The original “Rush Hour” movies (three of them) ran between 1998 and 2007. So last year when CBS announced they were ordering a weekly TV series mimicking the black/Hong Kong detective pairing for mid-season 2016, it seemed a bit late to capitalize on any lingering interest in the original concept (also working against it: the first episode aired on the last day of March, giving it less than two months to develop an audience before the network officially decides what’s renewed or cancelled for next season in mid-May).
Then when I saw British actor Jon Foo was playing the Jackie Chan part, I was surprised: the guy didn’t even look Asian; he looked more white (he’s Chinese/Irish). And in interviews, the shy guy seemed to have zero charisma. If that wasn’t enough, Foo didn’t speak one word in trailers for the new show, with Justin Hires (the new Detective Carter) doing all the talking.
When I met with CBS brass last year as a member of the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC), I spelled out my problems with the movie franchise, which I hoped they’d consider when producing the TV version: All the ethnic jokes were directed at the Jackie Chan character, not the loudmouth Chris Tucker. There was no balance.
What really offended me was when Tucker, chasing a bunch of Chinese hoods, threatened, “I’m gonna shove an egg roll up your ass!” (To make matters worse, of course, the audience condoned the offensive line by roaring with laughter)
Do the “substitution test.” Would Chan have gotten away with chasing black thugs and yelling, “I’m gonna shove a watermelon up your ass”? No. And the outcry would’ve forced the filmmakers to answer and apologize to an angry black community.
Still, despite my misgivings on this series, I can report some positive things. One, most of jokes are against detective Carter. His co-workers hate him. After breaking the rules one too many times, he’s relegated to desk duty and forced to play baby-sitter to Detective Lee (Foo) when he comes to L.A. to track the guys who killed his sister, also a cop. As the two talk, a white cop passes by and says, “It’s not right they stuck you with that clown.” When Carter agrees, his colleague clarifies, “I was talking to the Asian guy!”
In trying to make Lee look bad, Carter tells him when he’s introduced to his captain (Wendie Malick) to compliment her on her legs. He does just that, and instead of snapping at him, Captain Cole thanks Lee for the compliment. Carter asks her why Lee could get away with it. She rationalizes that he looks like “an Asian Orlando Bloom.”
Here’s where the “Asians are quiet” persona works to Lee’s advantage: In the middle of an investigation, Lee finally talks, and Carter’s shocked he knows English. Lee explains he keeps quiet so people reveal what idiots they are. Touché!
At the end of the episode when they’ve survived a confrontation with the bad guys, Carter whines about being shot. Then he notices Lee’s also bleeding, but in two different places. Oh, Lee answers nonchalantly, I guess I’ve been shot in two different places! In other words, ”Unlike you, I’m not a wimpy crybaby!”
It also helps that Foo is taller than Hires, who looks kind of like the miniature Kevin Hart. And it’s interesting that the top four actors on this show are people of color. Besides Hires and Foo (who gets second billing), there’s Malick (part Egyptian) and Aimee Garcia (Mexican/Puerto Rican, previously on NBC’s “Trauma”) as Carter’s former partner.
Reviewers agree neither actor matches up to their movie star counterpart, and I agree. Foo, who started out as a martial arts stunt performer, apparently does his own fight scenes, so why not allow the camera to capture that and make us feel he’s actually doing all of those moves himself instead of hastily editing the shots as if trying to hide his stunt double?
The pilot didn’t do that well, getting only a 1.1 rating among 18-49-year-olds (below 1.5 is dicey) and 5 million viewers overall.
“Rush Hour” airs Thursday nights on CBS at 10 p.m./9 Central.
Holy Diverse Casting, Batman! Department: Don’t get me started on the lack of Asian American characters in superhero properties. Well, a few weeks ago, B.D. Wong was introduced as Batman nemesis Dr. Hugo Strange (a white character in the comic books), a rather sadistic scientist whose curiosity in treating criminal patients at Arkham Asylum crosses the line. Wong does a great job and uses a great, deep voice for this role.
“Gotham” airs Monday nights on Fox at 8 p.m.
The Sky Is Falling Department: If March 25 was Good Friday, the following day was Bad Saturday for columnists like myself who received an email from Rafu publisher Mickey Komai on the “doctor’s” diagnosis that the patient had nine months to live. Not wanting to be perhaps the seventh person to devote his entire column to the state of the paper, let me be concise about my feelings. This is the gist of what I wrote to Komai and Jordan Ikeda plus some new ideas.
Before launching their subscription plan, the paper consulted with Bill Watanabe, Iku Kiriyama, Ellen Endo, and Chris Komai. That’s fine for starters, but for a long-term plan, I think we need to go beyond community people — who may be too close to the situation — and ask businesspeople (even non Asians) for their input because we need to field various options and think outside the box. Even though they may make suggestions that make us wince.
We should have a public meeting (much like Keiro but without the drama, since you’re not selling the paper) so the community feels invested in what’s going on, can ask questions, make suggestions, and commit to doing their part. Then form a smaller committee that includes community and business people to hammer out the details.
Of course, we can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu: In 2010, there was a Gardena “Save The Rafu” meeting, which led to the formation of a committee handpicked by Mickey Komai. These advisers later wrote an article in the paper saying they’d done all they could, the management team didn’t implement their suggestions, and they were dissolving as they no longer had a reason to exist.
Also, I never understood why The Rafu never hired someone to be in charge of marketing/advertising, as it’s the lifeblood of any publication.
Some of those 2010 recommendations may no longer be pertinent, so we may have to start from scratch.
Can we learn from the challenges of other ethnic papers like The Nichi Bei Times and Asian Week, which later went out of business? I’m not sure if continuing to focus on the Japanese/Japanese American community will be enough. The staff needs to do a demographic study of the community vs. the Asian American one (and also ask what kinds of articles they’d like to read; The Rafu did such a survey about 20 years ago).
Because Rafu reporters often cover some pan-Asian American topics, we could reach out to the larger non-Japanese American crowd and get them to subscribe. The Rafu may have to even become more like Asian Week in, dare I say it, covering topics not necessarily Japanese-specific.
It’s a tricky balancing act, as publications obviously make more money from print advertising than online ad spots. So older (print) readers will prefer more Japanese/Japanese American material, while younger (online) readers may need broader subjects to keep their interest. We could direct online debates about various media topics to the rafu.com site vs. wasting our time bickering on Facebook pages (as I sometimes do — ahem!) and drive up activity on that site vs. giving more money to Mark Zuckerberg (I think he has enough, don’t you?).
In any case, can we break the “I subscribe to The Rafu, then when I’m finished, I hand it down to the daughter/son, who don’t subscribe” habit, which seems, to my frustration, to have been entrenched in this community for decades?
But the bottom line is we need to keep The Rafu going, and I will do whatever I can toward that end (hell, who knows, if we’re successful, I may even get paid for these columns faster than nine months, which has been the norm for years!). So should all of you.
’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.