Singer, actor and now-basketball star – meet China’s newest pop idol
Wu at the recent NBA All-Star Celebrity Game, in which he scored six points. Photo: Courtesy of Wu Yifan Studio
Singer and actor Kris Wu – known to his Chinese fans as Wu Yifan – is no stranger to adoring crowds, but on February 13, he found himself being cheered on for something different: becoming the first ethnically Chinese player to participate in the NBA’s annual All-Star Celebrity Game. Wu, who is Chinese-Canadian, played for Team Canada against Team USA, ultimately helping to clinch an upset win for the former with six points and seven rebounds, for a finish of 74-64.
It was a dream come true for Wu, who once aspired to play professionally, not to mention a chance to show off his hidden talents. Despite his mean jump shot, 25-year-old Wu is better known in China for his pretty face, and status as one of the country’s hottest new xiaoxianrou (or “little fresh meat”) idols, a term for a new generation of pop stars known for their flawless looks and hordes of social media fans.
Wu, who first appeared on the public radar around 2012, when he joined K-pop boy band EXO, has exploded in popularity within the last couple years, launching a solo singing career, snagging breakout roles in Chinese romantic blockbusters, and racking up a staggering 16 million followers on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
Millions of those fans tuned in for Wu’s recent NBA debut, which streamed live on Tencent Video, which is operated by one of China’s largest Web portals.
After the game, Wu, who was in Canada at the time, accepted an exclusive e-mail interview with the Global Times (GT), in which he discussed his passion for basketball, his new film with French director Luc Besson, his family and his fans.
Wu, a burgeoning fashion icon, shows off Burberry’s 2016 new menswear collection in London. Photo: Courtesy of Wu Yifan Studio
GT: What was it like playing in an NBA game?
Wu: Of course I was happy – it was a dream come true. I was a little bit nervous as well. I expect myself to do better next time if possible, and to be more relaxed and enjoy the game.
GT: Basketball’s been a part of your life since childhood. Can you talk a bit about that history and how your experience with basketball has differed in China and abroad?
Wu: I started playing basketball with the aim of losing weight. Back then, I was tall but chubby, and always envious of my handsome schoolmates who could play basketball. So at first, it was an attempt to keep fit and to get stronger. But a year later I became more ambitious and decided I wanted to become a professional player. After that, when I came back to Guangzhou [from Canada], the coach of a local sports training school recruited me for professional training.
There are some differences between the youth basketball cultures in China and Canada. Honestly speaking, the thing that impressed me the most in the beginning was that Vancouver was not a great city for basketball, and there were not a lot of players around. Second, playing basketball abroad requires a lot of self-initiative, and many people are not well-trained. In China, there are sports schools that specialize in training professional players from a young age.
GT: What kind of player are you?
Wu: I usually play guard, but I can take different positions on the court. I work on my jump shot a lot. My fast dribbling and power allow me to drive through with my jump shot.
GT: Athletics can be hard on your body. You once even fractured your ankle while playing basketball. Do you have a role model who’s inspired you to push through challenges?
Wu: Kobe Bryant has inspired me a lot. I remember in one documentary, Bryant was saying that no one knows what Los Angeles is like at four in the morning, but that he knows because he would always get up then to practice. I was enormously impressed and motivated by that quote. Because of that, I started getting up at four in the morning and did so for a long time. He said no one would do this so I thought I should do it. I was young then, and my dream of playing basketball along with the inspiration of my idol made me fanatical about working to realize my dream. I ended up not becoming a professional player, but his example has continued to encourage me in other areas.
New projects and film roles
GT: You’ve been gaining growing attention from the international entertainment community of late, with French master director Luc Besson inviting you to join his new movie Valerian. Can you talk about your role in the movie? For a lot of Westerners, the main thing they think of when they think of Chinese male characters is kung fu stars like Jackie Chan. We hope you can help bring something new to the table.
Wu: I haven’t started filming, and I’m not allowed to talk about it. There’s a lot to look forward to, though. Western films have their own aesthetics, and traditionally, part of that has been a certain kind of stereotypical Chinese character, but I don’t think that’s written in stone. I hope Western directors can be exposed to a greater variety of young Chinese actors and recognize my performance.
GT: Your fans have been saying that your look is quite well-suited to sci-fi films, and that, along with your English ability, made you a top choice for Besson. Do you agree? Are you a fan of sci-fi?
Wu: I think there were a lot of factors that went into his decision. Actually, why don’t you ask him for me – I want to know as well (laughs). I am a fan of sci-fi; I like all kinds of sci-fi and brain-burning [a genre with complex, intellectual plots] movies. I liked Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014) by Christopher Nolan.
GT: You were one of the runway models in Burberry’s recent fall 2016 menswear show in London. How would you describe your personal style?
Wu: Personally, I prefer street fashion and I am partial to hip-hop style. Fashion is what you identify with as your own style. Being a trendsetter is about making yourself stand out before other people even know you (laughs).
On his fans
GT: You were named “King of Weibo” for 2015 in a recent Weibo poll. Have you been looking at your fans’ comments on your page?
Wu: I read their letters as long as I have time when I’m traveling around on publicity tours. I also read some of the comments they leave me online. It helps me understand more about their thoughts. I think of them like my family, always greeting me with their support wherever I go. I have always appreciated my fans who show up to support me or silently protect me. Thanks to every one of you.
GT: Social networking sites have brought celebrities closer to the public, allowing them to talk directly to their fans. Is there anything in particular you try to communicate to your fans?
Wu: I want to be a role model who imparts positive energy. I have been striving to chase my own dream and I hope that can inspire them to pursue theirs as well. You can only be completely free when you are doing a job you like.
On family and identity
GT: You immigrated to Canada as a kid and have lived abroad for years. But you’ve said you still consider yourself very Chinese. How have Chinese and Western culture influenced you?
Wu: I moved to Canada when I was 10, and returned to Guangzhou at the age of 15. I was born in China and Chinese culture is a part of me as much as my black eyes and yellow skin. Moving abroad exposed me to more foreign subcultures like street style, hip-hop and graffiti. My experience has given me a comparatively diverse set of values and attitudes toward life.
GT: Did your mother attend the NBA game, since she lives in Canada?
Wu: No, she didn’t go to the stadium, but she watched the live broadcast. She should have been proud of me; after all, this was my dream since childhood.
GT: How would you define yourself in three words?
Wu: Tough, composed and passionate.
Original Post Global Times
Reposted by Tara Lee