Safe (Lionsgate, IM Global) opens at Landmark Lagoon Cinema in Uptown Minneapolis on May 4.
It is the story of a second-rate cage fighter on the mixed martial arts circuit, Luke Wright, who lives a numbing life of routine beatings and chump change — until the day he blows a rigged fight.
Wanting to make an example of him, the Russian Mafia murders his family and banishes him from his life forever. Luke wanders the streets of New York destitute, haunted by guilt, and tormented by the knowledge that he will always be watched, and anyone he develops a relationship with will also be killed.
But when he witnesses a frightened twelve-year-old Chinese girl, Mei, being pursued by the same gangsters who killed his wife, Luke impulsively jumps to action and straight into the heart of a deadly high-stakes war. Mei, he discovers, is no ordinary girl, but an orphaned math prodigy forced to work for the Triads as a “counter.” He discovers she holds in her memory a priceless numerical code that the Triads, the Russian mob and a corrupt faction of the NYPD will kill for.
Realizing he’s the only person Mei can trust, Luke tears a swath through the city’s brutal underworld to save an innocent girl’s life and to perhaps even redeem his own.
“Luke is probably in the lowest position he could ever be in his life,” explains Statham. “He’s about to commit suicide. He’s ready to throw in the towel and there’s nothing worth living for. That’s how we first meet him.”
But before Luke can end his misery, a chance encounter changes the course of his life and sends him down a path of brutal violence…and possibly redemption. His unlikely savior is a ten-year-old Chinese math prodigy named Mei.
Kidnapped by Triad boss Han Jiao for her flawless numerical memory, Mei has been brought to America and forced to act as the organization’s “human ledger,” thereby eliminating the need for incriminating financial records of any kind. But the information Mei holds in her memory is also coveted by the Russian mob, and a botched abduction attempt sends her on the run…and right into Luke’s path.
“Mei actually saves me,” says Statham. “I won’t explain how or we’d give too much away, but she’s being chased by the Russian mafia, the same guys who are responsible for murdering my wife.”
“This is a film where Jason is in his wheel house,” said Writer/director Boaz Yakin. “He plays a tough guy, and with the stunts and the action he’s meticulous to a crazy degree. But this is a much more vulnerable character than he usually plays. He really went for it and I think that’s going to surprise people.”
For Yakin, SAFE’s vivid central relationship between Luke and Mei is the driving force of the film. “The idea of directing an action film was interesting, but unless there’s a strong emotional motivation for the action, it can be a lot like directing traffic,” admits the director. “I wanted every action scene in this film to come from an emotional need in the character.”
Finding the right 10-year-old actress to play Mei was the task of casting director Douglas Aibel, who worked with Yakin on Fresh and already demonstrated his extraordinary gift for casting children in films such as Signs, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Squid and the Whale.
Mei is played by Catherine Chan, a vivacious and engaging young actress from Los Angeles who is breaking onto the scene in her first starring role. She loves to dance (ballet and hip hop), rollerblade, and swim.
Chan walked in on the first day of auditions and made a lasting impression on the filmmakers. “We auditioned many, many girls,” recalls Bender. “Catherine had the right amount of vulnerability but the right amount of fire, too. Her character moves from innocent to depressed to ‘Let’s do this!’ and that’s a lot of personality for a twelve-year-old.”
“It was exciting; because it was my first time auditioning for a real movie,” remembers Chan, who is appearing in her debut feature film. “I was a little nervous, but I gave it my best shot. I was so happy when I got the part.”
“One of the charming aspects of working with Catherine is she’s only twelve, so she doesn’t have the baggage, all the layers of falseness that you can build as you spend years being an actor,” says Statham. “She has such purity. She’s not self-conscious in any way so she brings something really fresh. It was a pleasure to be around.”
Yakin agrees. “She doesn’t feel like an ‘actor;’ she feels like a real kid. She’s very powerful in her stillness. For me that’s one of the most important things: to find kids who can act when they’re not acting. Listening is the hardest thing you can do as an actor.”
Veteran actor James Hong plays Han Jiao, the Triad boss who uses Mei as the guardian of his most valuable assets. “I was extremely glad that Boaz chose me to do this role,” says Hong. “It was a challenge, as Mandarin is not my first language. But upon seeing footage of the film, I was very happy with my performance. Han Jiao comes across as a mean Triad boss, but with a very business-like sense of humor.”
“It was important for the film that you feel an almost mythical presence to the part of Han Jiao,” says Yakin. “I needed someone who felt a little bit bigger than life, and James really brought that.”
