[PROFILE] China Chow - Actress and Model
China Chow, born in London, currently divides her time between New
York City and Los Angeles. She is the child of late model/designer
Tina Chow (who died to AIDS in 1992) and restauranteur Michael Chow
(whose Mr. Chow restaurants are the talk of the town in London,
Manhattan, and Beverly Hills), and has a younger brother.
The first college graduate in her family, China graduated from
Scripps College, majoring in psychology. She spent several years as a
model, following in her mother's footsteps: She posed for Shiseido
cosmetics in Japan, was seen on billboards for Tommy Hilfiger and
Calvin Klein, was named one of Harper's Bazaar's "It Girls" in 1996,
and was named in the December 1996 edition of Vogue magazine's "The
Next Best-Dressed List."
Her acting debut was in 1998's "The Big Hit", co-starring Mark
Wahlberg, whom she is rumored to be dating.
BOX OFFICE DATA
Released Movie Name Role 1st weekend US Gross Worldwide Gross
2/2/2001 Head Over Heels Lisa $10,397,365 $10,397,365
4/24/1998 Big Hit, The Keiko Nishi $10,809,424 $27,066,941
Total Grosses $37,464,306 $37,464,306
Average Gross $18,732,153
Average Opening Weekend $10,809,424
CHINA CHOW (Keiko) makes her acting debut in THE BIG HIT. Two months
after graduating from college, Chow was spotted by casting director
Roger Mussenden. She is the daughter of the late fashion icon Tina
Chow and Michael Chow, owner of the famed Mr. Chow's restaurants in
New York, Los Angeles and London. Chow lives in Los Angeles and New
Born April 1974 in London, England, UK .
Encountering a name as contrived-sounding as "China Chow", you might
easily assume its bearer to be an Asian porn actress or stripper, the
latter category seemingly bound by law to use only the
names "China", "Asia", "Jade", or "Jasmine". But unless you're a
student of Tommy Hilfiger ads or are one of the teenage girls who
went to see The Big Hit, you've probably never heard or seen the name
In fact, though, China Chow is a minor model and an even more minor
actress (her one movie that anyone's heard of so far is The Big Hit),
although like Dweezle and Moon Unit she's probably better known for
her parents Michael Chow (of Mr. Chow restaurants fame) and Tina
Chow (a fashion designer who famously died of AIDS in 1991) or her
fling with co-star Mark Wahlberg. Cute and doe-eyed but not
strikingly beautiful, I suspect that her movie career will be
confined to playing the Friend in most films, the Girl in films aimed
and teenage girls where hot guys are the main draw. Of course, if
Head Over Heels does well and China isn't too minor a character, she
might get a slightly wider range of script offers. But probably not.
Conventional wisdom says that a hot, young model trying to make the
leap to movies will last about as long as an order of fried dumplings
at a Jenny Craig meeting. What makes China Chow, star of The Big Hit
and the upcoming Head over Heels, unique (besides that mouth-watering
name) is that Hollywood came knocking on her door.
"Everything in my life is a fluke. A lucky fluke," she says with a
shrug. Hardly. As the daughter of Michael Chow, owner of the hip Mr.
Chow restaurants in Beverly Hills, Manhattan, and London, and the
late fashion designer Tina Chow, China inherited a natural instinct
for what's cool and the natural assets to hit it big as a model while
still in her teens. "Modeling was more fun than anything else. It
wasn't really a career," she says before admitting that this non-
career included major campaigns for Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY, and the Gap
and hanging out at parties with the likes of Kate Moss and Julia
Then about three years ago, a friend-of-a-neighbor casting director
rang her up, hunting for an actress to play a role in The Big Hit, a
Mark Wahlberg gangster comedy. "The whole thing happened so quickly,"
she remembers. "When I showed up on location in Toronto to audition,
I thought I was just going to be meeting a few people. Then they
said, 'You can't go anywhere -- you're doing this movie. Roll the
cameras!' I didn't have a chance to get freaked out.
