Monday, September 22, 2008

Asian Persuasion

Off the top of your head name five Asian protagonists in popular scripted TV today. There's Masi Oka and Sendhil Ramamurthy (two of the multitude of Heroes), Naveed Andrews (though he plays an Arab on Lost), Kal Penn (arguable, since he is a sort of sidekick on House, M.D.), and then... and then...


It's a sad fact that our nation's diversity is not reflected in the faces of our biggest stars. Fault does not rely solely on TV Execs (aka The Man). Many first generation Asian Americans do not consider the fine arts legitimate fields of study. Those of us in the second generation are strongly encouraged to pursue more stable (read: boring) careers. The end result is that there is a dearth of Asian actors. So I perk up whenever I see a TV show has an Asian protagonist. Which is why I was so excited by the previews for Samurai Girl.

Samurai Girl is the story of Heaven Kogo, the 19 year-old adopted daughter of a wealthy Japanese businessman. She comes to America for her arranged marriage to the son of her father's business associate. Though she is hesitant about the marriage, Heaven is reluctant to defy her beloved father. At the ceremony, right before the cup of sake touches her lips, NINJAS ATTACK!

Okay, okay. On the surface, it does sound a little exploitation-y, a little Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! And there's no doubt about it - Jamie Chung, who plays Heaven Kogo in the title role, is a stone cold fox. Observe:

Spoiler Alert! She's actually Korean.

But I thought they did a decent job of portraying Japanese rituals/costumes/artifacts, and not just as plot devices or to exoticize the heroine. Heaven is no mere "token." She's got a believable character arc - she starts out a bit silly and kind of a princess, but it works. She evolves as a fighter due to the usual Mystical Destiny dues ex machina, but at that point you're too far gone to care. Or rather, you care too much to go (ba dum chh!). The series is further aided by great supporting actors, creative fight scenes, and a strong plot (complete with pretty twisty twists). The writing improves dramatically from the first episode to the second. Plus, as it stands it's just a miniseries - it doesn't really have enough time to get truly annoying. You can catch the wacky Asian fun this Saturday (Sept 27th), starting at 3pm, on ABC Family.


*Yes, I realize that the time for Dude, Where's My Car? references has come and gone.


Anonymous said...

What about Jin and Sun, also from Lost? These days there are plenty of Asian actors, but the number of roles available to them definitely doesn't reflect their numbers in the greater population.

Liz said...

also, the adorable raj on big bang theory. once again, part of an ensemble, but one of my favorites. and kelly kapoor on the office, who is hilarious. i made you watch the "diversity day" episode once, didn't i?

i do see your point, though. way too many 30something white male leads on tv.

Monkey Sri said...

You got me :P I did neglect to mention several Asian actors, but I see you all get the point that the few Asians on TV are usually not protagonists, per se. Thanks for the comments!