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[MOVIES] Asian-Americans still knocking on Hollywood's door

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  • chiayuan25
    Asian-Americans still knocking on Hollywood s door Marian Liu Mercury News Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2003 ``Better Luck Tomorrow was hailed as the ``great
    Message 1 of 2 , Jun 10, 2003
      Asian-Americans still knocking on Hollywood's door
      Marian Liu
      Mercury News
      Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2003

      ``Better Luck Tomorrow'' was hailed as the ``great yellow hope'' when
      it opened in April.

      ``It was a real watershed for Asian-American cinema,'' says Gene
      Cajayon, an independent Asian-American filmmaker.

      As one of the first Asian-American films to reach mainstream
      audiences, the thriller shattered stereotypes, portraying honor
      students dabbling in crime as an extracurricular activity. But
      critics say it did not change Hollywood.

      ``It has created an awareness and is one step closer to leveling the
      playing field,'' says ``Better Luck Tomorrow'' actor Roger Fan. ``But
      it's still off balance by a long shot.''

      Movie critic Roger Ebert defended the film against criticism at the
      Sundance Film Festival, saying that Asian-Americans can portray
      whomever they choose. ``Life is still a little ghetto,'' Fan says. He
      moved from playing the leading jock in ``Better Luck Tomorrow'' to a
      bit part in Matt Damon's comedy ``Stuck On You,'' due out in December.

      His co-star Jason Tobin could not find work after ``Better Luck
      Tomorrow,'' and is stuck in Buenos Aires, Argentina, waiting for the
      renewal of his work visa to return to the United States.

      ``I wouldn't say anything changed careerwise, just because none of
      the actors have gotten any work as a direct result of `Better Luck
      Tomorrow,' '' says Parry Shen, the movie's lead actor. The only job
      he was offered after the movie was a stereotypical Asian cabdriver.
      He turned down the part.

      Actress Karin Anna Cheung still plugs away at her day job at a family
      friend's dental office. Recently, a casting director called to say
      they couldn't hire her, she says, because they already had an Asian
      in the cast.

      While there are more Asian-American actors than ever before, Eddie
      Wong, executive director of the National Asian American
      Telecommunications Association (NAATA), says, ``You can have a
      billion Asian-American actors and still have a problem of how they
      get into films.''

      Plus, no film can change the industry by itself, says Harry Lin, a
      veteran of Bay Area broadcasting who now is executive vice president
      of ABC's Web site, abc.com.

      ``The movie industry is very conservative,'' Lin says. ``It's not
      proactive to change or trying to make waves. That's why independent
      film and cinema is so important: It's where change and risk occurs.''

      Limited opportunities

      For Asian-Americans, the move toward entertainment careers has been a
      recent one, stretching the past 40 years, starting with such
      stereotypical films as the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical ``Flower
      Drum Song.''

      ``The power structure discriminates against us, and culturally we've
      been so narrow-minded, focusing on being a lawyer, doctor or working
      for the government,'' says Lin, a second-generation Chinese-American
      whose parents told him to find a ``real career'' when he started in
      television.

      Paralleling other minorities who have been typecast as gangsters, bad
      guys and servants, Asians have been relegated to portraying nerds,
      martial arts experts and waiters, taking parts such as the blabbering
      Long Duk Dong in ``Sixteen Candles'' and the exotic Lady Deathstrike
      in ``X2.''

      But actors chose to break out of the mold with ``Better Luck
      Tomorrow'' and continue to do so.

      ``Better Luck Tomorrow'' ``has inspired others to do the same,'' says
      Shen, a drama teacher at a private high school in Southern
      California. He says he avoided studying martial arts so he would
      never be relegated to those roles.

      Asian-Americans rallied behind ``Better Luck Tomorrow'' and got the
      word out about the movie, in an effort to show Hollywood that their
      dollars counted, says Christine Padilla, executive director of
      Contemporary Asian Theater Scene in San Jose. As a result, 60 percent
      of the audiences for ``Better Luck Tomorrow'' were Asian-American,
      says the film's director, Justin Lin, who is not related to Harry Lin.

      ``It's about time. Films portraying teenagers aren't very accurate
      most of the time, at least not to me or my friends. How many people
      do you know who pleasure themselves by sticking pie down there?''
      says Angela Dang, a student at Cupertino's Homestead High School,
      referring to ``American Pie.'' ``The search to find a great movie I
      could relate to ended when I saw `Better Luck Tomorrow.' ''

      A modest success

      Ticket sales will reach $4 million for ``Better Luck Tomorrow,''
      which cost $250,000 to produce, says Justin Lin. It's modest when
      compared to a studio blockbuster such as ``The Matrix Reloaded,''
      which will earn around $200 million, or to an indie smash such as
      ``Blair Witch Project,'' which took in $140 million at the box office
      and cost less that $400,000 to produce.

      ``Even as a proud Asian-American media executive, I say it's still a
      bad business decision to make a television show or movie to appeal to
      Asian-Americans only,'' Harry Lin says. ``The key is to appeal to
      Asian-Americans and others.''

      NAATA director Wong says Hollywood will only change if it believes
      this is an audience worth nurturing. One-third of the nation's Asian-
      Americans live in California. Their presence isn't as widely felt
      nationwide; Asian-Americans are still only 4.2 percent of the
      country's total population, according to the 2000 census.

      Nevertheless, outside Hollywood, ``Better Luck Tomorrow'' did change
      the way Asian-Americans saw themselves on film and sparked a
      discussion and a critical look at what it means to be Asian-American.

      ``It's contemporary,'' says Jocelyn Kwan, a 16-year-old from
      Fremont's Mission San Jose High School, which many students say is
      similar to the competitive high school portrayed in the movie. ``This
      is modern and speaks to the second generation of Asian-Americans.''

      ``This film cannot represent everybody,'' says director Justin Lin.
      ``Give me some time. They'll be growing pains and time will only tell
      where we'll go next.''

      He says he hopes that when he's talking about his next film in a
      couple of years, he'll be talking about filmmaking and not about
      being Asian-American anymore.

      Contact Marian Liu at mliu@... or (408) 920-2740. Fax
      (408) 271-3786.

      http://ae.bayarea.com/entertainment/ui/bayarea/movie.html?
      id=94656&reviewId=12325
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