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The Asian man in Hollywood [Part 1]

November 29, 2012


This is from way back…the 2nd issue of the Gupter zine, 3 and a half years ago…

That’s probably why Hiro from Heroes is in it.

Where is he now? What’s he up to?

The Asian man in Hollywood
                            With Daniel Wu, Jackie Chan and Hiro from ‘Heroes’

      “The first time I went there it was close to my eighteenth birthday, and school was almost done, 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 no Asian guy had had much luck out there…even Jackie[Chan] was struggling…I remember he’d just done that Bronx film when I went, and that didn’t make much of a dent…but I figured, yeah, 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’d be some kind of reaction at least…at the very least, a double-take.
      So, there were two auditions. The first one, the guy cut me short after one line saying, y’know, I wasn’t what they were looking for. Fair enough. The second one, the guy said…well, it was something kinda personal actually.”
      Daniel shakes his head and then stops, frozen.  “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, 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 movie…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’d 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 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, man, 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.
      “Okay, one: she was tall, he wasn’t. Y’know, Jackie’s 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, really tried to make it work, 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, 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 me any more. Instead he’s focusing on his history with the industry again.
      “The second time I came, I’d just 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…he’d just done Rush Hour, and I remember seeing it and daring to have a little bit of hope, y’know, 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 through 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 it was still an action film. I knew Chris Tucker still got top billing ahead of him, and who was he? He was a nobody back then, and black too (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.[Note: this is unconfirmed] But, that’s the industry here…everyone crawls at the back of the line, 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 tourists can’t go inside.
      “No, it’s okay. 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 you 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 mutters something in what I assume is Cantonese.
      “‘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 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 I’m reading the script and 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, 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 I look strange. What do you mean strange? I say 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.”
      “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 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, like they were in purgatory or something. 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.” 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? You’re working, you’re at work. Stop whining.”
      “I’m sorry, but…this is…it’s so hard…I can’t…”
      I look over the edge and examine the details of the scene. Hiro’s legs are dangling freely, his shirt is covered in sweat as is his chubby little face, and his fingers look like they are about to snap.
      “Look, do you want us to fail?”
      “Of course…no, I don’t…this is…it’s…”
      “This is what?”
      “It’s…this is really…”
      “What? Speak, man.”
      “It’s hard to…to speak when…hanging like this…the words…they’re too long…too long to…to speak fast.”
      “Listen. It’s almost eleven. Most of the crew’s tired, we’ve got a six am start tomorrow, they just wanna go home and get some rest. But they can’t, Hiro…because of you. You’re keeping us here. Your face, it’s not doing anything. It’s blank. You see?”
      “No, I don’t see…I don’t know…I’m scared…really…”
      “No, you’re not. It’s on the monitor, the evidence is…it’s right there. You look like a guy in a kiddie park, no fucking fear.”
      “I’m hanging…twelve storeys…I’m scared…please…I’m really scared…”
      “No, no, no…”
      “Yes, yes…I think…I’m gonna…I’m gonna fall…”
      “The hell you are. You drop and you’re done, boy. Get it?”
      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.
       “Okay, one more then call it a night. You better get it this time, Hiro or it’s…it’s fucking wushu in middle China again.”
       “I’m Ameri…I’m American.”
       The director ignores him, 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.”
      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.

[To be continued]


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