yearzerowriters

The Asian Man in Hollywood [Issue 2]

                The Asian man in Hollywood 

                            With Daniel Wu, Jackie Chan and Hiro from ‘Heroes’

                                           [Russian: they’re not men, they’re boys, says Studio]

 

 

      “The first time I went there I was seventeen. It was close to my eighteenth birthday, and school was almost done with, so I thought I’d go down with a couple of friends and give it a try, y’know? I didn’t expect much. I knew that no Asian guy had had much luck there so far…even Jackie[Chan] was struggling…I remember he had just done that Bronx film when I went, and that didn’t make much of a dent…but, I thought at the time, I’m not totally Asian, I’m American. I can speak to them, and they’ll see it. I wasn’t sure what they would see exactly, but I thought there’s be some kind of reaction at least…at the very least, a double-check.

      So, I went to two auditions. The first one, the guy cut me short after one line and said I wasn’t what they were looking for. The second one said-…well, it was something personal. I don’t really wanna talk about that guy.”

      Daniel shakes his head and then stops, frozen. I guess that he’s debating with himself about whether or not to say anything.

      “Maybe I’ll tell you later.”

      Jackie Chan never understood Hollywood.

      After Bronx, he did one in Australia. He was some kind of secret agent, and they made him fight a shark.

      “It seemed a little cartoonish, but what could I do? It was my second movie, and my agent was telling me to go along, to just do it. He said by the fourth movie I’d have more control.”

      After the shark there were more filmed in Australia. There was one where he played a chef.

      “The chef one…yeah, I remember that one. They wouldn’t let me kiss the Australian reporter. Something about age difference, they said. Ridiculous…”

       I went to the producers behind that film and asked them whether or not they had ever considered letting Jackie kiss the Australian.

       “Oh yeah, we did a scene, definitely. It was near the end of the shoot and we were looking at the footage we had and it was obvious that the love interest Jackie had, y’know, the Chinese girl, it wasn’t right. It played out as a kind of father-daughter relationship, not two people who would go to bed with each other. So, we did try with the other girl. We shot it…”

       I asked them what kind of results they got.

       “Oh, it was awful. Honestly, and I know this is a tightrope we’re walking here, what with the Asian-Western thing, but they just weren’t right together. Not right at all.”

      I asked them what exactly went wrong.

      “Ok, one: she was tall, he wasn’t. Y’know, Jackie is a pretty short guy, so that was a problem. We tried to get around it by getting him on a box, but he was too proud to do it. He wasn’t a diva exactly, but we could see he wouldn’t be pushed on it.”

      “And two?”

      “Two: the guy couldn’t kiss. She tried hard, bless her, but he couldn’t really get his lips to hit hers properly. I don’t know if it was just Jackie or Asian men in general, but when they kissed, man…it was like watching your granddad.”

      Daniel Wu is sitting in a taxi with us, deep in the heart of Hollywood. He’s on his way to one of the studios for a private audition, something involving a “director with integrity, real integrity,” but he won’t tell us any more. Instead he is focusing on his history with the industry.

      “The second time I came was after I finished college. I was, what, four, five years older, and I thought my face had grown up a little so I’d be able to get something. And Jackie was doing well back then…he had just done Rush Hour, and I remember seeing it and daring to have a little bit of hope, y’know, that perhaps things we’re a little different. Don’t get me wrong, Rush Hour wasn’t anything different in itself, but the level Jackie was playing at was new. No Asian guy had ever got second billing before, not in a film that big.”

      He stretches his surprisingly long legs out across the taxi floor and looks out the window as if he can still see that second visit imprinted on the landscape.

