Fri, Feb 09, 2007 - Page 17 News List

Stuck in Asia, dreaming of Tinseltown

Hitting the big time in Hollywood is a tough nut for Asians actors to crack, and sometimes even tougher in Taiwan


He's hot in the Chinese-speaking world, but Daniel Wu may not find stardom in Hollywood.


Maggie Q (李美琪) looks calm, or as calm as one can look while clutching the side of a Ford Explorer that is dangling by a tangle of cables inside an elevator shaft. Dressed in black down to her high-heeled Steve Madden boots, Q, 27, is waiting for the SUV to drop. When it does, the jolt shakes the Ford and Q with it; dust and bits of gravel drizzle down on her head.

"Do we have more debris?" the second-unit director yells. "We'd like a bit more debris." On the next take the Explorer drops with a bigger thud, and considerably more debris.

Q is on Stage 12 of the Universal Studios lot, filming her final scenes of Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth installment of the Bruce Willis Die Hard series. It looks brutal — the midair stuff, the cranberry-red gash painted above her right eyebrow — but it's not really. If anything gets too hairy, Ming Qiu, Q's wiry stunt double, is ready to step in. And it is certainly nothing compared with the bruises and scrapes that Q has received in Asia, where she has starred in action films like Dragon Squad (猛龍), Naked Weapon (赤裸特工) and Gen-Y Cops (特警新人類2). In Hong Kong a cracked shin earned her an hour-long respite.

"On Live Free I got a little cut and they were like: 'Oh, my God! Medic!"' she said. "It was so wonderful. I was, like, in tears."

Getting roughed up in China is just part of the ride for many young Asian-American actors, who have been finding it easier to get started abroad than at home. But while Q — who grew up in Mililani, Hawaii, and moved to Tokyo in her teens to model — managed to leverage foreign stardom into a shot at a Hollywood career, few others have done so.

Another who has is Yunjin Kim of ABC's Lost, who studied drama at Boston University and the London Academy of Performing Arts before becoming a film star in South Korea.

Yet scores of other Asian-American actors are still waiting for their big break back home. Among them are Daniel Henney, a South Korean-American who grew up in Carson City, Michigan, and became a star in Korea playing a kindly radiologist in the hit television series My Lovely Sam-Soon; Daniel Wu (吳彥祖), a native of Orinda, California, who won the Golden Horse Award in Taiwan as best supporting actor in 2004; and Allan Wu, a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, who has become a television star in Singapore.

For Asian-Americans, who are seldom greeted with open arms in Hollywood, the trans-Pacific route to big-screen success is an old one.

"The biggest example of this, in our current era, is Bruce Lee (李振藩)," said Jeff Yang, a global trends analyst at the market research firm Iconoculture and the author of Once Upon a Time in China: A Guide to the Cinemas of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China (Atria, 2003). "He was born in the US and tried to establish himself as the talent he was, only to find doors barred and a plum role that was actually written for him taken away and given to a white guy. So what did he do? He went to Asia."

Jimmy Taenaka, who grew up in Monterey, California, spent 12 years in Los Angeles, working in theater and snagging small roles on television shows like JAG, Brooklyn South and Martial Law. "I was always pretty much the baddie," he said. "The young yakuza who did all the dirty work." Since moving to Singapore in 2000, however, he has starred in five series, from a romantic comedy set at a matchmaking service to a drama about abandoned children. In 2002 he was nominated for an Asian Television Award as best actor for his role as a Japanese officer in the World War II series A War Diary.

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