INTO THE NEXT STAGE: You’re Not Necessarily Narcissistic If You Love ‘Selfie’

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AOKI-GUY-color1By GUY AOKI

There’s a lot of excitement building for the 2014-2015 television season with Asian Americans featured prominently in “Fresh Off the Boat,” “Selfie” (both ABC) and “Stalker” (CBS) joining “The Mindy Project” (Fox), which returned for its third season this past Tuesday. In fact, it’s probably the best season for Asian Americans ever.

Although “Selfie,” starring Karen Gillan and John Cho, debuts on Tuesday, Sept. 30 at 8 p.m. PST, ABC is already making the entire pilot available online at abc.com, Hulu, etc. Watch it here: http://abc.go.com/shows/selfie. They may want to get viewers hooked early on because the show will have some tough competition in its time slot: “NCIS,” “The Voice,” and “The Flash.”

Well, they’ve got a fast fan in me. Eliza is the top salesperson at a pharmaceutical company who’s caught up in social media, believing the number of people following her online amounts to real popularity. When she gets sick on an airplane, people record it, post it, and no one calls to express concern, she realizes she has no true friends. So she turns to Henry (Cho), who was able to rebrand a defective nasal spray that brought lawsuits back to being a hot commodity. Eliza assumes if he could pull off that miracle, he can change her image as well.

Henry hates her and wants nothing to do with her. And though he eventually agrees to help her, he flatly declares they’re not even friends. Eventually, as he follows her through her workday, teaching her to be less narcissistic and to actually take an interest in the lives of others, we slowly see a change in his client.

He asks her to accompany him to a wedding but to tone down her make-up and wardrobe. When he appears at her door and sees a humble, vulnerable, attractive woman who looks at him as if needing his approval, it’s a beautiful moment. You can see the attraction between the two, and you want to see them together.

We learn from his co-workers that Henry isn’t perfect either — he’s a workaholic who’s been unable to make social connections — so we know that he and Eliza actually need each other. And when we learn how she became addicted to her phone years ago as an ugly duckling, we begin to sympathize with her too.

Karen Gillan and John Cho star in ABC’s “Selfie.”

Karen Gillan and John Cho star in ABC’s “Selfie.”

A good looking Asian American guy getting together with an attractive white woman? Sounds good to me. And John Cho is perfect in this. I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. This is great for the community as it challenges the decades-long stereotypes of Asian men as geeks and reconsiders them as valid love interests. Spread the word. And hope that notion catches on.

You Meet Some of the Most Interesting People Through This Column Department: A couple weeks ago, I was surprised to receive an email from Oscar-winning director John Avildsen (for 1976’s “Rocky”). He’d read my June 13 column, which asserted that the original “Karate Kid” movie should be commemorated with a 30th anniversary DVD release, and Avildsen assessed that I got the story behind his film “about 98%” accurate. Hmm, I thought, what did I get wrong?

When we connected by phone, he said Pat Morita did not ask him to keep the “drunk/internment camp” scene (the producers and movie studio thought it didn’t further the story and brought it to a dead halt). And if he did, it wouldn’t have mattered because Morita was “just” an actor and actors would naturally lobby to keep their scenes in a movie, meaning such a request would fall on deaf ears. I cannot find the Tozai Times article where I remember Morita explaining whom he lobbied and I can’t find the answer online. Maybe it was producer Jerry Weintraub?

Avildsen wanted my advice on an idea he had regarding the Miyagi character and told me that the Japanese American National Museum was having a screening of his film and a panel discussion on Sept. 9. That discussion evolved into my suggestion that that terrific scene — which got Morita an Oscar nomination for “Best Supporting Actor” — should be included as part of the visual exhibit at the Manzanar visitors center. It would be a way of showing that the experience and pain of those who were incarcerated by their own country was acknowledged and promoted in a very popular Hollywood film.

The columnist with "Karate Kid" and "Rocky" director John Avildsen.

The columnist with “Karate Kid” and “Rocky” director John Avildsen.

Avildsen’s all for it, and hopefully we’ll be able to get the powers that be on board and make it a reality.

By the way, in a 1996 article written by John Goodin, Morita says that drunk scene wasn’t yet written and all it said was that Daniel found Miyagi singing. Morita suggested it be about internment, the loss of his child, etc. (http://seinenkai.com/art-morita.html)

It was interesting that about half the people at the sold-out screening (thanks to Dr. Greg Kimura for getting me in) were white or non-Asian. I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me, as it was one of the biggest films of 1984. Seeing Ralph Macchio, Avildsen, Aly Morita (one of Pat’s daughters), Martin Kove (the bully sensei) and Billy Zabka (Johnny, Daniel’s main rival, the kid he defeats in the climactic karate tournament scene) together once again brought a lot of smiles to faces.

And it was a lot of fun seeing the movie in a theater for the first time and hearing audience reactions, mostly applause at beloved — many of them now classic — scenes. (As I explained in my previous column, I hadn’t wanted to see the film when it originally came out because it looked full of typical “Oriental wise man” clichés, but I later rented the video after hearing a lot of great things about it.)

It was also nice that Tamlyn Tomita showed up, so there was also a mini-reunion of the cast of “Karate Kid II.”

By the way, the director’s posted many YouTube videos of screen tests for the film, even rehearsal footage of scenes (in 13 parts, the entire movie), a lot of which were tweaked for the final filmed versions or not used at all. Check them out under his YouTube name, avildsen1221. Here’s footage of the drunk scene, which starts at the 4:11 mark: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfB6140Mxl4.

’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

From left: Ralph Macchio, Tamlyn Tomita, and Billy Zabka.

From left: Guy Aoki, Ralph Macchio (Daniel in “Karate Kid” I, II and III), Tamlyn Tomita (Kumiko in “Karate Kid II”), and Billy Zabka (Johnny in “Karate Kid” I and II).

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