Harold and Kumar Update, and Other Representation News

May 18, 2005

Did y'all see John Cho the other week on Grey's Anatomy? He plays a sick dude. A little sad for a guy who has starred in movie... But apparently is not quite a movie star. It got me to thinking, because last week I interviewed Damien Nguyen, star of The Beautiful Country. You haven't heard of him yet because all he's done is background gangster guys. The film will release July 7 (also starring Bai Ling, see Hyphen issue 7 for the interview) but Damien did a really great job. He plays Binh, a hapa kid of a Vietnamese mom and a GI dad (Nick Nolte, of all people) and has the requisite thick accent and defeated air. But we see Binh's character develop in subtle ways, exploding in rage and grief and growing into risk-taking and confidence. So here he is, this totally American dude --good looking but not extraordinarily pretty-- and I'm happy for him. He's starred in a movie, he got his break. But will it stick? Or will he, like John Cho, still need to take insignificant bit parts? It's not that I'm saying we should be above those roles, I just want us to have some bona fide movie stars. John Cho was supposed to be one of them --he's got a lot of real Hollywood experience on his resume. You'd never see any of those other kids from American Pie playing background smaltz to the romantic wranglings of a bunch of medical residents on a Monday night. Can you imagine Tara Reid all pale and croaky about to be wheeled into surgery behind Patrick Dempsey making the moves on some other blonde chick? no. Of course not. On the brighter side, here's an article about Kalpen Modi aka Kal Penn. The more I read about him, the more I like him. (I actually interviewed him too, and liked him live in person. But sometimes my judgement gets clouded by charm and good looks in those situations.) He's at least getting roles in films (although I will always remember and love him as one of the frat-boys-turned-cavemen on Buffy). To be fair, John Cho has a bunch of stuff down the pipeline, Bam Bam and Celeste, also starring Margaret Cho, Bickford Schmeckler's Cool Ideas, See This Movie, and Expats. So why why why Grey's Anatomy? On other representation of Asians fronts... -There's an exhibition at NYU of "Yellow Peril" memorabilia --which sounds fascinating. You have to listen to the NPR clip on it here --they play crazy clips like "You're a sap, Mr. Jap" --which became a score of a Warner Bros. cartoon. -The Nguyen Dance Company will perform "Struggle to Survive, 30 Years Crying for Vietnam" at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center on June 10. The group mixes modern dance with traditional Vietnamese movement --but the photos of them hanging upside down in unitards makes me think they lean toward the modern side. Modern dance is just cool and if you haven't figured that out yet, check out their show. -An Indian American guy got tapped to be CFO of the Executive office of the President. Of the United States. I didn't even know he had a CFO, but I guess someone has to take care of all that money. Read about him, Gopal K. Khanna here. -Hearings are starting to discuss building a memorial to Japanese Americans who were interned during WWII. Up in Washington State. -A coalition of Asian American organizations are demanding an on-air apology from the DJs known as "The Jersey Guys," Craig Carton and Ray Rossi, who mocked Asian accents when discussing the candidacy of Jun Choi and said that "Americans" should determine elections (previously reported in the Hyphen blog). While the radio station has issued a written apology, the Coalition against Hate Media says that's not enough --they want an on-air apology, sensitivity training and a change of corporate policy. -(Not exactly on representation, but whatever): Starbucks is trying to invade Japantown --in the space where the old Japantown Bowl used to live, the redevelopment agency has approved a Starbucks and a UPS store. Locals are mad, citing a previous dislocation during "urban renewal" (--not to mention internment). J-town is already such a stunted few blocks, but it'll be feisty to the bitter end. On the other hand, since there's a Starbucks on every corner in Tokyo, this might bring a extra air of authenticity.




Don't forget, Kal Penn also played a fez-wearing evil swami type, complete with exposed brain, on "Angel", part of the Buffy universe. I could wax indignant about the stereotypes, but he was such a terrific, sarcastic, American-accented evil swami type that there were no stereotypes involved. It wasn't the writing or directing, it was the acting.
kal penn also has a blog about filming the namesake (i was just going to blog about it!). pretty cool...
The show John Cho guested on was House, not Grey's Anatomy. Out of all the current medical dramas on the air, I like House the most because it's the least soapy and Hugh Laurie is awesome, even though his character says some bigoted things (but it's in keeping with his misanthropic personality--he hates everyone). Nicole Bilderback also turned up on House, as one of the medical students in the lecture hall on the most recent ep.
Speaking of AA media representation, don't forget "Saving Face" is opening Memorial Day weekend! This is a great indie comedy (starring Joan Chen) about a Chinese American lesbian & her mother that needs all the support it can get so we can get it out to as wide an audience as possible. More info here.