Streaming: Joan Chen in ‘Marco Polo’

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It was just like old times for actress Joan Chen on the set of the new Netflix original series Marco Polo — and we’re not talking 13th century old times.

“It was a very impressive, huge scale,” Chen told The San Francisco Chronicle. “I hadn’t done anything this big for a long time. I think the last time was The Last Emperor. I forgot how grand movie making could be. It was exciting to be a part of.”

Indeed, Marco Polo, about the Italian explorer’s years in Asia, is a lavish, $90million 10-part series filmed in Italy, Kazakhstan and Malaysia that is a collaboration between The Weinstein Company and Netflix. All 10 episodes become available on Friday.

Chen has a juicy role as Empress Chabi, the wife of Kublai Khan (Benedict Wong), who negotiates her way through court intrigue roiled by the appearance of Marco Polo (newcomer Lorenzo Richelmy).

It is the latest foray into the small screen for the Shanghai-born Chen, 53, who starred in the original Twin Peaks.

Chabi in Marco Polo is a supporting character, but Chen saw the bigger picture: “You have 10 hours to actually create a character. You have an opportunity to make her more three-dimensional and make her more fun, more exciting.”

Although she stays busy acting — often in China as well as American independent films (White Frog, Saving Face) — Chen says her favorite way to spend time is at home in San Francisco, where she lives with her husband of 23 years, Dr. Peter Hui, and their two daughters, Angela and Audrey.

Chen has long enjoyed cooking and writing, and blogs on a website ( She recently posted about her trip to NYC for the Marco Polo premiere, reflecting on the visit: “It’s only natural that I have disappointed the young self at times, but it’s not over yet; I am still on the adventure that she started, evolving and striving to be who she dreamed of becoming.”