A Look Into Asian Pop Culture in American Film
Over the last few decades it would seem that Asian pop culture in American film has very much expanded beyond the various stereotypes associated with Asians. During one episode of "Dateline" on NBC, I learned that the role of Asians weren't really portrayed by Asians. One Asian role was portrayed by actor Marlon Brando and another one was portrayed by Mickey Rooney. That was before the sixties where we had actors such as Bruce Lee who looks to be the father of all martial arts films and the father of mixed martial arts fighting.
Bruce Lee could very much be the first face of actual Asian pop culture in American film. As a result, Bruce Lee had become a major icon throughout Hong Kong. He had a small but very loyal following as it got bigger and bigger. Still, there were roles of Asians not portrayed by actual Asians. "Kung-Fu" starred David Carradine who isn't Asian as the role was originally supposed to go to Bruce Lee. In the beginning, the faces of Asian pop culture in American film were focused around martial arts. It was mainly focused towards the Chinese actors.
Asian pop culture was a slow progress because we had World War II where one of the Axis allies was Japan. From there, there was the Korean War. After the Korean War, there was the Vietnam War. People like Bruce Lee were constantly persecuted. It didn't help that various Asians in East and Southeast Asia look similar to one another. Basically, it Asian pop culture focused on all the various stereotypes associated with Asian culture.
From Bruce Lee, we had new faces in Asian martial arts pop culture such as: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen. Though, Jackie Chan and Jet Li are more popular than Donnie Yen outside of the martial arts film world. It's been a very slow and gradual growth for Asians and Asian Americans.
Recently, there has been a transgression. More Asian actors have their feet at the front doors of Asian films. However, the one thing that tends to turn Asians is the stereotypes still associated with the culture. Hollywood itself is still transfixed on the stereotypes. The best bet would be to bank on the independent films.
Chow Yun Fat started out in Asian movies and then became more known in American films such as the "Replacement Killers." Recently, Chow Yun Fat took on the role as Sao Peng in "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."
I didn't hear about Zhang Ziyi until I had watched "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Now she's being cast in all sorts of films. She had a lead role in "Memoirs of a Geisha." Zhang Ziyi had even done the voice of Karai in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" that debuted in 2006. Currently, Zhang Ziyi is dating a telecommunications mogul which will more than help out her career.
There's Ken Watanabe who I saw in "The Last Samurai." He made an appearance in "Batman Begins." Ken Watanabe was also in "Babel" and "Letters From Iwo Jima." That is very much one name to look out for in the near future. Still, Hollywood is still focused on the stereotypes.
"Chiaki Kuriyama" is another example. I remember seeing her in "Battle Royale" which was a great movie. She portrayed the antagonist GoGo Yabari beautifully. It's possible she could make it in American film. However, Chiaki Kuriyama very much is busy with all sorts of projects in Japan.
I remember watching Sammo Hung in his TV show called "Martial Law" back in the late nineties. However, he hasn't had that much success in North America. But, he is well known in Europe and Asia. He has worked with Jackie Chan on many films.
Tony Jaa is the newest martial arts action star. It was through his films that Muay Thai has been given more spotlight. When you look at the various North American films with martial arts action, Muay Thai was a very neglected style. They focused on styles such as: Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and Kung-Fu.
There are just mere examples. Still, we shouldn't neglect the Asian-American and Asian-Canadian actors. They themselves are making quite an impact.
I saw John Cho's debut in "American Pie." Then he got to star in "Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle." He recently starred in an independent film with Korean-American actress Grace Park. Now, John Cho is cast to play a young Sulu in the new "Star Trek" movie.
Asian-Canadian actress Sandra Oh appeared in numerous independent films throughout Canada. Now, she has a regular role in "Gray's Anatomy."
Grace Park had a steady role in "Battlestar Galactica" as one of the regular characters. With this latest film she was cast in, she's getting there.
We cannot forget Eurasian actress Maggie Q, who has a Vietnamese heritage. She was more well known in the various martial arts films across Asia. Maggie Q had a major role in "Mission Impossible 3" and recently starred in "Balls of Fury."
Masi Oka and James Kyson Lee have regular roles in the hit TV show "Heroes."
The various cultures of Asia will slowly integrate into American film. However, it will be a long time before mainstream Hollywood accepts them. But we can be sure to take a look at the independent features. Babel was one of the best films that examined the various culture and language barriers. But you could only catch Babel at theaters that show independent films.
While it takes awhile for mainstream Hollywood to fully accept Asians in general, we can look at the independent features. One of my personal favorites is "Saving Face" starring Michelle Krusiek and Joan Chen.
Tags: Asian Culture , American Film , Bruce Lee
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