just two days. It’s incredible, really,” he said.

Dressed in his blue suit and open-necked shirt, Mann greeted me with a firm handshake. Sipping his coffee while chatting, the law graduate spoke enthusiastically about his role in Arrow.

He plays Yao Fei an expert marksman and also a mentor to Oliver Queen (played by Stephen Amell). Displaying great proficiency in using the bow and arrow, Yao Fei is also highly skilled in hand-to-hand combat. But it took more than just a cup of coffee to convince the actor to take the role.

Here, Mann shares some insight into his character and the series.

What attracted you to play Yao Fei ?
We started shooting in August last year and I had just finished shooting another show Nikita (with Maggie Q and Shane West). I was on my way to the airport when the producer (of Arrow) called. The conversation took place on a Friday or Saturday and shooting was going to start on Tuesday so there was no time for anything. There were no details about my character because they were still sorting out the details...

Your character Yao Fei is a mystery and told mostly in flashbacks.
I actually told the producer that I should at least know what I am doing! (laughs) I should know things about my character. My costumes were designed by an Oscar-winning costume designer, Colleen Atwood (Chicago, Memoirs Of A Geisha, Alice In Wonderland).

How would you describe your character?
Every episode has two story lines  — present day and flashback. Oliver Queen goes on a boat trip and the boat capsizes. Everyone thinks he’s dead but he survives on an island for five years. Then he is back at Starling City and becomes an arrow-shooting vigilante. So in every episode there’s a crime-solving plot (present day) and also how Oliver turned into this vigilante character (in flashbacks). That’s where Yao Fei comes into the picture. I don’t know yet if my character will actually be in the present day. As for now, my character is strictly in the five-year flashbacks (laughs). People think Yao Fei is the mentor or sifu type. He’s not. He’s more than that. As the story goes on, viewers get to see a different side of him.

How good are you with a crossbow?
Who shoots arrows? (laughs).
The production team got a Canadian Olympic archer to train both Stephen and me. It was a crash course. He was there for every scene involving archery to ensure our posture and technique were correct.

Who’s the better archer: Yao Fei or Oliver Queen?
Of course it’s Yao Fei, or me, for that matter. On the island, he doesn’t know anything besides that.

Why do you think people like to watch stories about vigilantes?
Maybe to escape the problems of their lives. They like seeing a superhero correcting injustice in the world.

What were the challenges during shooting of Arrow?
The rain. It rains from November to April (the series was hot in Vancouver). A couple of days ago we had to film an outdoor scene in a forest on an island. It rained every day for a week. That’s the only complaint. Otherwise, it’s great. Vancouver is a great city.

Arrow is a breakout series. It’s number one in the UK, US and China. Do people approach you to find out more about the characters and what’s going to happen next?
They don’t recognise me (due to his long hair and costumes). I have Twitter and Weibo accounts so Chinese viewers (the show is highly popular in China) write to ask as they are impatient and can’t wait for next week’s episode. So in other words, I’m like a link between them and the story.

So are we looking at season two?
Well, they won’t announce it until May, so I’m not sure yet. 

Arrow will air every Monday at 9pm on WarnerTV (HyppTV, Channel 321).

MISSING and presumed dead after his boat capsizes on an island five years ago, billionaire Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) returns to Starling City where his mother Moira (Susanna Thompson), sister Thea (Willa Holland) and good friend, Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) welcome him home but sense that Oliver has somehow changed. After his return, he slowly reconnects with those closest to him and tries to readjust to the privileged social world he once knew so well. At the same time, he also secretly creates the persona of Arrow — a hooded vigilante, who rights the wrongs of his family and vows to fight the ills of society.

Arrow is based on the fictional character Green Arrow, a costumed crime fighter who appears in comic books by DC Comics.

Work and passion for showbiz keeps Mann going after all these years.

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