Photo of Tzi Ma in Mulan by Jasin Boland
By Erin Chew, AsAmNews Staff Writer
Don’t get me wrong – I love my own father and wouldn’t trade him for the world, but there is a little something extra special about Tzi Ma. When you meet him in real life, he is a jolly person who is ready to impart all his wisdom about life and acting, and he gives you this comforting feel, like a father would.
Some people may call him a natural, but I would proudly label him as the ‘Asian/Chinese father we all wished we had’ because of the number of times we have watched him on the small and big screens playing the sometimes strict, stoic but always caring father. He has played the father in memorable films such as Rush Hour, Meditation Park (as Sandra Oh’s father), The Farewell (as Awkwafina’s father), Tigertail (Christine Ko’s father) and most recently as ‘Mulan’s’ (played by Liu Yifei) father ‘Hua Zhou’. Ma in essence has really become iconic and when we envision an ‘Asian/Chinese father’ ( particularly in the US and other parts of the West), Ma is really the ‘go to”.
When I mentioned this to Ma during our interview in early March he laughed and asked if he could pinch the label of being the iconic Chinese father for his own social media.
“Can I take that label from you and use it myself? You know, I tell you, if there is nothing I do for the rest of my career, I will be happy with that label. I think the opportunity to play a father to many wonderful actresses in our Asian community has been such an amazing journey and experience for me. All my daughters are from an all star team and all of them have represented Asians well – no matter where they are.”
“Hopefully, my role playing the TV/film father I get to show the audience different facets of a “father” that can be mirrored, changed, despised and rectified.”
Ma showed so much fatherly love in Mulan. The chemistry between Ma and Liu was so real. In many ways, ‘Hua Zhou’ reminded myself of my own father – strict, stern and not showing publicly his emotions. Behind closed doors is a complete softy who shows his affections to his daughter by being the silent cheerleader. Ma explained ‘Hua Zhou’ valued his daughters in a time where sons were honored, and that acting in this role required the chemistry to happen ‘instantaneously’.
“Chemistry is never easy to achieve in a sense where you can’t just expect it to happen – its either you have it or you don’t. With Yifei it was instantaneous and as though we have known each other well for years. This I believe is the secret to our character’s success as father and daughter. Even now we are still close and that is a friendship we both treasure.”
“I think the most important statement in the film was that Hua Zhou as a father valued girls/daughters as much as boys/sons particularly in the society and time ‘Mulan’ was sent in. He sees his children as precious regardless of gender and that is the most important statement he makes in the film.”
Acting as a father is no easy feat, and Ma explains during the interview that one of the biggest challenges for him was to not get too attached to his character and role as the father.
“The major challenge I had to overcome was to not get too emotional because we wanted to keep the father daughter love mysterious and self interpreted by the audience. Also, don’t forget Hua Zhou has a military background and is a famed war veteran in his hometown so the difficulty was to act like a loving father yet not be sentimental. Hua Zhou isn’t a farmer or someone who owns a small business – he went to war. War changes people and hopefully the audience will see that and understand why he held so many concerns knowing ‘Mulan’ went in his place to fight.”
It was seriously such an amazing experience to talk about fatherly love with Ma, and him co-opting the label of being the ‘Asian/Chinese father we all wish we had’. Don’t forget Disney’s ‘Mulan’ will be released on Disney Plus for $30 on September 4. #GoldOpen, the community movement created by Gold House that successfully catapulted Parasite, The Farewell, Crazy Rich Asians, Just Mercy and nearly two dozen multicultural films to box office success is debuting the first ever #GoldOpen Premier Access for Disney’s ‘Mulan’. More information on this and how to subscribe can be found via this link: https://linktr.ee/goldopen .
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