John Cho jokes he lost '49kg' for Cowboy Bebop - and other things to know about Netflix's live-action adaptation

John Cho jokes he lost '49kg' for Cowboy Bebop - and other things to know about Netflix's live-action adaptation
PHOTO: Netflix

The worlds of pop culture and geek culture have mostly been separate for the longest time but that's changing as Hollywood is tapping on the latter's rich mine of intellectual properties.

Take Netflix for example — they have boldly tackled the live-action adaptation of The Witcher and now, Cowboy Bebop is upon us.


Based on the 1998 anime series, Cowboy Bebop is an action-packed space Western about three bounty hunters (or 'cowboys') known as Spike Spiegel (John Cho), Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir) and Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda). They form a scrappy, snarky crew ready to hunt down the solar system's most dangerous criminals for the right price.

It's considered by anime fans to be one of the best series ever and expectations are undoubtedly high for this one.

If you're thinking about watching it (whether you're into anime or just a casual Netflix viewer), here are some things to know about this series.

John Cho had to achieve a ‘functional-looking physique’ for the role

Just Google the lead character Spike Spiegel and you can already see that the anime character is tall, lean and very athletic.

The anime series also shows Spike working out topless, but unlike topless scenes in live-action productions, those in the anime aren't generally meant to titillate.

During a virtual roundtable with regional media last Thursday (Nov 11), when asked about his fitness preparation for the role, John joked to AsiaOne that he had to shed "110 pounds" (49kg) for it.

The 49-year-old added: "It wasn't like a superhero part... I felt that I had to have a functional-looking physique. He was lean, he wasn't beefed up."

As for Hollywood's expectations on the male physique, be it a superhero or otherwise, John said: "Certainly the Hollywood expectations for the male physique have really changed. People like Paul Newman would be considered wimpy-looking in today's terms.

"I don't know what to say about it except it must be sort of the comic book expectations of the men in our culture now. I don't know, I'm just trying to do my kicks as Spike."

A faithful adaptation of the anime

An adaptation that is rather niche is always a point of contention but fans of the anime series will be pleased to know that the live-action adaptation sticks pretty close to the source material narratively, stylistically and aesthetically.

Though there are slight deviations, it was very clear that the anime series was a huge influence. From the opening sequence and theme, down to the locations and the characters' mannerisms and outfits, it's not hard to see where the similarities are.

In response to a separate question about the joys of filming the series, John said: "The joy for me was just walking onto sets that were so fully imagined and to see something come to life is really magical, you know, and to be able to play in a world that's so fun and rich and interesting."

Spike's suit obviously makes a return as well and John shared: "The suit is obviously iconic and we added a lot of flourishes and easter eggs in the suit itself. And just to know that that kind of care was taken over your wardrobe, it feels very authentic and very individual. It's imbued with meaning. It isn't just a suit, you know?"

No skanky clothes for Faye

As progressive as the anime was for its time — it included a man, Gren, who grew breasts due to experimental drugs — it also had its failings and one of them was the skanky outfit that Faye wore.

Unfortunately, the anime was also created way before there was a larger discussion about sexism and the start of 'woke' culture.

The anime version of Faye wore a cropped top that shapes her busty bosom and a plunging neckline that shows it off. She also wore a pair of low-waisted tight yellow shorts that was unbuttoned (for some reason) and only held in place with a pair of suspenders.

Conversely, the live-action version of Faye sports an outfit that still pays homage to the original, but looks more suitable for her job as a bounty hunter.

Thankfully, American actress Daniella Pineda had "a lot of creative say in [her] outfit". While the 34-year-old didn't mention that the original costume was too risque, we are prepared to bet that was at the back of her mind too.

She said: "We tried with the original but in the original outfit — which is so lovely — it's hard to hide stunt pads and gel pads and back plates and things you're wearing when you're falling and kicking and doing stunts.

"And so, [with] Jane Holland (designer and head of wardrobe), we worked a lot together just to figure out how does this Faye Valentine function in the real world with a real human being?"

Slick action sequences but lacks punch

If you've caught some episodes of the Cowboy Bebop anime, its action sequences are a joy to watch. Set to jazzy background music, Spike skillfully trades blows with his target while performing athletic and acrobatic feats.


However, something seems lost in translation for the adaptation and though John beautifully recreates Spike's familiar moves, the action just looks slick with not much going for it. It lacks 'oomph' and some of the movements feel strangely sluggish (at times) or superfluous.

That's not to say that they didn't train hard for it as Daniella cited the boot camp training as one of the biggest challenges while John tore his ACL during a stunt that resulted in surgery.

However, some scenes just didn't stick. Case in point, the shot of Spike running during the opening credits of the live-action doesn't look as cool as that in the anime.


But if you're not one to waste sleep over the minute details and are just there to have a good time, it won't be much of an issue.

Cowboy Bebop premieres on Netflix on Nov 19.

Correction: An earlier version of this article quoted John lost 49kg for the role. He has clarified he exaggerated it as a joke.

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