Roland Emmerich is gearing up to destroy the world yet again in his epic film 2012, which is based on the predictions of the Mayan calendar. Actor Chin Han, best known for his role as Lau in The Dark Knight, returns to the big screen this November as Tenzin, a Tibetan Monk desperately trying to save his family from an encroaching tidal wave that has ripped apart most of the world. We recently caught up with Chin Han, and this is what he had to say about Emmerich's latest film:
Tell us about Tenzin? What sort of dynamic does he add to the film, and how does his presence play an important role in the events that transpire throughout 2012?
Chin Han: Tenzin is a Tibetan who, by virtue of where he lives and what he does, finds out a secret that the governments of the world have been keeping from the people. And then he sets out about saving those he loves. But might eventually have bitten off more than he can chew.
For you personally, what is the scariest 2012 scenario realized in the film?
Chin Han: Because I now live in Los Angeles and have personally felt the tremors here over the last 2 years, the earthquake sequence is pretty scary. The giant tsunami in the movie is very disturbing as well because I was actually in South East Asia when the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 struck and caused so much destruction and loss of life in Thailand and Indonesia. Being in Singapore at that time and so close to it, had a profound effect on a lot of friends and myself.
Roland Emmerich is a director known for his disaster movies. Were you at all shocked at some of the stuff that happens to the planet in this movie? Which scene do you personally find most jaw dropping?
Chin Han: Absolutely, in spite of his incredible success with disaster movies, I think this movie surpasses anything I've seen Roland do. It is one thing to read a few lines in the script describing California slipping into the ocean, it's another to actually witness it happening. I must say the wave going over the Himalayas is pretty jaw dropping for me - the weight and the ferocity of that massive body of water juxtaposed with the fragile old monk is pretty memorable.
Is it ever difficult to imagine some of this stuff in your head while filming against a blue screen? Were you ever overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the imagination going into this project at every given turn?
Chin Han: Definitely. Which is why I think it was wonderfully astute of Roland to always have storyboards and pre-viz shots for us to see and reference before filming. Because when you are imagining a visual effect, everyone in the scene may have a different take on the shape and size of whatever you are looking at. So our lines of sight and reactions might be different. But it's not all blue screen though, some of the sets were huge as well. I remember going on set my first day and it was up in the mountains of British Columbia and they had built an entire Tibetan village with about 600 authentic Tibetan extras. That's when you know you're in a Roland Emmerich movie.
2012 is a film full of spectacular effects. How important was it for you to keep it grounded in reality? Did you come at your character as a true dramatic presence, or did you feel a little inclined to amp him up and make him slightly hyper-realistic?
Chin Han: It was very important to keep it real because visual effects are not effective unless you feel empathy for the characters. Like in The Dark Knight, which I did before 2012, you had a man dressed as a bat and another made-up like a clown. But both were playing it for keeps. 'Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances' is a good rule-of-thumb to live by in these hyper-realistic films.
You have some great co-stars in this film. What was it like coming on set knowing you had such a great ensemble to back you up? And whom were you most exited to work with?
Chin Han: It's always comforting to know that you have great co-stars to work with because there are so many elements to be mindful of when you're filming a movie like this - from the complex action moves, to the multiple camera set-ups with cranes and helicopters - the last thing you want to worry about is someone else or yourself messing up a line in a giant water-tank that you have spent the last 8 hours shooting in. But everyone brought their A-game so it just made filming easier. I've always loved Cusack's work from The Sure Thing to The Grifters to his latest Grace is Gone, so I was excited to be working with him, among others.
The events of 2012 are quite devastating to say the least, and could give lots of people nightmares. How important was it to keep an element of humor running throughout the film?
Chin Han: It's a fine balance, but an important one. We all have our coping mechanisms and humor is of course a big part of it. But in this movie, I believe the laughs are more from relief than from the kind of funny one-liners you find in action movies from the late 80s and 90s.
With events changing in the world so quickly and so drastically, especially with our erratic Weather changes and the Swine Flu, did anything occur while shooting that went into or changed the script at all?
Chin Han: Nothing that I can immediately recall, but I remember having finished filming in December last year and being home for Christmas and suddenly seeing in the news a series of tremors in Yellowstone Park and I immediately thought of our sequence with the super volcano in Yellowstone.
Where do you personally stand on 2012? Do you think any of these events will truly transpire, or do you believe that this is just a fun piece of fiction that should be taken lightly?
Chin Han: I think every generation has its own end-of-the-world scenario so the only way for me to see this is metaphorically. It may be the end of a way of thinking and a shift in social consciousness or spiritual awareness, but mostly this movie, with all its flash and mind-blowing visual effects, is mainly about the things that are important to us, as humans, in times of great adversity.
Would you want to go out with everyone else? Or, if 2012 does turn out to be the End of the World, do you hope to stick around and fight through the apocalypse?
Chin Han: Oh, I would absolutely stick around because there is something about me that just likes to go up against huge challenges. Besides have you seen the crowds and ridiculous lists you have to fight through to get into Hollywood's latest hotspots? That should prepare you for anything (laughs)...
2012 arrives just in time for the Thanksgiving Holiday on November 13th, 2009. See it before the end of the world becomes a reality!