I ask this question this week reflecting upon seeing an eve growing number of Asians who were born and/or raised in the West or Europe, moving to Asia to forge their entertainment careers. A question that should be asked ( and one that has an obvious answer) is why? I mean in an ideal world, shouldn’t we all be treated equal and have equal opportunities when it comes to being an actor or someone working in an influential role within the entertainment industry? The obvious answer is no, we are not given equal opportunities and yes, the opportunities in Asia are limitless. Really, if you think about it, we need to start decolonizing in the thinking that Hollywood is the be all end all. This is not to say that we stop advocating for better representation and visibility, definitely not, but it is to say that we should start broadening our horizons and look towards the East for an entertainment career – if that is what you aim for.
I think, if anything, the success of CRAZY RICH ASIANS and SEARCHING shows that we Asians are being afforded opportunities, but how long has it been since Hollywood has had an all Asian diaspora/Asian American cast? It has seriously been 25 years and 2018 is the year which this has just started to happen. Asides from roles which stereotype us Asians negatively ( many Asian actors who have taken these roles have done so due to not having many choices) there really hasn’t been much ( asides from the 2 mentioned) since JOY LUCK CLUB and BETTER LUCK TOMORROW ( which was directed by YOMYOMF’s founder Justin Lin). That in itself is a huge gap of an entire generation. In saying that, I do think we will start to see more viability and more representation over the next few years starting to pop up, but it will still be limited and some of these shows will still have a white savior or main roles will be taken up by white actors – because that is still the standardized norm.
So how about Asia? If you look at some of the major film and entertainment industries, it is a no brainer that a career can be forged there. Put Bollywood, Chollywood, Korean film and Japanese film industries together and that is one which is 10 times bigger than Hollywood would ever be. In addition, they have the capacity to churn out a lot more high quality films, dramas, theater productions etc, due to sheer audience and population to satisfy.
More recently, we have seen a number of Asian actors and performers from the West and/or Europe head over to Asia to pursue their careers. Some really recent examples, would be STEVEN YEUN in Korean film BURNING and YOSHI SUDARSO in Indonesian film BUFFALO BOYS. But others like HENRY GOLDING, NATASHA LIU, CHRIS PANG, DANIEL WU, DANIEL HENNEY, SHIORI KUTSUNA ( from Deadpool 2), LUDI LIN, MAGGIE Q and the list continues with the number of Asian diaspora ( Western) actors, entertainers and performers having at some point moved to Asia to make their mark. Of course there is a huge thing you must possess when wanting to pursue your entertainment career in Asia ( in non English speaking nations) and that is to be able to speak the national language with a decent level of fluency. But really, that can be learned and immersion is always the best way to perfect languages. But with technology nowadays, this is not always required, with dubbing almost looking flawless.
I remember, when I interviewed DANIEL WU ( when he was cast as “Lu Ren” in the new Tomb Raider), in an off the record conversation he mentioned to me that he feels a lot of the opportunities he has received in Hollywood ( Into the Badlands, Tomb Raider etc) is due to his body of work coming out of Hong Kong. And I would say this is the same for many, like SHIORI KUTSUNA ( who was in Deadpool 2, but all her acting credits come from Japan) and even MAGGIE Q, who mentioned this in a Mic article from 2013:
Maggie Q told Time Out magazine that she owes her success to Hong Kong. Originally from Hawaii, she moved there in 1997 with $20 in her pocket in a last-ditch effort after failed modeling stints in Japan and Taiwan. Whereas Taiwanese markets at the time were looking for either “tall blonds” or “100% Chinese girls,” Hong Kong consumers were craving something fresh. Maggie Q fit the bill. She was introduced to acting by Jackie Chan and learned martial arts (and Cantonese) from scratch.
So to end my piece, I just wanted to reaffirm, heading over to the East to pursue an entertainment career is not giving up on Hollywood – it is merely broadening horizons and opportunities because there is an appetite in Asia for fresh, new talent, and Western Asians definitely have an edge. I think, this option should be considered even more so now, as Hollywood starts to embrace small remnants of cultural diversity. Keep advocating and pushing change in Hollywood, but don’t be fully dependent on the industry.
To read the Mic article from 2013, please click on: Why Young Asian Americans are fleeing Hollywood, and to read the full Daniel Wu article on YOMYOMF, please click on: DANIEL WU Talks To YOMYOMF About His Role In The TOMB RAIDER Reboot, Asian Masculinity And His Awesome Career