Skyscraper: Chin Han and the Savior Complex

Although Skyscraper banks on a familiar action-adventure formula, the genius millionaire played by Chin Han is wholly unique.

Skyscraper has been described as a hybrid of Towering Inferno and the Die Hard franchise, but none of those movies featured a character quite like millionaire visionary Zhao Long Ji, played by Singaporean actor Chin Han. With the upcoming Blu-ray/DVD release of the film on October 9, 2018, Chin Han looked back on the unique nature of his character who, although he exhibited hubris in designing such a massive artistic structure, was neither villainous nor directly at fault for the peril of Dwayne Johnson’s Will Sawyer and his family.

Despite the differences, Chin Han acknowledges the influence of earlier disaster films but also argues that Skyscraper updates the concept. “When I read the script it evoked a lot of memories from all those films, so yeah, I do love this particular genre of movie,” he says. “I think what distinguishes Skyscraper is where we’re at in terms of technology, in terms of filming, in terms of the visual effects and the level of practical effects we can also achieve on set. It’s very different from the time that those movies were made… I think the movie looks incredible.”

Chin Han agrees that while Zhao Long Ji isn’t a villain, the character does have his flaws. “If you know the story of how the design of the building came about… it was based on a fable about the boy who jumps into the river and picks out a pearl. It transforms into a dragon and then saves his village,” he explains. “So this visionary has a bit of a savior complex as well; he wanted to build a better world. So unlike some of the characters in those other movies, he is the opposite: he’s not cutting corners; he’s not trying to get ahead of the race just so that he can be number one. But he really wants to make a better world, a self-sustaining one, and to build this sentient structure.”

With Asian countries being at the center of architectural ambitions in recent decades like the one featured in Skyscraper, Chin Han feels that the setting is an integral part of its successful narrative. “Hong Kong is the perfect place for it because of the landscape, because of the small land mass, and because of being surrounded by hills — it’s very hilly in Hong Kong. It’s compelling to see it built vertical,” he asserts. “So this fits right into that environment. In fact, when we were doing the press tour, we did the junkets at the Ritz Carlton which was about a hundred and twenty stories, and when I was in there it was so stunning. The landscape was just so beautiful, but I totally understood why the movie takes place there.”

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Director and screenwriter Rawson Marshall Thurber made sure to create a level of authenticity in the setting and the casting of Skyscraper as well. “It just makes sense to have that number of Asian characters in a movie set in Asia. These are all characters who are essential to the narrative,” says Chin Han. “I think it was Rawson who was quite determined to get the linguistic elements of the movie right, so he wanted actors who could speak Cantonese or Mandarin as their native tongues… With a movie this big and larger than life and with these huge action set pieces, you need that level of authenticity to have the audience feel for the characters.”

This is especially true in the age of whitewashing in Hollywood, which Chin Han saw firsthand with his role in Ghost in the Shell. Although the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the lead role placed that movie at the center of the controversy, Chin Han focuses on the positive. “Every bit counts in the conversation!” he says. “Even movies like Ghost in the Shell that raise a lot of questions, I think those kinds of discussions only move us forward in terms of filmmaking. It’s because of the discussions that we’ve been having over the years that a movie like Skyscraper is possible or that a movie like Crazy Rich Asians is possible — Searching, that John Cho movie — is because the conversation is ongoing.”

As for Chin Han himself, he has his own process for choosing roles that he feels fit with his vision. “I can’t speak to the industry at large, but for myself, whenever I step into a role, there’s always a question of having it not be a token,” he says. “It’s important — and I think that’s the next step in terms of where we’re going with diversity — that these characters have a life of their own. These characters are written in a rich and compelling manner equal to the other characters in the movie. So for myself, that’s a thing that I look for: that the character is crucial to the narrative as well.”

Although the character of Zhao Long Ji may have run afoul of criminal elements in Skyscraper, Chin Han brought to life a character worth admiring that breaks with convention and adds a new element to a familiar action-adventure formula. The movie is already available on demand, but when the film releases on DVD and Blu-ray on October 9, Chin Han and his performance will be one reason viewers should check it out.

Michael Ahr is a writer, reviewer, and podcaster here at Den of Geek; you can check out his work here or follow him on Twitter.