'John Wick 4' star Aimee Kwan on her Malaysian roots and Michelle Yeoh's influence


Aimee Kwan with Donnie Yen on the set of 'John Wick: Chapter 4'. Photo: Aimee Kwan/Instagram

Experiencing a gamut of emotions while watching The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring as a child – from feeling scared to being in awe – Aimee Kwan knew at that instance that she wanted to be an actor when she grew up.

Today, Kwan can be seen in the action film John Wick: Chapter 4 (showing at cinemas nationwide), in which she makes her Hollywood debut.

In the film, the 20-something Kwan plays a young woman named Mia, who is closely connected to the character played by Hong Kong actor Donnie Yen.

“To me, when it comes to film and screen stuff, everything about it interests me. That is what’s always kind of pushed me and kept me going,” said Kwan, who was born in London to a Malaysian father and a Thai mother.

“When I was a little bit older, I actually wrote to Peter Jackson, who directed the Lord Of The Rings films, telling him that I really wanted to go into movies.

“And his team were very nice, they wrote back to me from New Zealand – this was still all snail mail – telling me all the things that I could do. I still have that letter somewhere,” she told StarLifestyle.

Between the time Kwan fell in love with movies and her getting the role in this new John Wick film, she did a whole lot of other things.

According to her resume, she has performed as a classical pianist and violinist, and composed music.

While studying at the Royal College of Music and Oxford University, she wrote and directed a theatrical production, as well as produced and directed her first feature film. On her Instagram profile, she lists herself as an actress, writer and model.

Though on paper, it looks like Kwan constantly worked towards realising her ambition, she said that her parents discouraged her from this path for a while as they didn’t see a future for her as an actor.

“I think they thought writing and directing were more stable because it wouldn’t matter if I was Asian or not.

“They were happy to encourage me to go into composition, because it just seemed more tenable for me at the time as there were very few Asian actresses from anywhere, let alone those who had been born and bred in Western countries.”

Kwan makes her Hollywood debut in John Wick: Chapter 4. Photo courtesy of Aimee KwanKwan makes her Hollywood debut in John Wick: Chapter 4. Photo courtesy of Aimee KwanAlthough the doubts projected by her parents did seep into her psyche momentarily, Kwan found hope when British actress Gemma Chan, who is half-Chinese, appeared on the scene. Then there was Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh too making strides in Hollywood.

“I remember reading all about Gemma Chan; how she was so brilliant that she could have done anything with her life. And she chose to pursue her dream and become an actor.

“That really inspired me. It kind of gave me the courage to go into it and give it a try myself.

“I guess it probably sounds like I’m jumping on the zeitgeist a little bit, because her star has never been higher – but Michelle Yeoh was such an influence to me because she came from Ipoh.

“And my dad – who is from Ipoh, Perak – is very proud of that... she and Lee Chong Wei.

“So, between her and Gemma Chan, they’ve been very, very influential to me.

Kwan said she’s elated to see Yeoh doing so well. “I feel like it’s been such a long, long, long time coming because she’s just amazing,” she said.

That sense of belonging in the film industry was further sealed when she came to the set of John Wick: Chapter 4 and met Hong Kong martial artist Donnie Yen as well as Japanese-British star Rina Sawayama.

She described Yen as kind, not only because he took the time to talk to her and complimented her performance, but also because he was generally nice to everyone on set.

Kwan recalled her conversation with Yen when she got a chance to sit down next to him on location at Paris: “I said I was a really big fan. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, what movies?’

“... I said Hero, which is my favourite Donnie Yen film. It’s one of my top 10 favourite films. And he was like, ‘That’s such an old film.’ I told him it’s still an amazing film.

“Then I said that my family’s favourite movie with him in it is Ip Man; like my mum and dad just love Ip Man.

“And Rina Sawayama was also way more generous with her time than she needed to be. We shared a car journey back to the hotel one day, and we just chatted, and I was kind of like, ‘Ah, she really didn’t have to.’ And yet, she did.

“So, it’s little things like that, where it’s like, kindness and such, that I always really remember.”

Aimee Kwan with Japanese-British singer-actress Rina Sawayama on the set of 'John Wick: Chapter 4'. Photo: Aimee Kwan/InstagramAimee Kwan with Japanese-British singer-actress Rina Sawayama on the set of 'John Wick: Chapter 4'. Photo: Aimee Kwan/InstagramAnother important lesson she gleaned from her experience on this movie set was not to worry too much and to do her best.

“As a hyper preparer, I think sometimes the healthiest things that can happen to me are reminders that you do not have control of anything and everything.

“No matter how hard you try, there will always be things that do not go smoothly, or according to plan.

“The fact that even the most unpredictable can happen on a big movie that has every contingency plan in the world... you just got to roll with the punches and do your best.”

Kwan said that she hasn’t been back to Malaysia for a very long time, although she used to visit often as a child.

One thing that came up in her reminiscence about Malaysia was her missing the chance to get to know her Chinese grandmother in Malaysia and not saying goodbye to her when she passed away.

“I really miss my grandma. She passed before I had the time and space to really spend with her.

“I have many memories of her from when I was a child, but as a child, I couldn’t really communicate with her in quite the same way that I would be able to now. I was a teenager when she died.”Other things she misses, she said, are the food and other members of her family.

“My dad’s on this eternal quest to find a good Malaysian restaurant in the UK,” she said with a laugh.

“I remember us going to Penang and Melaka. It was in Melaka where they (served) chicken rice but with the rice compressed into balls – and it blew my mind. I was, like, this is so incredible. Wow.

“I’ve always wanted to go back to Melaka to be able to eat that again,” she said.

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