Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
A Leading Man: Being Asian in Hollywood
Hollywood’s determination to sell its soul to China, a lingering institutional
insensitivity to Asian type-casting and crude stereotypical jokes persists in
the industry. Jason Biggs and his tweet about Asian drivers is a case in point.
Had his racial humor targeted any other demographic group, his career would likely
be on life support, but in this case, Hollywood just shrugged. Soon-to-be
unemployed actor GQ Qi understands the hypocrisy only too well. He has played
the game better than most of his colleagues, but has little to show for it in writer-director
Steven Kung’s A Leading Man (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in select cities, following a well received festival run, including Dances
had to fight to get the starring role in Mitch Lebowitz’s new sitcom Pu Pu Platter, but playing the cringy,
subservient exchange student makes him nauseous. Lebowitz’s overbearing
demeanor and insulting condescension do not help either. After Qi inevitably
snaps, his longtime agent drops him. Even his formerly supportive mother cuts
him off, suggesting he finally settle for a management position in the family’s
Shanghai semi-conductor family. However, he has a bold plan: he will romance
up-and-coming casting director Rachel Cohen.
her better judgment, Cohen succumbs to his charms. Unfortunately, when Lebowitz
gets wind of their relationship, he fires Cohen as well. Suddenly, both Qi and
Cohen are on the outs. Is their relationship real enough to withstand the
financial and emotional pressures to come? If so, it will be a hard fought
victory, because there is not a lot of easy sentiment or unearned feel good
moments in Leading. While Kung
excoriates Hollywood’s Asian stereotyping and discrimination, he clearly implies
there is also a bit of karma at work in Qi’s case.
Jack Yang really does have leading man presence as Qi, but he is not afraid
play up the Machiavellian and rather unsympathetic side of his character. It is
a dark, subtly calibrated performance that gives the film real integrity, even
if it pushes away sympathetic viewers. Heather Mazur plays off Yang quite
nicely as the smart and down-to-earth Cohen, while executive producer Pat Tsao
is a force of nature as the sort of iron-willed mother that nearly anyone can
well relate to, regardless of ethnicity or nationality.
Hollywood takes in the shins throughout Leading, but to Kung’s credit, it never
lets anyone off the hook. It might sound like a thematic analog to Robert
Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle, but
Kung’s film is more thoughtful and dramatically complex. Despite the
inconsistency of some supporting players, A
Leading Man is worth a look, particularly for those who appreciate a
caustic look at the movie business when it opens this Friday (9/12) in limited
Labels: Hollywood on film