Even with no previous acting experience, China won favorable reviews.
Playing a rich girl kidnapped by gangsters, she had to spend hours at
a time tied up, gagged, and handcuffed. "When they would yell 'Cut,'
the crew would ask me if I wanted my legs untied," she says. "It
wasn't worth it because five minutes later I'd have to be tied up
again. Then there was a scene where I got thrown into the trunk of a
car and the trunk door slammed down on my head. Now, that hurt -- my
brain bounced! But it was a blast."
China won't say whether disorienting head injuries had anything to do
with dating Wahlberg, but she does admit she's now single again: "And
I'm not looking for anybody, either." Does this mean she's sworn off
men? "I'm open to it. It's just that when you're looking, it never
It sounds like China is too busy to do much looking anyway, jetting
between New York and Los Angeles working on new film projects. In the
August release Head over Heels, China joins fellow models Shalom
Harlow, Sarah O'Hare, and Ivana Milicevic, a pack of lovelies looking
for a good time in Manhattan while being stalked by a literal lady-
killer. "My character is a crass punk rocker," China says. "She's got
dreadlocks and wears skintight leggings, belts with studs, Doc
Martens, and T-shirts with tigers on them. She's a handful and an
eyeful. Oh, and she's a lesbian art restorer."
China isn't a lesbian or an art restorer, but only one of those
fictional qualities meant sweaty girl-on-girl action. "I was worried
about the sex scene," she laughs. "I was reading the script, and it
said that my girlfriend and I are in bed 'going at it.' I was,
like, 'Are we supposed to make out? Maybe I can just brush her hair
and pull on it, and she can get off on that, like it's some weird
fetish.' We ended up doing a take of a girl lying on top of me in her
underwear and kissing my neck. The lights were hot, and it got kinda
sticky." Compared to the hair thing, we think that was the right
"They also wanted me to make moaning noises into a microphone to add
into the film later," China continues while even demonstrating --
convincingly -- her technique. "Then the director actually asked me
to growl. Growl? I don't know anybody who actually growls in the
bedroom, do you? Oh, wait, this is Maxim. Never mind."
Thursday, April 30, 1998
China opens up to movie world
Actor Chow prepares for fame as The Big Hit proves to be just that
By BRUCE KIRKLAND -- Toronto Sun
NEW YORK -- China Chow is making a big hit in The Big Hit as a
neophyte actress with sex appeal and as fodder for the gossip columns
because of her co-star Mark Wahlberg.
Chow, the 24-year-old London-born daughter of Michael Chow, of Mr.
Chow restaurant fame, may or may not be dating Wahlberg. Neither of
them will say, although they have been seen together in Toronto,
where The Big Hit was filmed last year, and in New York, where it
made its world premiere.
"I don't want to talk about that," she says, giggling like the
kidnapped schoolgirl she plays in The Big Hit, an action-packed send-
up of kung fu and hit-man movies.
"But I'll tell you one thing, the hard thing was acting like I didn't
like getting kidnapped by the four of them!"
She's talking about Wahlberg and co-stars Lou Diamond Phillips,
Bokeem Woodbine and Antonio Sabato Jr. These young guns have
propelled The Big Hit into the number one box office hit of the
Arriving on set last July, Chow already had a boyfriend, she admits.
He was hanging out in Hawaii waiting for her. Fresh from graduating
in psychology from Scripps College and invited to audition in Toronto
for The Big Hit -- although she had never acted before -- Chow showed
up on a day trip. Director Che-Kirk Wong gave her the part on the
spot and asked her to stay for three-and-a-half months. Chow was
"I just went in on it really to see what it would be like to audition
and not to get the part. There was no way I really thought that was
even a possibility. It just kind of happened. And lucky me!"
Chow quickly lost her boyfriend, who was asked not to show
up. "Because I didn't want him to," Chow says. "I didn't want to be
distracted. I kind of wanted to be in Toronto and didn't want anyone
around I could cling to." She may have clung to Wahlberg, who, by
coincidence, is back in Toronto now shooting another film, The
Corruptor with Chow Yun-Fat.