      “But y’know, I wasn’t completely convinced, even in my most optimistic moments. I knew that it was still an action film. I knew that Chris Tucker had still got top billing ahead of him, and who was he? He was a nobody back then, and he was black too (and still is…) which was like-…it was like, even the black actors, who were having their own problems in Hollywood, were getting put above us. But it’s fucked really…you look at the numbers and you see there’s more of us than there are of them. But, that’s the industry here…everyone crawls at the back of the queue, hoping enough white guys get sick or greedy so we can step in. And even then you’ve got the others, the real minorities, Mexicans, Poles, Arabs. We were all in with them. I mean, krist, even the Arabs…”

      The taxi stops outside the studio gate and the driver tells us that tourists can’t go inside.

      “No, it’s ok. We have an appointment.”

      The driver looks at Wu and shakes his head.

      “Seriously?” he asks. “Because I’m the one who looks like an asshole when they don’t let us in.”

      “Just tell the guard Daniel Wu is here.”

      The driver studies him through the mirror.

      “Never heard of you. What you been in?”

      “Blood brothers, Protégé, Police Story…”

      “They Hollywood?”

      Wu looks at me and shows me all the frustration he’s got.

      “‘Cos they don’t sound Hollywood, and no offense pal, but you don’t look Hollywood. You really want me to ask them?”

      Wu opens the door and gets out, telling the driver that he’ll ask himself.

      As he walks to the gate he stops abruptly and then comes back to the taxi, but he doesn’t stop, he keeps walking, across the road and over to a wall on the other side, where he sits and stares back at the studio gates. I pay the taxi driver and hurry across to join him.

      “That second time…I walked into the audition room and there were twelve white guys staring back at me. All the other guys outside, the actors, they were white too, except one guy, who for some reason was Native American. I don’t know what the fuck he was doing there, but anyway…I start my lines, and I’m reading with this other white actor, who I think might’ve already got one of the other parts, and every time I read one of the lines, he looks away. No one else notices so I keep going, but he keeps doing it. After something like the fifteenth time I stop and ask him what he’s doing…I tell him that I’m reading the script and as far as I can see there’s no reason for him to be looking away. And the guy, he still doesn’t look at me…he just shakes his head, gets up and goes over to one of the other white guys, I think it was the director, and he tells him, loud and clear in front of everyone that he doesn’t think I’m right for the part.”

      “Just like that, in front of the whole room?”

      “In front of everyone, yeah.”

      He watches the taxi crawling slowly away from the Studio gates, the driver dividing his attention between the traffic on the road and Wu.

      “What did you do?”

      “I stood up, that was the first thing. I was gonna walk straight out, but I had to hear it, y’know? I had to know what the guy was gonna say. So I asked him, why aren’t I right for the part? And the director stands up, I dunno, as if he’s read the guy’s mind and knows what he knows, and he says that I look strange. What do you mean strange? I ask back, and to be honest, I was dying for him to say “Chinese,” I was fucking desperate to hear him be that obvious, y’know? But he didn’t. Well, not really. He just looked straight at me and said I looked ghoulish.”

       “Ghoulish?”

      “Yeah, like a ghost or something. Like I’m not human, and those were his words. Like a ghoul.”

      “Did he explain which part of you was ghoulish?”

      “Yeah, he did. I guess he felt like he had to, just to show it wasn’t a race thing, y’know? He said, and this has never left me, I’ll always remember these words, he said that my “eyebrows were bushy, but not bushy. Faintly bushy…like they were trapped between two worlds.”

      I try to stifle my laugh but a snigger still comes out. Wu ignores it.

      “He said they were almost supernatural, that they were in purgatory. And I laughed too at the time, but y’know, ever since I’ve been a little bit paranoid about them. I even started using clippers on them.” He slaps his hand down on the wall. “Fucking Hollywood.”

      The director isn’t happy with his star.

      The tall, balding man [famous, but not to be named here] moves away from the monitor and towards the edge of the roof where the latest scene is being shot. 

      “Hiro…” he calls to the air floating twelve storeys above the street below us. I stand near the cameras wondering if Hiro is still there. I check my watch and see that this scene has taken up almost an hour so far. Can a man hang on for that long?

