A-pop! A monthly column of all things Asian in pop culture
By Ninette Cheng
Northwest Asian Weekly
The constant good news only lasted so long. It has been a mixed month for Asian American celebrities and, unfortunately, it ended in tragedy. South Korean actor and singer Park Yong-ha was found dead of an apparent suicide. Additionally, “The Last Airbender” was met with negative reception and controversy, the Black Eyed Peas made history in the UK, Filipino pop star Charice joins “Glee,” and Jay Chou and Justin Chon are featured in films.
Park Yong-ha found dead in home
On June 30, it was reported that South Korean actor and singer Park Yong-ha was found dead. His mother found him hanging by an electrical cord in his apartment in Seoul. Police believe that Park’s suicide was a result of his stress over his business affairs and his father’s battle with cancer.
Park’s funeral was held in Seoul on July 2. About 200 fans and fellow Korean celebrities showed up to mourn the celebrity’s death.
Park first became popular in 2002 when he starred in a television drama called “Winter Sonata.” The television show earned him recognition in Korea and throughout Asia.
BBC reports that suicide is the leading cause of death amongst 20- to 30-year-olds in South Korea.
At 33, Park still had so much of his life to live. My thoughts are with his family and friends during this time.
“The Last Airbender” boycotted by some Asians
I have been reporting news of M. Night Shyamalan’s fantasy film “The Last Airbender” for several months now. The film co-stars fellow Indian Dev Patel, but Asians are protesting that this is not enough. Recently, the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) issued an official press release entitled “Paramount Discriminates Against Asian American Actors For Movie Adaptation of Asian-Based TV Series.”
Many believe the cartoon should have featured mostly-Asian actors, but the cast is a mix of ethnicities including white actors playing supposed-Asian characters.
Shyamalan defended his casting choices on “The Early Show.”
“Anime in and of itself is an art form where the features are ambiguous — they have European features. They have all kinds of ambiguous features,” he said. “The irony is that it’s the most culturally diverse summer movie of all time. We have every nationality represented.”
The Orlando Sentinel published a letter from Guy Aoki, founding president of the MANAA.
“Dev Patel [now] plays the bad guy leading a nation of brown people against the good guy white nations,” Aoki wrote. “It sends the message that Asians can’t be the heroes in their own story.”
“The Last Airbender” is the newest of a crop of movies accused of casting white actors to play Asian roles. Other past films include “21” and “Dragonball-Z.”
“Unfortunately, even Shyamalan, who’s Asian American himself, has fallen for the cynical assumption that whites will not pay money to see Asian Americans starring in a film,” Aoki wrote.
To make things worse, the film opened July 1 to terrible reviews including E! Online’s blog pondering if it is the worst movie ever. Oh, my.
Black Eyed Peas make a new kind of history
The Black Eyed Peas is already a Grammy-winning hip-hop/pop group, but now, they can add something new to their resume. They are now the first artists to ever sell more than one million in digital downloads in the UK. The group’s single, “I Gotta Feeling,” featuring half Filipino member apl.de.ap., hit one million downloads on June 14. Like everything else with the group, the download sales are expected to continue rising. Congratulations!
Charice comes to McKinley High
Filipino pop star Charice Pempengco is joining my favorite show on television, “Glee.” Sources have confirmed that the 18-year-old, once called “the most talented girl in the world” by Oprah, will be playing a foreign exchange student who catches the eye of one of the “Glee” boys and gives Rachel a run for her money (vocally). Charice is cute as a button and should fit right in with the talented cast!
Justin Chon returns for “Eclipse”
For those looking for an alternative to “The Last Airbender,” there is always “Eclipse,” of the popular “Twilight” series. The series, about a vampire-girl-werewolf love triangle, once again features Justin Chon as Bella Swan’s classmate Eric. “Eclipse” did not open to great reviews, but has that ever stopped a “Twilight” film? The third installment to “Twilight” opened on June 30.
Jay Chou is Kato
Trailers and movie stills of the highly anticipated “The Green Hornet” have arrived! The film stars Seth Rogan as the Green Hornet and Taiwanese pop singer, filmmaker, and actor Jay Chou as Kato. You might have heard of Chou, just a minor star in Asia and all. All sarcasm aside, the film will be released in January 2011, and frankly, I’m pretty excited. Chou does have big shoes to fill though, as Kato was famously portrayed by Bruce Lee in the television series.
What an action-packed month! See you next month for more news! ♦
Ninette Cheng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.