Wahlberg teases on the issue. "We're friends," he says with a
smile. "We're friends," he repeats. "I like her very much. I don't
know how much she likes me. I ask her out but she doesn't want to go
out with me. I'm not good at rejection!"
Chow is high strung but under control. She knows it's dangerous to
provide too much too quickly for a voracious media. She has been
involved in the fame game in terms of family connections. Her mother,
fashion trendsetter Tina Chow, was one of the first prominent women
to die of AIDS. Her aunt Adele is married to musician David Byrne of
"It makes me very wary of doing interviews," Chow says of her family
experience. "I'll talk about the movie until I'm blue in the face but
my private life I'm so protective of!"
The Big Hit has given Chow -- who has dabbled in modelling but is not
serious about it -- an interest in acting, so she is taking voice
lessons in Los Angeles. She is training in a gym with a pro. She is
going to a therapist "to help me deal with all of this."
The kicker, one that shows that Chow is maintaining her sense of
humor, is that all this self-help stuff is related to The Big Hit and
has her a bit discombobulated.
"This all started -- the voice coach, the trainer, the therapist --
since the movie," she says, with a rueful tone. Success ain't easy.
Even when you're in a big hit.
Did You Know?
China's parents are restauranteur Michael Chow of Mr. Chow
restaurants and the late Tina Chow, a fashion icon from the eighties
who died from AIDS in 1992.
China graduated from Scripps College with a B.A. in Psychology.
China was a model for Shiseido Cosmetics.
Her father is Chinese and her mother is Japanese-German.
China has two younger sibling, brother Maximillian and half-sister
Her aunt is married to The Talking Heads band member David Byrne.
Year of Birth: 1974 Tiger
China is the daughter of supermodel Tina Chow and Restaurateur
Her mother died of AIDS (1991)
Never tried any drugs... too busy taking care of her mom.
Was a model for Shiseido cosmetics in Japan.
She's Chinese with a dash of English on her dad's side, and Japanese
and German on her mom.
Her first feature film is "The Big Hit".
First college grad in her family.
Has a younger brother.
Her aunt was also a model.
QUOTE: "I have a brain in my head and I'm not going to let myself be
judged by the way I look. I think it's actually very insulting."
New Movies: Head Over Heels (2001), Young Americans (2000)
Favorite Boyfriend: Lonnie Lee from High School
China Chow steps out of the shadow of her famous parents to star with
Freddie Prinze Jr. and Monica Potter in Universal Pictures' wacky
romantic comedy Head Over Heels, which opened February 2nd. In her
sophomore outing, the daughter of the late model/designer Tina Chow
and restaurateur Michael Chow, whose Mr. Chow restaurants are the
toast of the town in London, Manhattan and Beverly Hills, plays the
role of Lisa, best friend and professional colleague to Amanda,
played by Potter.
In the spirit of the great screwball comedies comes Head Over Heels,
a contemporary story about the camaraderie that develops between
Amanda, her good friend Lisa and four models (Ivana Milicevic and
real models Shalom Harlow, Sarah O'Hare and Tomiko Fraser). The story
begins with Amanda and Lisa, who have great careers restoring
paintings for New York's prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art.
While the two of them are experts at telling an original from a
forgery, they can't say the same for picking a mate. Amanda had moved
in with her latest flame, then catches him cheating with a fashion
model. With no boyfriend and no roof over her head, Lisa invites her
to crash at her place. The only problem is Lisa leads an alternative
gay lifestyle. When Lisa suddenly gets back together with her former
girlfriend, the arrangement gets a little too cozy for Amanda.