With a career spanning nearly 60 years, Hong has appeared in over 500 feature films and television shows. Starring in celebrated films such as “Blade Runner,” “Chinatown,” and cult classic “Big Trouble in Little China,” James has created countless iconic characters throughout his career.
Most recently, this in-demand actor can be seen in blockbusters such as “Kung Fu Panda” along “Kung Fu Panda 2,” along with “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” He just finished principal photography on the new Ryan Reynolds film, “R.I.P.D.”
As a veteran to both the big and small screens, James Hong has proven to be one of the world’s most prolific actors. James has appeared in some of the most unforgettable films such as “Balls of Fury,” “The Golden Child,” “Black Widow,” “Wayne’s World 2,” “The In-Laws,” “Red Corner,” “Mulan,” “Airplane!,” “The Two Jakes,” “Revenge of the Nerds 2” and “Breathless.”
James also made his mark in current and classic television hits such as “The West Wing,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “Chuck,” “Bones,” “The X-Files,” “Law & Order,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” “The Rockford Files,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Taxi,” “Dynasty,” “The New Adventures of Wonder Woman,” “Starsky & Hutch,” “All in the Family,” “Hawaii Five-O” and “Mission Impossible,” to name but a few.
Already a living legend in the Asian American community, this Minnesota native and USC graduate co-founded The East-West Players, the first and oldest Asian American Theater group in Los Angeles. He is currently preparing to shoot a film of his own.
Quan Chang, Mei’s guardian, is a slick Triad gangster – played by Reggie Lee – who adopts Mei to make her legal in the US.
“After a year of fostering her in the US, my character begins to develop a fatherly instinct for her,” Lee said. “At the same time, I still have to fulfill my job, which involves using her in very dangerous situations to get what Han Jiao wants. I’ve done action films before, but never one with a character that had as much depth and nuance as Chang. Credit goes to Boaz Yakin for making the characters in this action film have so many colors and emotional challenges.”
“Reggie is a very talented actor,” reports Yakin. “He would walk on the set and start doing his scene and everyone would just stop what they were doing to watch him.”
Lee is once again gracing the small screen as Sgt. Wu on NBC’s hit Sci-Fi police drama “Grimm”. He is best known for his role as Secret Service Agent Bill Kim on FOX’s hit show “Prison Break” and for playing Chow Yun Fat’s villainous right hand man Tai Huang in “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”
More recently, he starred in Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me To Hell,” “Life As We Know It” with Katherine Heigl, and just finished filming “Here Comes the Boom” with Kevin James and Salma Hayek and the much-anticipated “The Dark Knight Rises” with Christian Bale, Joseph Gordon Levitt, and Gary Oldman.
Since having starred as Lance Nguyen – the snakeskin-wearing, motorcycle-riding, cold-blooded killer – in Universal’s high-octane blockbuster “The Fast and the Furious” in 2001, Lee has had memorable roles opposite Alison Lohman and Justin Long in Sam Raimi’s thriller for Universal Pictures, “Drag Me to Hell” and in Ben Stiller’s directorial debut, “Tropic Thunder,” opposite Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey Jr.
On television, Lee portrayed the role of Zhing Zhang in the Fox comedy “Luis.” He also appeared as Officer Jim Chang on Lifetime’s “The Division,” Dr. Oliver Lee on “Judging Amy” and Assistant District Attorney Brian Chin on “Philly.” Most recently, Reggie had regular and recurring roles on NBC’s “Persons Unknown” and ABC’s “No Ordinary Family.”
Additionally, he has guest-starred on more than 20 television shows, including “ER,” “Ellen Again,” “Strong Medicine,” “Mad About You,” “Walker, Texas Ranger,” “Diagnosis Murder,” “Chicago Hope,” “Beverly Hills 90210,” “Babylon 5,” “Party of Five” and “The Magic Pearl,” the first all-Asian animation for TV.
Born in Quezon City, Philippines, Lee is the eldest of three sons and in addition to English, continues to speak Tagalog, and conversational Mandarin and Cantonese. As a child, the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio where Lee graduated from a Franciscan High School.
The 1990s found him relocating to Los Angeles where he immediately found work in television and theatre. He then hit the road and toured nationally in the musical “Heartstrings,” and later in “Miss Saigon” and was ultimately cast in the original company of the 1994 Tony-Award-Winning Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammsterstein’s “Carousel.”
In 1997, Lee received a Dramalogue Critics Award for his performance in “F.O.B.” at East West Players and continues to be active with the nation’s leading Asian American theatre.