Quan, speaking publicly in the city for the first time since his Academy Awards triumph, said on Tuesday the city’s film industry and its martial arts movies showed him Asian actors when they were rare in films available in Los Angeles, where he was brought up.
The one-time child actor in March scooped the Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role in the 2022 sci-fi hit, which also starred Michelle Yeoh, a veteran of Hong Kong films who won the best actress Oscar for her performance.
“I used to live in Chinatown and there used to be a local video store that you could rent. So I actually grew up watching a lot of Hong Kong cinema,” the 52-year-old said. “Those were my formative years.”
“Watching movies with Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao … We can be the protagonist. We can be the hero of our own story. That was incredible. So that was really inspiring,” Quan said.
He was speaking on the last day of the two-day Philanthropy for Better Cities Forum 2023, organised by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust.
Quan made a major return to the silver screen in Everything Everywhere All at Once, which netted seven Oscars, including best film.
The star, whose mother was born and brought up in Hong Kong, also spoke about his roots in the city and how he first arrived on a boat from Vietnam in 1978 and stayed in a refugee camp.
He said he visited the city every year.
“I have a very special relationship with Hong Kong,” Quan explained. “The very first time I came here, I didn’t come here on a plane, I didn’t come here as a tourist. I came here as a refugee.”
“And guess what? Forty-five years later, I came back as an Academy Award winner,” he said to loud applause from the audience.
Quan was just one of hundreds of thousands of “boatpeople” who fled Vietnam after the Communist north seized control of the south of the country in 1975 – many of them finding their first safe haven in Hong Kong.
He discussed his experience of settling in the United States as an immigrant and thanked his parents for the huge sacrifices they had made for their family.
“All parents are great,” he said in Cantonese in a speech that was mostly delivered in English.
Quan embarked on a career as a child film star after his family settled in America.
He said he found his passion for acting from experiencing different lives through his characters, as well as being an inspiration to others.
“The reason why I love this profession so much, love acting so much is you get to live different lives, but through the characters that you bring to life on screen,” he explained.
“It’s super exciting when you read a script, and you fall in love with the character, and you just can’t wait to be him.
“Also, if you’re fortunate enough to be in a movie where it touches many people’s lives or inspires people, that is a great feeling,” Quan added.
But he highlighted that the huge Chinese market that studios wanted to tap into had opened up more opportunities for Asian performers and allowed them to be more choosy about the roles they took.
“So you want to tap into that business and they begin to look for scripts with more Asian characters. Then that created a lot more opportunities for us. Then we can be choosy now because there is a lot more on the table,” he said.
“It was only then that we can push back, you know, stereotypes or characters that we don’t want, or we can say ‘no’ to that now,” he said.