Inspired by Sars, Chin Han flies flag for Asia

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 September, 2011, 12:00am


Ever since Steven Soderbergh filmed parts of Contagion in Hong Kong last year, the local entertainment press has been abuzz about the presence of Hong Kong actors Chui Tien-yau and Josie Ho Chiu-yee in the film.

While the pair - who play an infected waiter and his wife - do appear in the final cut of the movie, it's Singaporean actor Chin Han who delivers the film's major Asian voice as he plays Sun Feng, a Hong Kong health official who uses his proximity to a visiting World Health Organisation expert (Marion Cotillard) to get the much-needed antidote to his fearful clan in the countryside.

'He's a very interesting character,' the 41-year-old actor says from his home in Los Angeles. 'He starts off as a very officious, buttoned-down government staffer, and then as time goes by, all of that breaks down because of what's happening to his family and his village.

'It is then that he decides to do something very drastic to fulfil his promise as a doctor to save lives - because he knows if he relies on the powers that be, the vaccine will not get to the villages in time.

' In that respect, I used my own experiences in Singapore with respect to the kind of panic one would feel in that situation.'

Chin is referring to the days when he and 5 million fellow Singaporeans lived through two terror-filled months in the spring of 2003 as the Sars epidemic struck the city-state and killed 33 people. 'I had a lot of friends who were doctors and care-givers who told us not to visit them. It was a time when people got back home from work and just stayed in. So I can identify with everything in the film.'

As to whether he felt the burden of representing the Asian perspective in a film starring mostly American characters, Chin says he was more concerned with understanding his character than anything else. 'As an actor I just wanted to make sure his response was a personal one, that whether you're Asian or Caucasian, or you're from Europe or America, this is something someone might do,' he says.

'He's only a part of this very, very big machinery formed by governments and pharmaceutical firms, so I wouldn't say [the character] would be a 'voice' in all that - he's just a small part in this very, very big organisation he has no control over. That's why he has to take such drastic actions. In that position, he wouldn't be able to do much more than what he was already doing.'

Chin's last prominent role was in Roland Emmerich's 2012, in which he plays a Tibetan helping to build arks to save humankind from Armageddon.

The actor - whose big break in Hollywood was as a mob accountant in The Dark Knight in 2008 - says both 2012 and Contagion are signs of an 'acknowledgement that we are all linked together, that one cannot benefit fully without all of us coming together'.

He adds: 'Something happening across the world can affect economies or ecosystems halfway across the world.'

Globalism and the emergence of more prominent non-Euro-American characters in Hollywood films provides Chin with more opportunities to secure more fully formed characters. 'The fact that we have shared experiences means we have shared stories, and the more we will have a role in telling these stories.'