Hunky Chinese Canadian triplets make it big in China fashion, film – with roles in Jackie Chan movie and Hollywood blockbuster
There aren’t too many tall, handsome, muscled, university-educated actor triplets of Chinese descent. Raised in Canada, the film-star Luu brothers are making the most of their unique assets and carving out a niche in China
The Luu triplets were once on course for a fairly standard middle-class Canadian life – graduate from college, embark on a career, settle down. Then Hollywood intervened with a more exciting script that saw the trio star in a blockbuster film, rise to fame in Asia, model for major international fashion brands and act alongside their all-time action hero, Jackie Chan.
Yet for all their new-found celebrity status, which sees them being stopped for selfies every time they venture onto the streets together in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Hanoi, the brothers remain refreshingly grounded individuals, humbly grateful for the opportunities they have been given.
Just one minute separates the triplets – Lance, Mark and Charles, who were born in that order, 30 years ago in Toronto, to a Cantonese father and a Vietnamese mother of Chinese descent. All three are 1.84 metres tall, toned and muscled from sessions in the gym, softly spoken, scrupulously polite, and with open and friendly demeanours.
The de facto spokesman for the trio is Mark, although the others tend to finish sentences for him, chip in halfway through a delivery, continue a thread, or repeat what he says for emphasis.
They were talent-spotted as teenagers by a modelling agency scout who was having a bite to eat in a McDonald’s. The agent was intrigued to see two lookalike teenagers plonk down next to him, with a facsimile arriving minutes later, laden with burgers and fries.
Regular modelling and acting gigs followed, including a Super Bowl television advertisement in which they played Asian students keenly anticipating the upcoming game.
The work was steady, but the boys were more focused on getting good grades and securing a place at university to study business. That all changed when a casting agent for the 2013 science fiction movie Pacific Rim, who had originally been scouring North America for female twins, heard about the triplets of Chinese heritage and lined them up an audition with A-list director Guillermo del Toro.
“We missed the first casting call because it was exam time, and hard for us to get out of school,” Charles recalls. “But fate gave us another chance, they called back to audition us. It was a top-secret project; they took all our phones and ID off us and told us to pick a scene and learn the lines. It took us four hours – the producer and director had flown in to see us.”
They were cast as the Wei Tang triplets, specialised pilots who operate the Crimson Typhoon robot. It called for them to wear cumbersome, heavy and sweaty costumes that took an hour to put on. The producers also insisted on a strict fitness regimen, not a hardship for the brothers, who grew up playing basketball, volleyball and soccer, and practise martial arts and boxing.
“We were the first to arrive and the last to leave every day on the film set,” says Mark. “I wouldn’t say we had such a major part, there was a lot of cutting and editing, but we were in a major film, it made US$411 million worldwide and more than half of that came from Asia.”
After shooting ended, the newly minted Hollywood actors returned to finish their studies, graduated with business degrees, then joined the film promotion roadshow with relish.
Little did they know just how much their roles had resonated with people in Asia: in Japan and China, the Luus were bombarded with requests for interviews, talk-show appearances and offers for modelling assignments.
The savvy siblings realised this was their big moment, and opted to stay in Beijing for an extended period to maximise the opportunities. They now call the capital home and are regularly signed up for modelling work with Armani, Puma, Kenzo and Brooks Brothers, appearances in GQ and Esquire magazines, and high-profile, handsomely paid television and film work.
They also added the Chinese language to their portfolio of talents, and began to use their Chinese names – Liu Zhi Fu (Lance), Liu Zhi Man (Mark) and Liu Zhi Tang (Charles). As well as being able to speak Mandarin fluently, they can also read well enough to follow a script.
Recent roles have included playing sword-wielding good guys in a Shanghai-based period drama called Great Expectations, and as princes in the international co-production Viy 2: Journey to China, which also features Arnold Schwarzenegger, Game of Thrones patriarch Charles Dance, Jason Flemyng and Jackie Chan.
The production is a sci-fi action film, with plenty of weird and wonderful computer-generated creatures, due for release at year end.
A few months later, in time for Chinese New Year, the brothers will also be seen in a film adaptations of stories by Qing dynasty writer Pu Songling, playing detectives, with Chan as the monster slaying grandmaster.
Filming Chinese-style is a world away from where they made their debut, in the cushy comfort of Pinewood Studios in Toronto, where each actor was assigned an individual trailer. The television series, and films, have meant living for weeks on end in the wilds of China, staying in simple hotels, eating basic food, and working from dawn until well after dusk.
That, though, was all pretty gentle compared to training with Jackie Chan’s tough-nut team of martial arts veterans. The city boys were put through their paces by the best in the business, rigorous training that meant early starts, aching limbs, and the skin of their palms shredded from long spells holding on to a wire cable.
“When you go into any action scene with Jackie you are scared you might move the wrong way,” says Charles. “He taught us ways to do certain moves and be more cautious, because we are pretty aggressive, to tell you the truth. We are fearless! He is a humble guy to work with.”
Their knowledge of business means they can control their own affairs capably, instantly weeding out the kind of work that might mean short-term gains, but long-term image credibility damage.
The first Hollywood film allowed them to pay off student debts and help their parents out; subsequent deals have left them financially secure and very much in demand. A recent addition to the endorsement portfolio was the Taiwanese milk-tea brand Chun Yang, with the brothers attending the opening of its Beijing store last month.
In a nation that had a one-child policy for decades, three identical, handsome brothers of Chinese descent is a novelty that has producers, directors and fashion-brand bosses brandishing lucrative contracts.
All rather different to the career path they might have taken, possibly following in the footsteps of older brother Johnson, 32, who is an accountant in Canada, living close to parents Chi Hang Luu and Tracy Trinh. Instead, the triplets are seizing the day in a major way – and still patiently answering the stock questions they are asked on an almost daily basis.
“People ask if we are telepathic,” says Lance. “We are not, but we do have a rare bond and are very close to each other. We do perhaps feel that if one is in danger, or something bad is about to happen, we feel a certain discomfort and warn each other to be extra careful. This bond also happens with my mother – she can feel a sense of urgency, or that something is about to happen.”