      The director reaches the edge and peers over. He speaks again, which means Hiro must still be there. I walk over to eavesdrop.

       “There’s no fear. Your face is doing nothing, can’t you see?”

       “I’m tired…really tired. I don’t think…I can …can do this…much…longer.”

       The director puts his head in his hands.

       “Krist man, what do you think this is, a fucking holiday? I could get any man here and they could hang there for a day if I told them too. I could hang there for a week. What’s wrong with you?”

      “I’m sorry, but…this is…it’s so hard…I can’t…”

      I look over the edge and look at the details of the scene. Hiro legs are dangling freely, his shirt is covered in sweat as is his cherubic face, and his fingers look like they are about to snap.

      “You can! You will! You want to make this work, don’t you?”

      “Of course…I do…I do…this is…this is…”

      “This is what, man? Speak damnit!”

      “It’s hard to…to speak when…hanging like this…the words…they’re too long…too long to…to speak fast.”

      “Hiro, listen. It’s almost eleven. Most of the crew are tired, we’ve got a six am start tomorrow, they just want to go home and get some rest. But they can’t, Hiro…because of you. You’re keeping us here. Your lack of expression is keeping us all here, don’t you see?”

      “No, I don’t see…I don’t know…I’m scared…I’m scared…really…”

      “No, not enough. I’m looking at the monitor, I can see that you’re not scared enough. I know you can only show so much with that-…with what you have, but come on man, try…”

      “I’m hanging…twelve storeys…I’m scared…please…please…I’m really scared…”

      “No, no, no…”

      “Yes, yes…I think…I think I’m…I’m gonna…I’m gonna fall…”

      “Well, that’s up to you, son. But remember this; if you drop, you’re fired. That’s it, you’re gone, no apologies.”

      One of Hiro’s hands slips and he almost falls. The director grabs it before he can drop and puts it back on the ledge.

       “Krist, you’re sweating like an animal. What’s wrong with you?”

       Hiro doesn’t answer.

       “Ok, one more then call it a night. You better get it this time, Hiro, or it’s back to China and obscurity.”

       “I’m Ameri-…I’m American…”

       The director looks down on him and pats his hand affectionately.

      “You are trying, I know. But you’ve gotta earn it, son.”

      He stands up and walks back over to the monitor. I stay a little longer and offer some words of comfort to the hanger.

      “Just try not to look down, ok?”

      Hiro disobeys and looks down. On the street below five bored looking firemen are standing next to their fire engine playing cards and waiting to scoop Hiro off the concrete should he fall.

      “Out of the shot, hack,” the director shouts at me.

      I stand up and give Hiro a thumbs up then walk back to the shadows behind the crew.

       When Jackie hit the big time with Rush Hour he wasn’t happy.

      “The film was nonsense, the fights were terrible, the choreography was so limited. I was getting sick of it by this point, and I was just gonna give up and come back (to Hong Kong). But then it makes money, a lot of money, and I just know that I’m gonna have to do a sequel.”

      He was also getting tired of not getting any action with white actresses.

      Every film he did he was given a different excuse by the producers. The audience aren’t ready to see you kiss, there’s no place in the script for it, other action stars don’t worry about it, the fans want “action Jackie”, not “kissing Jackie.”

      But Jackie kept on knocking on doors and asking for a love interest that wasn’t Chinese.

      “It came to a head on the sequel,” Brett Ratner, the director of all the Rush Hours, tells us by a random pool in LA, “when Jackie came to me and he said, look Brett, I know there are two girls in this film, and I want the white one. And he did, he was adamant. In the original draft we had Chris (Tucker) torn between the Chinese bitch (Zhang Ziyi) and the other one, who was written as white then, while Jackie was gonna kick people and kinda help Chris to decide on which one he should fuck. But Jackie wasn’t happy…y’know, I love the guy, he’s so funny when he gets mad…he’s like a tiny, little cartoon jumping up and down with steam coming out of his ears, and his voice…it’s so fucking adorable, like a little baby who’s lost his toy, y’know, saying ‘me, no like, me, no like’…”

      Jackie had been denied for too long and back in Hong Kong he was bitching to the media about what really goes on in Hollywood.

