One of Asian cinema's best-known faces and a rising Hollywood star, Maggie Q hates being pigeon-holed as an action heroine, but her latest serious dramatic role might make some audiences yearn for the actress to return to car-chases and explosions. Born Maggie Quigley in Hawaii to an American father and a Vietnamese mother, she travelled to Japan and Hong Kong in the late 1990s to pursue a career in modelling. Before long, Quigley's good looks began to earn her both television and film roles, and her name was shortened to "Q", which regional audiences found easier to pronounce.
As well as a string of high-budget Chinese films, such as Dragon Squad and Three Kingdoms, the actress has also starred in Hollywood blockbusters, among them Mission: Impossible III and Live Free or Die Hard. Earlier this month, just hours after attending the premiere of the drama New York, I Love You in the eponymous city, she was at the Middle East International Film Festival for a screening of the Chinese drama The Warrior and the Wolf.
The film sees a disillusioned general from an ancient Chinese army (Jô Odagiri) imprison a widow from a rural tribe, played by Q. Their relationship begins violently, with the soldier raping the woman. But as the story continues, he shows compassion for her and the two begin to fall in love. So far, the film has only been seen on the film festival circuit, but when it eventually reaches a wider audience it will be no suprise if some object to the way it handles its serious subject. Maggie Q had initial reservations about the story and decided to confront the film's director and producers about it.
"When I read the script, I thought, 'I don't know if I get what the message is,' and then I read it again and had some conversations, then it all came together for me," she says. "You've got a soldier who's been fighting wars for many years and probably hasn't seen a woman for a long time. He's damaged goods and so is she and when they come together it's most certainly a violation. It's quite a barbaric time and they're not about to sit down and have some kind of intellectual conversation."
The film was directed by the avant-garde Chinese filmmaker Tian Zhuangzhuang, famous for being one of the Fifth Generation group of filmmakers who brought Chinese cinema to the attention of the world in the 1980s. Many of those at the MEIFF screening, however, felt that the film was not only demeaning to women, but confusing, melodramatic and nonsensical. "When you meet Zhuangzhuang the first time, you don't get him, but his films are a reflection of that," says Q. "When I read the script, there were things I had to reconcile, but it's the same when you meet him. He can be very sensitive, but also very abrasive. You're not really sure who he is, but he's all of those things, and its the same with the film."
In spite of the failings of The Warrior and the Wolf, both Q and the Japanese star Odagiri make the best of a bad script and deliver decent performances. As well as a role in the cameo-intensive New York, I Love You, the actress is set to appear in the comedy Rogues Gallery with The Hangover star Zach Galifianakis next year. She will also return to her action roots next year with Priest, a film that will see the British actor Paul Bettany playing a vampire-slaying clergyman.
"I think a lot of people who work in the action genre deal with stereotyping, but the strange thing is that those stereotypes are being broken all of the time," says Q. "When I did Mission Impossible, there were actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Billy Crudup, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Simon Pegg in the film - they're not just action stars. "It's funny how they pigeonhole people in the action genre, but at the same time there are wonderful actors. Things can't be so easily categorised any more. To continue to do that is just very irresponsible."
Despite her sensitivity about the subject, Q says she is keen to carry on making films in the high-octane genre, alongside more dramatic roles. "It's really about doing a variety of things and not being pigeon-holed into anything. But I don't think I will move away from action entirely," she says.