|Director Justin Lin and Vin Diesel on the set of Fast Five.|
Last May, playwright Philip W. Chung of the You Offend Me You Offend My Family blog (and upcoming YouTube channel) reflected on the box-office success of director (and You Offend Me founder) Justin Lin's Fast Five and what it could mean for future films directed by Asian Americans. Since Fast Five's release, another Asian American director, Step Up 2 the Streets helmer Jon M. Chu, was also handed the reins of an action movie franchise, Paramount's G.I. Joe, which had a mediocre first installment (The Rise of Cobra from Mummy director Stephen Sommers). Now we'll just wait and see if G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which is directed by someone who grew up with G.I. Joe and wanted to make the second installment more closely resemble the beloved '80s G.I. Joe comics and cartoon, will live up to its exciting trailers and outstrip its predecessor in the same way that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan compensated big-time for the mistakes of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Most sequels that are the fifth installment of a film franchise show signs of creative fatigue. But thanks to a bigger emphasis on the heist flick elements of the original Fast and the Furious and perhaps additional star power (Dwayne Johnson, who, between Fast Five and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, has turned into Hollywood's go-to guy for rescuing critically drubbed action franchises), the fourth Fast and the Furious sequel became one of the few fifth installments to receive better reviews than the first film and perform so well at the box office:
Hollywood has always been behind the rest of the arts when it comes to reflecting the world in which we live. You look at other fields like music where out and proud Asian Americans like our friends Far East Movement and Bruno Mars are at the top of their game and it’s clear it’s only a matter of time before the movies have to start reflecting that reality too or it’ll go the way of fax machines, VHS and CDs. Hopefully, the success of something like Fast Five will give Hollywood a big push in the right direction.
But where this reality is truly reflected is online where the young and Asian American generation of YouTube stars like Wong Fu, KevJumba and Ryan Higa are already the rock stars and pioneers…
It reminds me of the early days of Hollywood when most people dismissed the new medium of motion pictures as a fad and something that was beneath them (sound familiar?). It was Jewish immigrants (or children of Jewish immigrants) who became the pioneers and leaders in what would become one of the largest industries in the world because they got involved from the beginning when no one else would and saw the potential that others didn’t.
Well, we’re in the same place today with YouTube and new media and Asian Americans are the new Jews—we were able to see and utilize the potential in this new form before others did and now we have the power to really create a new model that can potentially transform the business. The only difference is that back then, the Jews who ran the studios had to “hide” their cultural identity and make films that did the same because they didn’t think the mass audience would be supportive (and they were most likely correct). But this new generation of Asian Americans are proud of their identity and they know their multicultural audience is ready and willing to embrace that too. And that’s a very good thing.
So let me proclaim right here that it might just be the most exciting time to be an Asian American in this crazy business. To see the success of a film like Fast Five, to see the FM boys move up the charts with each new song, to see these young YouTube guys being greeted with Beatles-like fandom wherever they go, to see so many TV pilots this season featuring Asian characters—it does feel like a perfect storm is brewing and it’s fucking exciting! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Am I saying everything is perfect and we’ve made it? Of course not. No one knows more than those of us in the trenches the real obstacles we face everyday (Yes, Justin still gets mistaken for the Chinese delivery guy on the sets of his own movies), but I think no one else also knows better that the world is such that we now have the power to affect real change. We have to get out of this 20th Century mentality of victimhood—boo hoo, Hollywood doesn’t care about us. So fucking what? It’s the 21st Century now. It’s time to move beyond that. We’ve been on the defensive for too long. It’s time to play some kick ass offense and we now have the players to do that.