      “Over there, they think we’re children. Y’know, they think we can’t kiss, they think we can’t be intelligent because we can’t speak their language. They think we can’t fuck…they’ve never offered me a woman or a bed scene, even something implicit where I wake up with her…I mean, where do they think all our kids come from?”

      The interview made it to Hollywood and to the eyes of Ratner and the crew, who had no choice but to offer up some kind of olive branch.

      “We said he could take the Chinese bitch, if he wanted. It seemed to make sense as we all knew he was fucking her off-set anyway. We thought it’d make him happy, but he wasn’t…he started getting mad again…ah, mad Jackie, so cute, really you’ve gotta see it when he’s mad…so goddamned funny…and, where was I? Jackie said, yeah, what did he say? He want white girl, that’s it. He want white girl. Ha! Yeah…it was hilarious.”

      The girl originally chosen to play the part, Jaime King (Pearl Harbour), found out about what the producers had in store for her and accepted it graciously. But Chris Tucker wasn’t as compliant. He was reportedly choleric that the idea of a “white girl knocking a Chinese guy over a brother” was getting serious consideration.

      “Yeah, Chris wasn’t happy about it. He’s the opposite of Jackie when he’s angry, he’s really fucking scary. His arms start flying about and you think he’s gonna hit you. And he said to me, who the fuck is gonna believe Jackie getting a girl over me? Who would believe it? Why would she choose him, he’s like a kid…”

      Meanwhile Jackie had come back to the set and was demanding to see his white girl. If she wasn’t up to his standards, if she wasn’t clearly, irrefutably white then he would walk.

      “The only thing we could do was play strong-arm with him. We had him on contract so we knew he couldn’t walk, but we also didn’t want the kind of situation to develop where we had an unhappy star. So we compromised.”

      So, the white girl was eventually changed to a Latin American girl, who Jackie was allowed to kiss at the end of the film.

      “Just a little kiss, but on the lips, which I think was quite brave at the time. Y’know, Hollywood has a reputation for being conservative, but I think that kiss showed a few people what we’re really about.”

      Back in Hong Kong, after the film’s release, Chan complained to the media again.

      “That kiss…you know what that was? It was one take, and as soon as I started the director called ‘cut’. Then I look around and most of the crew is sniggering like children, like it was my first kiss or something. Krist, I’ve giving longer kisses to my mother.”

      Daniel Wu walks into the Studio reception and tells the secretary that he’s here to see that director (I have been warned not to name him, so I won’t).

      She looks at him, scrutinizes him, and asks to see some ID.

      “I just showed it to the guy outside.”

      She nods, but her hand stays out like a tray.

      “…and the other ten guys on the way here.”

      “ID, please?”

      “Krist…”

      He gives up and hands her his US drivers’ license.

      She moves it close to her face, examining every detail.

      “This is you?”

      “That’s me from three years ago.”

      “Hmm…”

      “Is there a problem?”

      “Yes, maybe. It’s hard to tell, your picture is very faint.”

      “Can you just let him know I’m here, please?”

      She doesn’t take her eyes from the card.

      “He is expecting me.”

      She pushes a button without looking and a voice responds. I know that voice…

      “There’s a guy here to see you. I think he’s Chinese…”

      The voice asks what he looks like.

      The secretary considers the question and examines Wu from every angle as if he were a statue.

      “He’s kind of strange looking, even for a Chinese guy. It’s weird, I think it’s his face. It looks kinda…I dunno…”

      Wu leans across to my ear and whispers “If she says ghoulish…”

      “Kinda ghoulish…like his eyes are there, but the rest of his face isn’t…like it’s trapped between-…”

      “Between two worlds?” Wu finishes for her, caustic.

