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.
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"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.
If doors open more readily in Asia, the obstacles are still considerable for actors who may not know the language and customs of a host country.
When Henney traveled to South Korea to film My Lovely Sam-Soon, for instance, he spoke no Korean. He had been spotted by a talent manager while modeling for an Olympus commercial there in 2005 but had to plead his case to network executives before landing a part in their new show. A non-Korean actor — from a small agricultural town in Michigan, no less — on Korean TV? "It was risky for them," he said. "I had to write a letter saying: 'This is who I am. I'm not going to disappoint you."'
He did not. To get around the language problem, he was cast as a linguistically challenged Asian-American whose fumbling attempts to learn South Korean made him all the more charming. (His looks didn't hurt, either.) After his first appearance -- about one minute of screen time by his recollection — fans started calling his manager.
My Lovely Sam-Soon became a huge hit, and today Henney can scarcely travel in the country without getting mobbed. On a recent promotional tour, 12 bodyguards were needed to hold back his fans, mostly female. "The moms are the craziest, because they don't listen to him," said Henney, motioning to his manager, Martin Chung. Last year he met the president of South Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, on national television. As for his progress in his adopted language, he said, "I would say I speak Korean like a 12-year-old."
Last month, Henney was in Los Angeles to film scenes for his second Korean feature film, My Father. Despite lying low and staying out of the nearby Koreatown malls, he has still been spotted by fans. "Korean fans are probably the most nurturing ones in the world," he said. "If they know I'm sick, they'll make me soup. We have celebrities whose fans buy them cars."
For Q, stardom in Asia has led to successively larger roles in Hollywood. Last year, she was the only female member of Tom Cruise's Impossible Missions Force team in Mission: Impossible III. This year, she is set to appear in both Live Free or Die Hard and Balls of Fury, a comedy starring Christopher Walken and George Lopez, due out in September. The Tourist, which she filmed with Hugh Jackman and Ewan McGregor before she began Live Free or Die Hard, is also tentatively scheduled for release this year.
Her current vogue notwithstanding, Q's career in Asia was one of fits and starts. The daughter of a Vietnamese mother and a Polish-Irish father, she struggled to find modeling jobs in Japan, where she arrived in 1997 at the age of 17. "A lot of people think, 'Oh, you're mixed, they'll love you in Japan,"' she said. "But normally what they wanted was either a Japanese girl or a white girl."
Taiwan was even worse. She recalled: "I remember walking into castings, and they'd go: 'Nope, get out! We didn't ask for dark hair. We didn't ask for ethnic. We want white.' Even now, they love white girls."
At one of Taiwan's bustling night markets, she met a woman who suggested that she go to Hong Kong: "She gave me a number and said, 'Call this woman. She'll help you."'
That woman was Meeyian Yong, who, nearly 10 years later, is still Q's manager. She lent her money and found her a place to stay until she started getting work.
At 165cm, she was too short for runway work, but she eventually began to find jobs in commercials. A photo shoot with the pop singer Nicholas Tse (謝霆鋒) changed everything. By all rights, Q said, she should not have gotten the job, but all the other models interviewed were taller than Tse.
The modeling gig caught the attention of the Hong Kong celebrity media. "It wasn't me," she said. "It was like, 'Who's that girl next to this super-famous guy?' That's how it all started." (She was born Margaret Denise Quigley, but her name was shortened to the more easily pronounceable Maggie Q by a Hong Kong newspaper.)
Q has been working steadily ever since, in roles both large (the leads in Naked Weapon and Manhattan Midnight) and less so. (She was cast as "girl in car" in Rush Hour 2.) In a weird twist, the model not tall or white or Asian enough for Asia appeared last year on the covers of Harper's Bazaar in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Kazakhstan — not because tastes in models have changed so drastically, but because she had a part in one of the biggest Hollywood movies of that summer, Mission: Impossible III.
But as big as Asian-American talent can become in Asia, true success is still often measured in American terms. "My manager's biggest dream is for me to be on Letterman," Q said. "Letterman comes on at, like, 2am in Hong Kong, and she watches him every night."
With his sugarcane juice stall at Monga Nightmarket (艋舺夜市) floundering due to COVID-19, things took a turn for the worse for Lin Chih-hang (林志航) when he was furloughed from a part-time job. The crowds are trickling back to this nightmarket in Taipei’s Wanhua District (萬華), but Lin is now so busy that he has hired a friend to run his stall. As the sole driver of the night market’s delivery service, established on April 12, Lin takes on an average of 20 orders on weeknights and over 60 on weekends, with his father helping out when he is too busy.
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Eslite Gallery will hold an open house at their new gallery tomorrow in Taipei’s Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. The doors to the new space will open at 4pm and will feature works by local and international artists. As a nod to the ongoing pandemic and Taiwan’s handling of it, the gallery also announced a project called Artivate, calling on 12 of its artists to emblazon details from their artwork on cloth masks. Participating local artists include Jimmy Liao (幾米), whose illustrated books with simple stories about people coping in the modern urban world have become hot sellers across Asia, and