Having lived in America as an Asian for the past thirteen years, I’ve spent most of my formidable growing up years having not watched my race well-represented in the media. Perhaps its because Asian Americans do not form a huge proportion of the population in the US, so it only makes sense that Asian actors only appear as bit parts in movies. And when they do make appearances, it’s as a doctor, a nerd, or a ninja. Or ninja assassin. Take your pick.
But in all seriousness, due to the growing popularity of Asian American YouTube stars, such as KevJumba and Ryan Higa and even Wong Fu Productions, things may be changing for Asian American entertainers.
While Asians were hardly ever showcased in the US media, Asian American teens growing up had KevJumba and Ryan Higa to relate to. “Hey, that’s the Asian guy who’s really funny,” people might say. And you say to them, “See? Asians can be funny (not just nerdy) after all!”
But even though Asian American entertainers are ripping apart YouTube (Ryan Higa’s channel is still one of the most-watched on YouTube), how are they actually doing in the real entertainment world (aka L.A.)? Are they receiving substantial parts or are they actually better off going to Korea (in my opinion, the best of Asian cinema) when they are serious about pursuing acting careers?
Let’s look at Arden Cho. Arden is a pretty well-known actress and performer in the k-pop world considering she has not actually worked in the Korean entertainment industry as a performer. You might remember her as having been an MC for several K-pop concerts when they came to the US, such as the JYJ USA Tour back in 2010, and more recently the MTV Iggy Show, hosting G.NA, BEAST, and others last month. Other than that, she’s been seen with some top-notch K-pop stars, such as K-pop queen BoA, and recently she revealed her close relationship with G.NA. She and G.NA even created a self-made video encouraging others to go after their dreams of performing, telling them not to give up even if there are many obstacles in the way.
However, her relationships with k-pop stars aside, I believe that Arden Cho really wants to make a name for herself here in America as an actress above all else. And I give her full props – the girl works hard. She and a slew of other up and coming Asian American performers – David Choi, Megan Lee, and Clara Chung – to name a few, are really trying their best to do what they love and to rep Asian Americans in America. And it’s hard, because even if you have a lot of dedicated fans, Hollywood producers and directors still very rarely turn your way for a role.
Personally, I think Arden doesn’t get enough work in the States. She proved her acting chops in Ryan Higa’s first mini-movie, Agents of Secret Stuff, and despite the fact that the movie was well-received and viewed by millions, famous directors still aren’t necessarily knocking on her front door.
Another example is the Asian American actress Jamie Chung. Jamie is best known for having been a contestant on the MTV show The Real World: San Diego, and since then she has gone on to receive really incredible high-profile roles in Hollywood movies such as Sucker Punch (same director as 300), The Hangover Part II, and she will be the lead role in a movie to be released later next year (Eden). Though many claim she has little acting talent, I would say she is one of the luckier and more successful Asian American actors in Hollywood.
On the other hand, there is also the path of Asian American going back to their roots in Asia to act. One particular actor that comes to mind is Daniel Henney. Daniel Henney is half Korean and half Irish, hailing from Michigan, and just happened to make his acting debut in Korea, with the popular drama My Name is Kim Sam Soon, despite speaking no Korean. What a feat. And it doesn’t help that he has godly looks (at least to many Korean women). Since then, he has gone on to act in several American movies and recently returned to Korea for the 2010 action drama The Fugitive: Plan B.
Another example that many tend to overlook is the famous (and now infamous) Han Ye Seul. Han Ye Seul was born and raised in Los Angeles, but after she received her Associate’s Degree in the States, she went to Korea to pursue her acting career. The K-pop culture aside, many may have raised eyebrows at such a move. Han Ye Seul was not a fluent Korean speaker before she moved to Korea, and back in the days when she moved (around 2003), Korean cinema was not as well-established as it is now. However, her efforts and persistence clearly paid off, as she is currently one of Korea’s most popular and in-demand actresses. On top of it all, Korea now has perhaps the most advanced and prominent entertainment industry in all of Asia, so she clearly made a wise choice to forgo the Hollywood path for the Hallyu path.
What do you think? Do you think aspiring Asian (especially Korean) American actors should stay in the States or give Korea a go first? Given the recent scandal with Han Ye Seul and Spy Myung-wol, perhaps one might look at Korean television from another perspective. Even though one might get less screen time in the States, at least they won’t be worked to exhaustion on live-shoot sets in Korea. There are benefits to both, but as an Asian American, I find the current presence of Asian Americans in Hollywood to be discouraging and underwhelming, while I know that the pressures of working in Korean entertainment run sky high. It’s a toss-up for me, but definitely a topic worth discussing.