Chinese-born actress Bai Ling gets around, and that’s not meant to sound as filthy as you gutter-minds might interpret. Sure, she’s a ubiquitous social butterfly as caught by paparazzi at various premieres and events in the States, but just look at her lengthy résumé, and you’ll find roles in countless indies (“Southland Tales,” “Edmond”), multiplex fare (“Anna and the King,” “Crank: High Voltage”), popular TV shows (“Lost,” “Entourage”) and foreign films (the woefully underseen “Dumplings”). If she’s as crazy as the media often depicts her, how come she’s been hired for at least nine upcoming features — including “Confidante,” in which she’s a male, black gangster? (Okay, maybe that’s actually crazy.)
This week, Bai can be seen in director Anna Chi’s new dramedy “Dim Sum Funeral,” about estranged Chinese-American siblings who reunite after the death of their overbearing but misunderstood mother. Bai plays Deedee, a martial arts coordinator and lesbian partner to Meimei (Steph Song), one of the aforementioned sisters and a Hong Kong B-movie star. I caught up with Bai Ling before she went into the studio — where she’s recording her first album (including a song called “Cluck Yourself,” about her unfair portrayal in the media) — to discuss her Naked Seduction blog, the big difference between her and Meryl Streep, why she’s a genius and what one of you lucky readers can possibly do for her.
Among other themes, “Dim Sum Funeral” explores the generation gap between Chinese traditionalists and their American-raised, progressive children. I’ve never heard you talk about your heritage, in terms of your ideals and how you identify yourself.
What I remember is that my parents suffered during the Cultural Revolution — it belonged to different groups of beliefs, and they were literally against each other. I think that caused a lot of problems in their relationship that I never knew. They never really told us, and they’re divorced now. I mostly grew up with my grandparents, because my parents were busy [being persecuted] or tortured by the government, [who] “re-educate,” especially their scholars. The blessing is, because I grew up with my grandparents, they protected me from those conditions and the twisted political situation in China — Communist China, at that time. My grandparents’ love of animals, nature, poetry and generosity to other people [came] from my grandmother’s soul, and my grandfather put me on his shoulders, carried me everywhere, and taught me poems from the beautiful Chinese poets. That’s how I grew up — it’s kind of twisted, and in between two worlds that I don’t really understand.
Thinking about the film and this somewhat estranged clan, is there anyone in your family with whom you don’t get along — or at least, you don’t understand one another?
After today, I’m actually not talking with my uncle and auntie. It has to do with my grandmother, and it’s something I don’t understand. I love my grandmother dearly, I do everything for her, but I see something in the family that I don’t want to see. So I still hesitate to cross that bridge, to talk with them. Family’s really complicated, and the beauty of this movie is it’s about relationships. There’s always a glass wall there in front of us. We cannot see it, we cannot talk about it. You wish the other person would apologize, but you cannot say [that]. You hold a grudge against them. You have to be selfless enough to cross that bridge, and have the generosity and forgiveness to [break] that glass wall — to reach out, to make peace with your relationship.
You made up some dialogue in “Dim Sum Funeral” about seeing ghosts. Do you believe in them?
I see ghosts around me all the time, around everybody in the world. But they’re not [malevolent] — they’re cute, mischievous beings. They’re innocent like children, but also sometimes haunted, a thing we want to avoid. I discovered I have eight little spirits. There are all these little beautiful ghosts that, to me, are visible. They’re two or three inches tall, wearing miniskirts, and running around. Here I am, talking to you, so one of the spirits is speaking. They have different colors, different personalities, and therefore I’m very good at what I do as an actress because it’s their life I’m leading, too. As Deedee, I’m playing this lesbian girl, she is just a sexy little being, and I enlarge her. I’m in her shoes, and a free spirit in the whole film because [the family is] traditional, but I’m the light and the color, the bright sun. It makes people love, and brings the young audience. They’ll eventually learn the wisdom of the film.