Desperation leads her to answer an ad for a posh, upper-East Side
apartment, and move in a flat with four gorgeous, but struggling
models. They live across the way from the suave, debonair Jim
Although she had resolved to never fall for another man as long as
she lives, Amanda is, literally, swept off her feet by the handsome
and urbane Jim. Before she can pick herself up and dust herself off,
she has agreed to go on a date with him. Against her better judgment,
she falls in love with him. In the weeks that ensue, she grows
confident Jim won't cheat on her, however there is one problem: She
believes he may be a lady killer! With the help of the models and
Lisa, she sets out on a wild and crazy search for the truth. Along
the way, Amanda hilariously learns a thing or two about friendship
and the whole improbable concept of falling head over heels in love.
Chow, born in London, currently divides her time between New York
City and Los Angeles. The first in her family to graduate from
college, China has a degree in psychology from Scripps College.
Following in her mother's footsteps, she spent several years as a
model. She posed for Shiseido cosmetics in Japan, was seen on
billboards for Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, was names one of
Harper's Bazzaar's "It Girls" in 1996, and was named in the December
1996 edition of Vogue magazine's "The Next Best -Dressed List". Her
acting debut was in 1998's The Big Hit, co-starring Mark Wahlberg
Date of Birth:
Place of Birth:
London, England, UK
Height: 5' 2"
Born in London, China currently divides her time between New York
City and Los Angeles. She is the child of late model/designer Tina
Chow who died to AIDS in 1992 and restauranteur Michael Chow whose
Mr. Chow restaurants are the talk of the town in London, Manhattan,
and Beverly Hills. She also has a younger brother. The first
college graduate in her family, China graduated from Scripps College,
majoring in psychology. She spent several years as a model,
following in her mother's footsteps. She posed for Shiseido
cosmetics in Japan and was seen on billboards for Tommy Hilfiger and
Calvin Klein. She was named one of Harper's Bazaar's "It Girls" in
1996, and was named in the December 1996 edition of Vogue
magazine's "The Next Best-Dressed List." Her acting debut was in
1998's "The Big Hit" directed by Kirk Wong and starring Mark
Wahlberg. After the original pilot for the tv show "Young Americans"
was filmed, the producers cast China as an additional character named
Paige. However, she backed out at the last minute and the character
was dropped. Her father is Chinese with some English blood, and her
mother was Japanese-German.
"That '70s Show" (2001) TV Series ..as "China" in episode: "Hyde Gets
The Girl" (episode # 4.4)
Sol Goode (2001) ..as Amber
Head Over Heels (2001) ..as Lisa
The Big Hit (1998) ..as Keiko Nishi ... aka Warheads (1998) (Asia:
Chinese, English, Japanese, German
China Chow was born on April 1, 1974 in London. She is the daughter
of late model/fashion designer Tina Chow (who died of AIDS in 1992)
and restauranteur Michael Chow. Her mother was German and Japanese,
her father is Chinese with some English blood. She also has a younger
brother and a younger half-sister.
China graduated from Scripps College as the first college graduate in
her family, majoring in psychology. She spent several years as a
model, following in her mother's footsteps. She posed for Shiseido
cosmetics in Japan, was seen on billboards for Tommy Hilfiger and
Calvin Klein, was named one of Harper's Bazaar's "It Girls" in 1996,
and was named in the December 1996 edition of Vogue magazine's "The
Next Best-Dressed List."
Her acting debut was in 1998's The Big Hit. She had no prior acting
experience. China Chow currently divides her time between New York
City and Los Angeles.
Sol Goode (2001)
Head Over Heels (2001)
Big Hit, The (1998)
MICHAEL CHOW INTERVIEW
July 18, 1999
Michael Chow: What He Really Wants to Do Is Direct
But for Now, Restaurateur Michael Chow Will Have to Be Content With
Opening Yet Another Stylish Palace of Food, Eurochow in Westwood.
By CARLA HALL
Michael Chow is explaining where in his new Westwood restaurant he
will seat the famous, the unknown, the beautiful, the ugly, the tall,
the short, the fat, the thin.
