When I heard that Daniel Wu of “Into the Badlands” would star with Alicia Vikander in “Tomb Raider,” the latest reboot of the “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” series, the movie immediately became one of my must-see films for 2018. I love a good action movie, especially if the film is reminiscent of the Indiana Jones films that have become personal classics. Add to that the fact that they cast a Chinese-American man opposite the white female lead – and in an action movie, no less. Plus, this is 2018, a year that has witnessed progress in representation with the release of “Black Panther” and the forthcoming film “Crazy Rich Asians.” So I hoped this might be another push from Hollywood to open up better roles to, in this case, Asian male actors.
First, the positive – “Tomb Raider” is great entertainment, especially for anyone looking for a fun movie to while away your summer afternoon or evening. Vikander makes for a terrific Lara Croft. And in the era of #MeToo, where women’s empowerment is taking center stage, it’s refreshing to see a young woman kicking some serious butt and fearlessly embarking on archeological adventures in the style of Indiana Jones. While the film loses a bit of its momentum in its second half, I still found it solidly entertaining and worth the time. My husband and I are both hungry for the sequel.
Daniel Wu, who stars as Lu Ren, is another story.
A Forbes critic called his performance “winning if underused,” which underscores the problem here. Without giving too much away, Wu’s character functions more as a means to a destination than anything else – and once there, he largely faded into the background.
Meanwhile, Daniel Wu is the first leading man in a Lara Croft movie who isn’t her love interest. A writer for Time noted, that, in past movies, “every time any man tries to work up the courage to ask Lara out in the movie, she’s already biking away on to another adventure,” which doesn’t happen here. I’m all for more movies starring women who aren’t defined by their romantic lives. But still, you can’t help but notice the filmmakers made this choice when they cast an Asian man opposite Croft. It’s like business as usual for Hollywood, yet another asexual Asian guy in the movies. In some ways, Daniel Wu’s presence feels like a cheap attempt to appeal to moviegoers in the growing China film market, which overtook the US earlier this year to become No 1 in the world.
Given that the Lara Croft movies never stick with the same leading men, I don’t expect we’ll see Daniel Wu in any sequels. It’s a shame. They could have done so much more with the star of “Into the Badlands,” a brilliant show on AMC (that, incidentally, isn’t getting the promotional attention it deserves).
Here’s wishing that, if the producers want to continue courting the Chinese market with more Asian actors, they might actually allow these Asian leading men to inhabit full-bodied characters that can truly complement Vikander’s Lara Croft.
Have you seen “Tomb Raider“? What did you think of the film?
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