      “Yeah, that’s right. Like he said,” she tells the phone. “You should come and see for yourself, it’s really bizarre.”

      The voice asks her if he looks like the kind of guy that could play the lead in that Middle East, charity worker romance thing they’ve got scripted.

      “That one? This guy? Are you serious?”

      Wu snaps and grabs the phone.

      “Look, I’m Daniel Wu, I’m American, I look Chinese, I’ve got an appointment to see you, are you going to see me or not?”

      I can’t hear what the voice on the other end says, but I can see and hear Wu’s reactions, and it’s not good.

      “What do you mean? You said you wanted to see me…”

      He stares at the secretary.

      “No, you’re wrong. What? No, I was born here. Huh? Of course I can, I was born here. I am American, I just told you…”

      He stares at the desk.

      “No, she’s not-…she’s-…she’s a fucking idiot, okay? I’m not a ghoul. What? No. I’m swearing because she’s forced me into it. Yeah, she’s fucking rude. What? No. No, look, I used to be a model. No, a model-model, like the ones who model clothes. Yeah. You don’t think so, huh? Well, go to Hong Kong, bud. I was sexy enough for them. I was sexy enough in Blood Brothers. I was fucking beautiful in Protégé…”

      He stops and listens for a while, his face sucking itself in the more he listens, his cheeks reddening, purpling even…

      After what seems like an age, he butts back in:

      “Forget what she said, okay? I’m coming in. No, I’ve got an appointment and I’m coming in.”

      He throws the phone back at the secretary and storms toward the elevators. I start to follow, but he turns and comes back, pushing his body over the edge of the desk and getting right in the secretary’s face.

      “You look like Bette Midler, you haggy bitch!”

      He turns and resumes his storm towards the elevators.

      Hiro stands on a box in front of the white woman.

      His face looks battered and his body emaciated. A refugee seeking bread and a couple of dollars, not a leading man in a Hollywood rom-com.

      I stand near the director and the monitor, listening in closely to the comments between him and the producer at his side.

      “It’ll be a curio at least…”

      “You think so?”

      “More hope than conviction. But it doesn’t matter, the nips will lap it up whatever happens.”

      “I dunno…look at him. He looks like a POW…”

      “Yeah, well…I thought he’d be a little tougher…my mistake.”

      They cut short their conference and the director half-heartedly calls ‘action’.

      Hiro gazes into the woman’s eyes and smiles. His lips start the journey to hers…

      “Cut!” the director screams.

      Hiro turns away from all of us, hiding his reaction. The director runs over and puts his arm around the woman.

      “Look, I know this is hard for you, but bear with us, okay? Yeah? Good.” He turns to Hiro, who is facing him now. “Now, son, we’ve been here before, haven’t we? You’re just not getting it. The audience doesn’t want to see you pulling this serious shit….they wanna see you clumsy. We want to see you clumsy.”

      “But I’m kissing her, right? This should be serious, or affectionate at least…”

      “Right, right…that’s why you’ve gotta screw up your face when you kiss her. Y’know, like you did in that show…like you’re freezing time…screw it up, it’s funny, people like it. And then, a little kiss on the lips, or cheek maybe? Yeah, try the cheek, lips are a bit serious…and then Katie, when he kisses you, you can kind of reach your hand over and ruffle his hair a little…like a dog…”

      “Right, like a dog, got it.” She nods.

      “Wait, this isn’t really-…we’re not really gonna play it like this, are we?”

      “Hiro, listen…I’ve been in this business for over thirty years, I know what the audience wants.”

      “But-…it’s a romance. I’m supposed to be her lover…”

      Yeah…er…” the director looks away and seems to have something stuck in his throat. Some of the crew snigger. “Y’know, there are many different kinds of love, Hiro. This is an innocent love. The love between a woman and-…”

      “…and her dog?”