He sits in a booth with a sculpted leather back, both hands caressing
the polished acrylic table that he painstakingly selected to furnish
this ambitious new gastronomic production. Chow has micromanaged
every detail of Eurochow, from the cut of the veal to the hardware
that secures the tasseled ropes of the curtains. Now he turns his
attention to the patrons.
"Like the opening shot of a movie, where there's only one right place
to put the camera," he says, "there's only one right seat for each
person." Perhaps it should come as no surprise to learn that Chow,
who for 25 years has presided over the celebrity-favored Mr Chow in
Beverly Hills, is himself a frustrated director. So in his latest
venture, did you really think he would give up the job of casting?
He scans the mezzanine, a wraparound second-story loft overlooking
tables cloaked in white cloths. Three tables flank the front railing,
the most visible seats in the restaurant.
'I think you put a lot of women there because when you come in, you
see them first," Chow says with a chuckle.
What about a couple?
"Not so simple. First you have to decide whether they belong to
upstairs or downstairs."
Chow, who has long admitted to seating people according to a star
system at his Beverly Hills restaurant, insists that some of his
judgments are practical. He can't put a very tall man in a booth. He
can't have a celebrity like Madonna on display in the single table
that sits in a theaterlike balcony box. (She'd probably get the tall
"If I put someone very shy on the balcony, they will be
uncomfortable," he says.
But how do you know someone is shy?
What if you want to put me downstairs and I want to sit upstairs?
"How can you know more than I do when I designed the restaurant?"
Chow suggests that however he seats me, it's for my own good. But I
know too much already; I know if I arrive with a group of girlfriends
and we're not seated at a table upstairs by the railing, it's because
we weren't deemed attractive enough.
He listens soberly. "OK," Chow says, "I'll make a note--when you come
in, no way will you be seated there. Hahahahahaha!"
Can you imagine what he'd be like as a film director? Autocratic,
audacious and, just when you think you have him pegged, unexpectedly
wry. All the traits that have distinguished him in the arena of
tables and silverware and uplighting (a favorite ploy) would serve
him sell in Hollywood, the world he has yet to conquer. For now, he
must content himself with his most unusual restaurant, the $4-million
Eurochow (he prefers to capitalize every letter, but we don't),
starring a resuscitated L.A. landmark and--as always--Michael Chow.
"If I may be so bold, a lot of people were influenced by me in this
city and in other parts of the world," says the 60-year-old
Whether you are a fan or a critic of Michael Chow and his food, he
has earned a spot on the L.A. cultural landscape with his semi-
legendary Beverly Hills restaurant, Mr Chow. No period,
no "restaurant" and, God forbid, no apostrophe S. ("Minimalism at its
best," he says.) The gathering spot on North Camden Drive has
survived a quarter century--that's about three lifetimes in
restaurant years--in mercurial Los Angeles, serving up Chinese food
with a dollop of casual glamour. At the 1974 opening, Clint Eastwood
and Eartha Kitt rubbed shoulders with Robert Wise and Olivia de
Havilland. Not only was Chow's new restaurant the "antithesis of
Chinoiserie," as he puts it--no red lanterns, no dragons--Mr Chow
offered a sexy, glittery experience in a town where "elegant dining"
meant eating in a stodgy hotel (or Chasen's) and "casual" meant Du-
Over the years, Mr Chow has been avant garde and passe, in and out,
hot and not so hot. Never a favorite with critics--initial reviewers
seemed reserved and suspicious of all the gloss--the restaurant has
been generally ignored by foodies. But in the 1970s, when even well-
heeled restaurant-goers thought of Chinese food as the cheap takeout
fare on the corner, the expensive Mr Chow was a revelation with its
beautifully presented green prawns and Peking duck and hand-pulled
noodles. The regulars--entertainment industry folk, Westside
professionals, the artists that Chow has befriended and has fed
gratis in exchange for their art--never stopped going there. Or if
they did, they eventually came back.
