Fri, Jul 01, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Asian actors too busy to fret about the debate on Hollywood ‘white-washing’


Chinese actor Gong Li arrives on the red carpet for the screening of the film “Cafe Society” and the opening ceremony at the 69th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, on May 11.

Photo: AP

The film world of Asia, known for producing Akira Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray, Brillante Mendoza and other greats, is too busy making movies of its own to fret much about the debate slamming Hollywood — the casting of white people in roles written for Asians.

While hurt, irritated or dumb-founded perhaps about the so-called “white-washing” syndrome, performers in Asia are not expressing the level of outrage of a Margaret Cho, George Takei or other Americans, the Associated Press has found.

Many shrugged off the phenomenon as inevitable, given commercial marketability needs, saying that Asian films also cast well-known actors over and over.

Casting white people in non-white roles is as painfully old as Charlie Chan and Fu Manchu in US entertainment. That kind of monolithic casting continues — recently with the tapping of Tilda Swinton as a character that was originally Tibetan in the new Marvel Dr Strange movie.

It is also a sensitive topic.

South Korean actor Lee Byung-hun declined to be interviewed through his representative, who said Lee was set to be in a Hollywood film.

Kaori Momoi, who appeared in Memoirs of a Geisha, as well as Russian filmmaker Aleksandr Sokurov’s The Sun, suggested that acting was ultimately about individual talent, not skin color or nationality.

Momoi praised the devotion, skill and professionalism of Scarlett Johansson, whose starring in Ghost in the Shell, based on a Japanese manga, has stirred up an uproar as a prime example of “white-washing.”

Momoi played the mother of Johansson’s character.

“I felt blessed to have worked with her,” she said, urging actors to be selective of the directors they choose to work with. “And so what’s fantastic is fantastic. What fails just fails.”

Like other actors with experience in Asia, Momoi saw Hollywood more as an opportunity. She was already a superstar in Japan when she started acting in movies abroad about a decade ago.

What she enjoyed was the challenging novelty of it all, “getting away from being Kaori Momoi,” as she described it.

“Compared to Japan, there is so much potential and recognition in the US for independent films,” Momoi said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.

She got to know film people at international festivals, including Berlin, which showed Fukushima, Mon Amour, a film she was in. She has become a director herself, having two films to her credit, including Hee, being released later this year, in which she also gives a harrowing rendition of an aging prostitute.


Claudia Kim, known in her native South Korea as Soo Hyun, said she has been lucky to play independent Asian women in most movies, such as Dr Helen Cho in last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, a movie based on Marvel comics.

However, she was baffled when she learned a white actress was picked for the Asian role in a Hollywood movie she had auditioned for. She declined to identify that film.

“It is definitely not a pleasant experience,” she said, calling the choice “ridiculous.”

Vijay Varma, an India actor who starred in Monsoon Shootout, a crime story with multiple endings that was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, said that insularity was prevalent in Bollywood as well.

Families dominate the business, although he was an exception and came from a family unrelated to movies.

Bollywood counts on mass appeal, casting the “familiar,” just like Hollywood, he added.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top