Actor Jeff Chen on importance of Asian LGBTQ representation in film

As a child in the small city of Ma’AnShan, China, Jeff Chen was very imaginative, finding a passion in fantasy and mythological stories. When he would watch a movie, he found himself immersed, mesmerized by the idea of bringing a story to life. As a teenager, his mind was made up: he was going to become an actor, and one day create works of art that captivated others the way he was watching his favourite films. 

Now, Chen is living that childhood dream, starring in many acclaimed films, including Shanghai Sole, I for I and the upcoming Plum Town. He also appeared in a national Chevrolet/NBA commercial and as an internationally sought-after actor, he is regularly approached by popular brands to represent them in commercials. His work has been seen by millions around the world, and he is still amazed that a boy from a small Chinese city with a dream of making movies is now a celebrated actor.

“I love being on set and collaborating with different departments to tell a story. Getting paid to do something I wholeheartedly enjoy is unbelievable. It’s that simple. Acting is so fun! It’s just like being a playful child and using your imagination. I get to be a lawyer, a finance bro, even a god,” said Chen.

It was Chen’s latest film, Kiss of the Rabbit God, where he took on the exciting role of playing a god. The film focuses on a Chinese-American restaurant worker who falls in love with an 18th century Qing dynasty god who visits him at night and leads him on a journey of sexual awakening and self-discovery. 

“I was really fascinated by the story. It’s such a risky idea to tell a story that involves a god. The script was well written, and it gave actors a lot of room to create an original character,” said Chen.

Chen played the titular character of the Rabbit God in the film. The Rabbit God, named Shen (god in Chinese), helps gay people find courage to take ownership of their sexuality. He is a powerful god that’s on an eternal journey of liberation. This story revolves around his interactions with Matt, a young Asian restaurant worker. He helps Matt to take a journey of sexual awakening. Shen’s background was a soldier from the Qing dynasty and he was sentenced to death for showing affection to another man. After his death, he became the God of Gays. 

Chen felt the pressure to thoughtfully deliver such an important performance, aware of the lack of representation of Asian American LGBTQ figures in film. At first, Chen did not fully know how his character should behave physically or what drove him. However, once he spoke with the director Andrew Thomas Huang, he was inspired. Chen brought out femininity, making him more androgynous. The end result is enchanting in all the right ways, and a performance only Chen could have delivered.

“I personally feel so connected to this story. Working with amazing costumes and make up departments and seeing them bring Shen to life is quite an experience. I adore and respect all my cast and crew,” Chen described.

Kiss of the Rabbit God is an Official Selection at the renowned Tribeca Film Festival, and also has an outstanding 2.2 million views on YouTube. For Chen, such recognition is extremely rewarding, but the greatest reward of all is knowing the difference his performance has made in the lives of some of its audience.

“There aren’t that many Asian LGBTQ films made in general. This project is important because this is a story that’s dedicated to the Asian LGBTQ community. So many people write to me on Instagram and the majority of them are kids in Asia. I learned that this film offered them refuge and made them feel a bit less alone, especially coming from a culture where LGBTQ is still not really widely accepted yet. I think this film means a lot to them,” he concluded.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to watch Kiss of the Rabbit God on YouTube to see Chen’s extraordinary performance.

Photo of Jeff Chen in Chevrolet/NBA commercial

Photo of Jeff Chen in “Kiss of the Rabbit God”

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