On a recent Sunday night, Kirk Douglas held court at the best table
in the house; rising star Tobey Maguire and Quincy Jones' daughter
Rashida supped later in the evening at a nearby table. At the
opposite corner from the Douglas table, record industry giants Ahmet
Ertegun and Phil Spector sat with a large group.
The room still has a black-and-white checkerboard floor with huge
black-and-white orb-like mobiles suspended from the ceiling. There's
little about it that shouts "Los Angeles"--the art on the walls is
serious, the light is buttery, the seating is compact.
Eurochow, which opened June 17, is a departure from all that. The
food is mostly Italian, with Chinese appearing as "a guest star,"
says Chow. The prices are more modest. The room seats 150. (Mr Chow
seats barely 100.) And the patio accommodates 50.
But the most dramatic difference is the architecture.
The restaurant is in a 1929 historic building, once the site of
Westwood's domed Bank of America branch, later a succession of dreary
clothing stores. Now it is a palace, with glossy white lacquered
walls, standing at the quirky intersection of three streets--Westwood
Boulevard, Kinross Avenue and Broxton Avenue--like a rebuilt fortress
beckoning people to return and resurrect the abandoned village of
Chow was drawn to the space, knowing how rare it is to find an
architectural gem available for restaurant use. He designed every
element, taking advantage of the spectacular curves of the space, and
dubbing the venture Eurochow for the international chic of the
prefix, even stating on the menu that euros are accepted. (It's a
gimmick. Chow isn't sure what the staff would do with the new
European currency.) "I'm that kind of restaurateur. I look after
every screw. A little bit of tunnel vision. Control freak," he says
as if parroting phrases from his press clippings. "Guilty of all
And more. Chow is funny, playful, stylish, obsessive. An artist and
an architect with only a modicum of education, he designed his
restaurants, a London hair salon and two Armani boutiques--one on
Rodeo Drive, the other in the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. One thing
he is not is obsequious, even though he's running restaurants. The Mr
Chow troika--Beverly Hills, New York, London--is flourishing. The
service is professional, the attention to detail is meticulous (forks
must be set tines-down on the tables), his sense of how to handle
celebrities and regulars is pitch-perfect. But Chow is not a glad-
hander; he does not court his guests by bobbing from table to table.
If he's even in his Beverly Hills restaurant (he lives in Holmby
Hills), he's probably sitting at a table with his wife, Eva Chun, the
former fashion designer, eating dinner.
Better to let the 1984 Andy Warhol portrait of him--an inky black-and-
white study of a coolly posed Chow--preside over the dining room.
When he became a restaurateur in London 31 years ago, Michael Chow
wanted to show Westerners two things: that Chinese cuisine was one of
the remaining great cultural contributions of his native land and
that it could be the centerpiece of an elegant restaurant.
In the process, the restaurant business provided him with the dignity
denied him as a young Chinese immigrant in 1950s and '60s London and
the renown, not to mention wealth, that eluded him as a struggling
"I want to be creative and I want to have fame," he says. "That
eliminates racism. If I am famous, people look at fame first before
the race." Not for nothing are his restaurants called Mister Chow.
His sister, the film and stage actress Tsai Chin (from whom Chow is
now estranged), wrote in her 1988 autobiography, "Daughter of
Shanghai," that her brother's decision to use the title was
a "brilliant stroke, for people would now address him unconsciously
with respect." It worked. Even in Los Angeles, where everyone seems
to be referenced by first name only, Michael Chow is often referred
to as "Mr. Chow."
It remains to be seen whether Eurochow can duplicate the success of
Mr Chow. He is philosophical about its chances: "Whether it's food or
movies or designer interiors, the key is always the same," says
Chow, "which is, without sounding too corny, faith. Believe in God
and believe in the truth. If you do everything correctly with faith,
what I call a 'controlled accident' happens. Masterpieces are
controlled accidents. If masterpieces were not controlled accidents,
then people would be producing masterpieces all day long. It's a
reward from God. You've been faithful."
