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UTA is staking its claim on young Asian talent. The Hollywood Reporter has exclusively learned that the agency has signed South Korean actress Claudia Kim and Taiwanese-Canadian actor Mark Chao, two of the continent’s rising stars.
UTA, which signed actresses Li Bingbing from China and Ha Ji-won from Korea last year, is seeking major international franchises for all four clients. Li already has appeared in this summer’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, which broke Chinese box office records with more than $300 million in ticket sales.
“What we’ve been trying to do here at UTA is to help our talent find a way to cross the borders,” the agency’s head of Asian business development Max Michael tells THR. Such recognition beyond their home countries will in turn make the actors more attractive elements of UTA’s co-production packages between the U.S. and the increasingly coveted Asian markets. Both Kim and Chao are fluent in English; the former lived in New Jersey for years and Chao was raised in British Columbia.
Kim already has three buzzy Western projects in the works. A relative newcomer even in Asia, she beat more established Korean actresses with her Avengers: Age of Ultron audition and after wrapping on the Marvel sequel is now shooting Netflix’s Marco Polo series. Repped in Korea by Martin Chung, she met with Hollywood agencies when she was in town for the Captain America: The Winter Soldier premiere in April, and UTA landed her after introducing the actress to their client Drake Doremus, who has cast her in his futuristic indie romance Equals, starring Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult.
Chao’s star has been on the rise since his breakout role in the 2009 Taiwanese police drama Black & White, and the following year he won Best Newcomer at the Asian Film Awards for his feature debut in the gang drama Monga. In 2013 he starred in two very different films, both box office hits: the costume fantasy Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon and the coming-of-age period drama So Young, which grossed $100 million and $120 million in China, respectively. Chao recently wrapped a second Black & White feature and is preparing to shoot a film with respected young Chinese director Lu Chuan in the fall.
Chao, who is managed by Untitled and East West Artists, has long been targeted as an attractive crossover prospect but until now had resisted making a foray into Hollywood. Blockbusters like Iron Man 3 have made foreign talent and audiences feel pandered to by enlisting their A-listers as glorified background players, and UTA was able to convince the actor that it would seek substantive, diverse parts for the star.
“One massive franchise after another doesn’t result in a well-rounded career,” UTA talent agent Darren Boghosian, who reps Chao and Kim as well as Li and Ha, tells THR. “You want to create a 360-degree career for a client.”
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