Sunday, July 27, 2014

Accentuating the Positive

As a follow-up to recent posts about issues of casting and representation regarding Asian and Asian-American characters, thought it might be good to look back on a couple of good-case scenarios that transpired in the past.

Chinese Detective (1981-82)

BBC police drama created by Ian Kennedy Martin, who had previously devised another notable British police drama, The Sweeney (1975-78). The show starred Anglo-Chinese actor David Yip (currently appearing as the Chinese President in 24: Live Another Day)  as Detective Sergeant John Ho, a maverick officer dealing with prejudice from co-workers and perpetrators in the course of his investigations. The Sweeney was recently remade as a feature film in the UK. Why not do the same with Chinese Detective?

Ohara (1987-88)

Short-lived police drama that aired on ABC for two seasons starring Pat Morita at the height of his post-Karate Kid fame. Morita co-created this show about Ohara, an LA-based Japanese American police lieutenant who uses spirituality and martial arts instead of a gun to solve crimes. The show didn't last, but it still remains one of the few to have had an Asian American in the lead.

Vanishing Son (1994-1995)
In 1994, Universal Studios produced a block of TV movies and series called the Action Pack that were syndicated to local stations (WGN Channel 9 in Chicago). The venture gave birth to the TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, and for a very brief period launched Eurasian actor Russell Wong (also known as the abusive husband in movie version of The Joy Luck Club) to stardom with the kung-fu adventure series Vanishing Son. The show was created by producer/director Rob Cohen, who first dipped his toes into the realm of martial arts and Chinese culture as the man behind Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Wong played a musician on the run from the People's Republic of China in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations, who escapes to the US and ends traveling from place-to-place fighting injustice with his kung-fu skills.  The show started as four TV movies, and then a thirteen-episode regular series. Wong got a lot of attention for a short period, even being named one of the "Fifty Most Beautiful People" of 1995 by People Magazine. Unfortunately, the show was not renewed for another season.

Hansel & Gretel (1982)
Here's a real oddity that is worth mentioning here. In the early 1980s, director Tim Burton was a young unknown animator, storyboard artist and concept artist employed at Walt Disney, working on films like The Fox and The Hound, The Black Cauldron and TRON. During this time, he was able to crank out a couple of small projects that presaged his distinctive combination of quirk and the macabre. One of these was this Japanese-themed short based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale which aired just once on the Disney Channel on October 31, 1983 at 10:30pm. The film features an entirely Asian American cast, and set and costume design heavily influenced by Burton's then-obsession with Godzilla movies and other Japanese pop culture. Pleasingly, although Burton's decision to give everything an Asian flavor, none of the actors were required to perform with faux foreign accents.

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