      “If you like…it doesn’t mean you’re an actual dog, of course…”

      Hiro steps down off his box and walks back and forth, his hands slapping against his thighs.

     “You know it’s just the character, Hiro. It’s not you.”

     “Well, the character is crap…”

      The director nods sagely.

      “Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. But what can we do?”

      Hiro stops and shakes his head.

      “Nothing, it seems.”

      The director walks over to him and puts a firm grip on his shoulder.

      “Exactly. Now get back on your fucking box, little man.”

      Hiro looks over at the exit, but doesn’t move towards it. He pushes the director’s hand off his shoulder and returns to his box.

      Daniel Wu stands above the director and tells him to look at his face.

      I stay by the door, keeping a lookout for the security that must be coming any second now.

      “What are you not seeing, huh? Look at it, look at my fucking face. You see?”

      “Listen, Daniel, I’m not saying you can’t be in the film, I’m just-…”

      “What are you talking about? You’re not even giving me the audition…I’m fucking sick of this…you’ve directed French people, Africans, Indians…what’s so different about me?”

      “This is different, it’s a big picture. It’s gonna be seen across the country and I’m just not sure if you’re the kind of guy who’s…who’s right for the part.”

      “I’m American…I told you. Listen to me, I speak with a west coast accent, what won’t they get?”

      “But you’re not-…I mean, you are American, but you’re-…”

      “Go on say it…”

      “It’s not-…no, it’s not a race thing. Daniel, come on, we have Denzel, we have Samuel L Jackson.”

      “They’re black.”

      “No, they’re-…well, yes, they are, but it’s not that.”

     “What is it then? Explain it to me.”

      “Look, the guy from ‘Heroes’. The other one in ‘Lost’…we’re not opposed to Chinese, it’s just-…”

      “It’s just?”

      “And the Bond film…there were two Chinese guys in that, remember?”

      “Yeah, I remember. One had two fucking lines and the other one-…krist, the other one they actually turned into a white guy. And they were American. There’s no way that’s progress.”

      “Yeah, perhaps that’s one way of seeing it, but it’s a sign, isn’t it? And I honestly think we’re so close now, y’know? We’re so close to seeing a breakthrough…but I can’t truthfully say that you are the right guy to take us there.”

      “Yes, you keep saying that, but you’re not telling me why. Tell me. Come on, why? Why? Why? Why?”

      The director stands up and reveals himself to be a very short man. Almost as small as Polanski. He walks around the desk but when he sees that Wu is at least a foot taller than him, he changes direction and heads towards the office window.

      “If I’m being completely honest. It’s your face.”

      Down the corridor a dozen security guards come running with their guns drawn. I step back into the room and warn Daniel.

      “Krist, they have guns?”

      I nod and tell them that they look serious.

      “Look, Daniel, we can work something out here. There’s still a role for you in this movie, it just won’t be the lead. If you can accep-…”

      “Stop, wait…”

      Daniel looks over at the door and the growing sound of Hollywood enforcement. He grimaces, prods at his cheek from inside with his tongue then turns back to the director.

      “What if I paint my eyebrows?”

      “What?”

      “What if I paint them? Make them darker…stronger…not ghoulish. What then?”

      “Daniel, come on…” The director doesn’t know what to say.

      The security rush in and rugby tackle me to the ground, six of them, I think. The others form a circle around Wu.

      “It’s ok, they’re leaving. Put your guns away…” the director pleads.

      The men obey and I emerge from under the human mountain clutching my back in pain.

      Wu shakes his head, I’m not sure what for. He looks at the director a final time.

      “Forget what I just said.”

      “Yes, it’s all forgotten, don’t worry.”

      “No, not everything. Just the last thing I said.”

      He turns and walks over to me, picking up my arm and taking my weight. We struggle towards the door with Wu muttering loudly enough for everyone to hear.

      “Fucking midget…”

 


 

                                                             

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