No, he's not religious. "Not in the sense that you mean," he says. We
are sipping Eurochow's cappuccino which, two days before the opening,
is perfect, another example of Chow's quality control. What he most
worships is his creative vision that has held him in relatively good
stead as an entrepreneur. He has had failures (he has opened, by his
count, 11 restaurants across the world) and aborted projects. A plan
three years ago to open four Chow restaurants on the site of the old
Chasen's was scrapped.
And then there's his pursuit of Hollywood's holy grail. His efforts
to break into film directing have not been successful. Despite his
sensitivity to Chinese stereotypes, he has portrayed--and continues
to portray--a slew of them in films such as "You Only Live
Twice," "Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?" and "Lethal
Weapon 4." He played himself in "Basquiat." "I was terrible," he
says, grimacing at the memory. "It's very difficult to play
yourself." His Korean-born wife, who moved here at 17, refused sugar
cane and ramen noodle commercials when she was modeling. But she says
Chow takes such typecast parts because they're campy. "If he had to
make his living from it, he wouldn't do it," says Eva Chun.
But for the most part, Michael Chow has had success that reflects his
highly developed sense of style in food, design and art. He has
become known for his personal style as well--the signature black-
framed glasses, the black suits with mandarin collars, the customized
convertible Bentley he drives around town. All three of his wives
came from the fashion world. Yet he's annoyed when people focus on
his stylishness--or the stylishness of his restaurants. "Mr Chow
survived all this time because of the food," he says. "People always
take that away from me. They say, 'Well, he's hip and has style.' "
But he is hip. And he does have style. Chow is famous for collecting
portraits of himself by rising and established artists. At one point,
he owned an extraordinary collection of Art Deco furniture by Emile-
Jacques Ruhlmann but sold it when he was divorcing Tina Chow.
And speaking of style, what about Tina, his second wife? (Some
Reports count her as the third or fourth wife, but Chow denies any
more than three marriages.) Tina, a former model and jewelry designer
who was revered as an icon of international style, died from AIDS
complications in 1992 at the age of 41.
She is his least favorite subject.
In the late '70s and early '80s, Michael and Tina Chow epitomized the
jet-set lifestyle, commuting between continents to their restaurants,
being photographed by Helmut Newton in an edgy 1984 tableau that
featured Tina tied to the bar of Mr Chow in Beverly Hills while
Michael eyed her.
The stunning daughter of a Japanese war-bride mother and American
father, Tina had two children with Michael--China, 25, an actress,
and Maximillian, 22, a student at Santa Monica College. The Chows
were married in 1972, separated in the late '80s and divorced in
1990. Her illness was widely chronicled and reported to have been the
result of an affair with a Frenchman who died of AIDS two years
before Tina did.
Ask Chow how Tina influenced him and he grows uncharacteristically
reserved. "It's been so long. My memory's not so good," says the man
who collects movie esoterica in his head.
He admits that she may have had something to do with creating the
restaurants' mystique but says, pointedly, "Mr Chow is at the height
of its success in Los Angeles and New York." And, obviously, he wants
you to know, she had nothing to do with that.
Chow prefers to talk about the Chow family as it is configured today:
wife Eva, 43, daughter Asia, 4, and the two older children. It's as
if he shed whoever he was with Tina. "At present, I'm in such bliss
with Eva," he says of the woman he married in Las Vegas in
1992. "It's like talking about someone else, not me."
Michael Chow has reinvented himself several times. His father was the
legendary Beijing Opera star Zhou Xing Fang, who whetted his son's
appetite for applause and a theatrical life in one form or another.
His mother gave her six children Western names. In 1952, at 13,
Michael and older sister Tsai Chin (who adopted for the stage a
Chinese name her father gave her) were sent to England to be away
from the political troubles that would engulf their parents.
Chow endured the bullying of other adolescents at two dismal boarding
schools before finding his way to London. He spent a year at St.
Martin's, the art school, and two more years in architecture school
before assuming the role of starving Bohemian artist. He tried
acting, taking small stock roles in movies. (He even played a Chinese
laundry boy in a 1958 British movie, "Violent Playground.")
