One of the best things about the Crazy Rich Asians explosion involves the introduction of phenomenal Asian talent to the world stage. Some of these performers made some waves on their own over the years, but they’ve definitely received a significant profile boost in 2018. Constance Wu remains an important and fascinating leading lady. Henry Golding is going places fast. With the help of other blockbusters like Ocean’s 8 and a recent hosting gig on Saturday Night Live, Awkwafina has been having a fantastic year.
Gemma Chan is another relative breakout from the Crazy Rich Asians family, one who has been deserving of recognition for some time. She has appeared in notable works in the past, particularly in British television. She will continue to rise in Hollywood in the superhero arena very soon, as well.
However, one of Chan’s weightiest roles by far is a starring part in Channel 4’s Humans, which is jointly produced by AMC in the United States. Chan’s role in the AI-themed series is sadly over, although the show exists in a limbo of renewal or cancellation (at the time of this writing anyway). Regardless, Chan is swiftly continuing her Channel 4 partnership, this time with an anthology of a completely different vein.
According to an official press release from the broadcaster, a trilogy of drama movies starring Chan, Samantha Morton (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), and Vicky McClure (This is England) is in development from writer-director Dominic Savage (The Escape).
The as-yet-untitled trio of films will be crafted to suit their respective leads, with each woman contributing to their individual stories, which will explore “relationships, identity, and empowerment.” This unsurprisingly promotes more realistic, uninhibited, and personal touches within these movies, as a result.
The trilogy reunites Chan and Savage after they once teamed up on True Love, a separate serial drama with its own anthologized premise. McClure also featured in that series, leaving Morton as the only newbie to inhabit one of Savage’s contemporary realist worlds.
The filmmaker frequently probes a wide range of socioeconomic issues through his improvisation-heavy work to varying effects. After a string of television ventures, Savage’s big screen debut, Love + Hate, unabashedly tackles racism in a northwestern English town. Using a colloquial if harrowing visual style similar to the trappings of a Ken Loach movie (although amusingly also breaking Loach’s own filmmaking rules about film writing to some extent), Savage creates a naturalistic character study of identity in its many intersections through the guise of young, modern love.
Savage’s career then continued to depict personal hardship in a variety of ways as he attracted more high-profile names in British cinema and TV. For example, the BBC film Born Equal stars Colin Firth (A Single Man), David Oyelowo (Selma), and Robert Carlyle (Once Upon a Time) and tells of inequality in the modern era through intersecting storylines featuring each actor. Born Equal covers subjects of race, poverty, immigration, and class.
Then came two narratively ambitious series in the early 2010s, which were known to feature the rotating casts and mostly-isolated plots that have become an integral part of Savage’s work.
That said, True Love, a half-hour-long series about problematic relationships set in the small town of Margate, Kent, focuses so closely on empathizing with its characters that it fails to discuss the wider ethical implications of their unsettling love affairs. The Secrets, the sole project of Savage’s to not feature his own writing credit, faces its own range of serious social topics in the same 30-minute segments. And predictably, such a short runtime doesn’t inspire total success either thanks to an ultimate lack of depth in each story.
The Escape is Savage’s most recent movie and a more definitive bounce back to form. The film tracks a stay-at-home mother (played to heartbreaking perfection by Their Finest’s Gemma Arterton) who begins to drift apart from her seemingly picture-perfect family, including her husband and two children. This understated drama is very much character-focused, giving space to a woman in disquieting inner crisis.
Overall, Savage is capable of drawing dynamite performances from his actors and does clearly care about the characters he puts on screen (sometimes to a fault). The women of his newest series give me the most hope, though. A trilogy centered on their concerns and identities is timely enough in 2018. This is certainly made even better by the potential breadth of collaboration between filmmaker and actor, too.
A cursory gander at Chan’s early appearances in Doctor Who, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, and Fresh Meat already hint at her memorability. Moreover, she cuts a striking (if sadly less consequential) silhouette in blockbusters like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Transformers: The Last Knight.
Still, now Chan will take the lead in her own feature-length episode. This feels like a long time coming after she was essentially the face of Humans for three years and stole scenes in Crazy Rich Asians. Both these projects excellently tap into her skill of portraying characters with killer composure and raw vulnerability simultaneously.
Chan’s dual character in Humans – a Synth with two AI personalities operating in the same body before later gaining consciousness – presents many a fine line to negotiate on screen. That said, she seamlessly moves in and out of her different personas, becoming one of the linchpins of the series’ philosophical values. Likewise, Crazy Rich Asians has its own sense of bombast and otherworldliness in the mega-rich backdrop of its narrative. Nevertheless, Chan gets one of the most emotionally rewarding arcs in the entire film and extract empathy from audiences with the openness of her performance.
The opportunity to be front and center in the best of Savage’s emotionally-charged stories is thus a great addition to any filmography. Chan has been steadily progressing in the entertainment industry for several years, but we can now finally witness what she’s really capable of.