With the end of the year upon us and 2008 looming around the corner, here’s a sneak peek at what Hollywood has in store for Asian Pacific Americans in the New Year. Will there be some pleasant surprises, or will it be the same auld lang syne?
Films With Asians (But Not Enough Asians)
When half a dozen MIT students were busted after devising a system of counting cards to make millions in Las Vegas, the story made headlines all over the world. So, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came knocking. The problem is, most of the students involved were of Asian descent, so Hollywood decided to whitewash the story, literally.
When the film 21 hits theaters next spring, you’ll see this true-life tale brought to the silver screen — except most key characters will be Caucasian. At least Aaron Yoo and Liza Lapira are in the cast, but I’m hoping for more of an outcry from the community when this film is released. Maybe it’s business as usual for Hollywood, but I can’t help thinking that if the students had been African American and switched to Caucasian, there already would be very vocal protests.
The Japanese animation import Speed Racer also makes its debut in 2008, courtesy of the Wachowski brothers, who brought us The Matrix series. And, yes, the lead is played, once again, by a white boy: in this case, the talented Emile Hirsch. And, yes, there are Asians in the supporting cast, including Korean pop star Rain and Hiroyuki Sanada (The Last Samurai).
This casting doesn’t bother me as much because, technically, I’m not sure what race Speed Racer is supposed to be. For me, though, he was always Asian, and will continue to be in my mind, if not on the big screen.
You may have heard that a major network series will premiere in January starring an Asian American woman. The story revolves around a group of female friends in New York dealing with work and personal life, and was created by the folks who brought us Sex and the City.
That about describes two other new series: Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle. That’s right, there are two different shows appearing around the same time with almost exactly the same premise and pedigree.
Lipstick Jungle stars Korean hapa Lindsay Price and was created by Candace Bushnell, the real-life inspiration for Sex and the City. Cashmere Mafia comes from Darren Star, who adapted Sex and the City for TV, and stars Lucy Liu. Both shows may even go up against each other on the same night.
Whether there’s room for two such similar shows remains to be seen … But when was the last time you saw two major TV series starring strong Asian American females make it onto the air, much less square off against each other?
The Shining Stars of 2008
Finally, here are my predictions for who will become the male and female Asian breakthrough stars for the New Year.
Korean actress Gianna Jun is already a big star in Asia. “What?” you may be asking … You know all the big, Asian stars, yet never heard of her before. That’s because, before she “Americanized” her name, she was known as Jun Ji-Hyun and starred in hits like My Sassy Girl and Il Mare (which was remade here as The Lake House).
Jun will star in her first English-language film, playing the lead role of a vengeful vampire in the big-screen adaptation of the Japanese anime hit Blood: The Last Vampire. The film comes with an impressive pedigree, courtesy of Academy Award-winning producer Bill Kong (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and could possibly make Jun the first Korean star to cross over successfully into Hollywood films.
I predict the male breakthrough star will be someone also of Korean descent, but more homegrown: Harold and Kumar’s John Cho. Cho is already one of our most recognizable Asian American actors, but 2008 potentially could launch him into the big time. He and Kal Penn return in the Harold and Kumar sequel that will hit theaters in the spring. Cho also recently won what is the year’s most coveted role for an Asian male actor: the part of Ensign Sulu in the big-screen Star Trek reboot from director J.J. Abrams (Lost). When that film premieres on Christmas Day, 2008, the iconic Star Trek line “Live long and prosper” may very well apply to Cho’s own career.
Philip W. Chung is a writer and co-artistic director of Lodestone Theatre Ensemble.