He rarely held a traditional job; he was a dishwasher and a waiter in
restaurants for a matter of months. His first big break was his much-
acclaimed design of a London hair salon in 1965. After that, he only
did entrepreneurial projects, indulging his creative talent, his
sense of glamour and his prescience of the next hot thing. He opened
the London Mr Chow in 1968, when the British capital was the center
of chic in music, art and fashion. His yearlong marriage to Vogue
creative director Grace Coddington, then a fashion editor at British
Vogue, fell apart.
Being an interracial couple in the late '60s "didn't help," says
Chow. "But that's not major. I think maybe she got fed up with the
It was A&M Records co-founder Jerry Moss who brought Chow, and Mr
Chow, to Los Angeles, investing $500,000. "At the time," says
Moss, "that was a pretty fair sum of money."
When they opened the restaurant in 1974, Moss recalls, "people were
calling me at home for reservations. That went on for six weeks. Then
for two years, we had no one coming. You could roll a bowling ball in
there for entertainment." But gradually it picked up. Moss invited
record company people and entertained colleagues and friends. Other
patrons brought other friends. "For a while, it was Mr Chow and
Mortons," says boutique owner Tracey Ross, who started going to
Chow's restaurant with her parents. "Then more competition came.
People wanted to eat outside."
Moss, whose investment was repaid in the early '80s, recalls when
Chow was not much of a presence in the restaurant or behind the
scenes, "when he didn't go into the restaurant for five years." Chow,
it turns out, was trying to direct a movie based on his own script, a
project that met with little success.
But the restaurant survived. Now, say Ross and numerous devoted Chow
diners, the restaurant is hotter than ever. It's as if that late-
'70s, early-'80s glamour has been rediscovered by a new
generation. "Look at the clothes, the fashions. Warhols are cool to
own again," muses Ross.
The offspring of loyal diners have rediscovered Mr Chow as adults.
Casey Wasserman shows up with his friends or grandfather, Lew
Wasserman, former MCA chief. Donald Sutherland, an early patron, is
now followed by his son, Kiefer. "But I had to wait for the son to
grow up," chuckles Chow.
* * *
Eva Chun likes to say, "Mr. Chow is couture and Eurochow is ready-to-
That's true in terms of the prices. But actually it's Eurochow that
stands on the showroom floor of Westwood Boulevard like a couture
gown with opulent handwork.
There is something surreal about all that glistening white, from the
marble floors inlaid with lights (both Chow and his wife can wax on
about the marvels of fiber optics) to the walls ascending to 55-foot
Most restaurants in the mid-day, robbed of their seductive night
lighting, are mundane affairs. But Eurochow in the morning is a
cathedral of sunlight. With workers padding around and Chow's staff
hunkered down at tables whispering into their cell phones, you feel
as if you're on a set, watching the filming of a movie about a
The night of the Eurochow debut, guests include artists such as Ed
Ruscha, regular clients of Mr Chow, longtime compatriots such as
Vidal Sassoon, Chow's children and legions of publicists from the
glittering jewelry, fashion and auction worlds. There's a smattering
of celebrities--Eric Clapton, Lauren Holly, Michael York.
Michael and Eva work the room. He wears a black wool suit and a pair
of velvet shoes (acquired at auction) that once belonged to the Duke
of Windsor. She wears the white Vivienne Westwood dress, replete with
crinolines, that she wore when Julian Schnabel painted her.
I tell Chow that I talked to Jerry Moss that day. "Did he say I owed
him money?" he chortles. I assure him that he didn't and then ask
Chow if he has any investors this time around. No, he answers, as he
looks around the room now buzzing with champagne-drinking patrons.
"I usually risk all," Chow says calmly. "Either you believe in it or
* * *
Carla Hall Is a Times Staff Writer. Her Last Piece for the Magazine
Was About the Popularity of Straight Hair