In Bruce Lee's Shadow: Asians Struggle to Create New Hollywood Images

The Overlooked Story of the Asian-American Experience

Foreign films such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers" have blended martial arts action with beautiful cinematography, special effects and more sophisticated storytelling and character development than most U.S. martial arts movies.

Asian-Americans may not expect to see their story being told in "Hero." But some complain U.S. movies -- with the exception of 1993's "The Joy Luck Club" and the 2000 independent film "What's Cooking?," which both hinted at the disconnect sometimes felt between immigrant parents and their U.S.-born and raised children -- never tell their experiences as Asian-Americans.

"Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco, but he had to practically become an expatriate when he made his movies," said Kim. "He was always playing a native Chinese person in his movies. … As an Asian-American, I cannot relate to the image of the Korean immigrant laundry shop owner. For once, I'd like to see my story told."

Some argue that U.S. studios' tendency to look abroad for talent in films further crowds an already competitive field of Asian actors and actresses and shows how much the perspective of Asian-Americans is overlooked by Hollywood.

"Hollywood tends to import their Asian actors from Japan, Hong Kong, China, which doesn't help the Asian-American voice in this country," Hu said. "And it's not like we don't want them to work. But this country is really overlooking the well of stories -- identity crisis, identity epiphany stories -- waiting to be discovered, waiting to be told from the Asian-American experience. It is something that has really been supported by the independent film industry and not by Hollywood at all."

The lack of forum for Asian-American stories may explain the lack of diverse roles for Asian actors, Hu argues, and why many lesser-known actors, such as Ken Leung and Will Yun Lee, struggle to find leading-men parts.

"They are the verge of great things but they don't fit into the niche of what Hollywood thinks a leading male Asian male is," she said. "They're more than that.They represent a complexity of an American identity that Hollywood does not recognize."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 13 million people of Asian and Pacific heritage live in the United States -- a 9 percent increase since the 2000 census. They are among the nation's fastest-growing population groups. Despite the growing Asian presence, society -- and Hollywood -- may still treat Asians as foreigners.

"American cinema is a reflection of its society," said Chung. "When I taught a course on "Asians in American Film" at the University of Michigan this past winter, many of my students of Asian descent -- all American-born -- complained of how strangers -- white Americans -- would approach them and ask where they were born and how they say 'Hello' in their native tongue. In other words, many people in the United States still don't have a concept of Asian-Americans and treat them as foreigners."

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