INTO THE NEXT STAGE: Cho Gets a Girlfriend, Goes on the War Path

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By GUY AOKI

(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on March 11, 2010)

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For most of his tenure on CBS’s “The Mentalist,” Tim Kang played a mild-mannered but tough police detective with a dry sense of humor but not much passion. Recently, we saw a side of him that seemed a bit extreme: His former best friend, David Seung, is killed, and he beats a suspect to a pulp to get him to confess to the murder.

One of the show’s subplots focused on the attraction between two of the other agents, Wayne Rigsby (Owain Yeoman of “The Nine”) and Grace Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti, formerly a conniving diva on “North Shore,” whose talents are wasted here, playing an almost sexless character). They eventually wound up in bed. But Cho’s never expressed much interest in the opposite sex. So it was a shock when suddenly, in this episode, his “girlfriend” suddenly appeared sitting at police headquarters waiting for them to go out on a date.

Elise was played by the attractive Sandrine Holt (whose father is Chinese and whose real last name is Ho), whom I first saw in 1994’s Rapa Nui. After two men burst into his apartment and beat up both him and Elise, Cho seems to come unglued, leading Patrick Jane (star Simon Baker) and Rigsby in confronting an executive then beating him bloody and taking him out to the parking lot where he seemingly shoots him dead.

Agent Kimball Cho goes off on a suspect on “The Mentalist.”

We learn it was part of an elaborate scheme to demonstrate violence in front of the janitor of the building who was behind the murder (and home beating) to get him to confess. So why go overboard on the executive who dealt drugs but didn’t ask anyone to kill Cho’s friend? Besides dramatics, you mean? Well, the team knew the shady guy had sexually harassed his secretary, so they threatened to expose him if he didn’t drop his charge of police brutality. He drops the issue.

At first, Cho didn’t want to get involved in solving Seung’s murder even when the victim’s mother pleaded with him to. The two former friends used to be in a gang, and Cho believed that unlike him, Seung never went straight for good. So when his old buddy called him leaving messages asking for help, Cho ignored the calls.

Soon, his friend was dead, and he didn’t want to admit his murder wasn’t gang-related for it’d mean he could’ve/should’ve saved him. At the end, Cho goes to the mom, explains all this, and apologizes.
Overall, Cho came off as a bit extreme and quite scary. Not only was he now revealed to have been a former gang member, but he seemed almost robotically intent on violence in the name of revenge. While it was a welcome sight to see an episode devoted to him, hopefully, he’ll be seen in a more balanced way next time.

But hmm… let’s see more of him and his girlfriend.

For once, it was nice to see an Asian couple and that the producers didn’t fear it made the show “too ethnic” for the viewers.

“The Mentalist” airs on Thursday nights.

“Coming Out Of The Closet” Department: Kristin Kreuk (another half-Chinese actress), recently appeared in a few episodes of “Chuck” playing the title character’s new girlfriend. While she was never identified as being Asian, in their last scene together when Kreuk wanted Chuck to meet her parents, we saw her with two Asian parents at dinner, so the implication was that she is Asian. That was a welcome change because hapa actors like Kreuk usually play white characters (in a bit of non-traditional casting, she played Lana Lang on “Smallville”).

If they’re always “passing for white,” it doesn’t do the Asian American or hapa community any good.

Oscar Oversights Department: Watching the Academy Awards, one of the few films I had any emotional investment in was “Up,” Disney/Pixar’s excellent animated film about Russell, the explorer scout, and old widower who go off in a house lifted by helium balloons to a South American adventure. The producers showed clips of the movie during the “Best Original Screenplay” and “Best Picture” segments and both times flashed to Christopher Plummer (who voiced the part of the villain) and Edward Asner (who played the old man) sitting in the audience but not Jordan Nagai who played the boy. Wasn’t he invited?

Waaahhh!

Michael Giacchino, who also does the music for ABC’s “Lost” and anything J.J. Abrams produces (“Alias,” the Star Trek film), won for “Best Original Score” for Up and gave one of the best speeches saying when he was young, he went around the house using a small camera and his parents never told him he was wasting his time. He asserted that parents should always encourage their children to be creative. He was also the only awards recipient to fail to thank anyone associated with his project!

During a tribute to filmmaker John Hughes (Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), many of the former teen stars of the director’s past films came out to talk about the guy. In a clip, Hughes explained that his movies were about people who felt left out and didn’t fit in. Yeah, like Asian exchange students like Long Duk Dong in your infamous 16 Candles. Boy, you sure were sympathetic towards him!

Then someone announced his family who stood to be acknowledged. I felt like doing an alternative introduction which would result in more people rising: “Here are the people who were forever affected by your lame ’80s stereotype of Asian men.” Good riddance.

You Blew It!/Shamed The Family Department: For two weeks in a row, I shook my head watching the great Asian hope, John Park, perform on “American Idol.” He kept singing boring songs with no life to them. He got by on the first week of the Top 24 competition, but viewers cut him in the second round which reduced the crowd from 20 to 16. Maybe because he was part of an a capella group, Park never developed enough of an on-stage personality or much energy, thinking knocking people out with vocals is good enough. It’s not.

Oh well, he’ll always have Shania Twain (in his memories).

What Did You Expect? Department: After almost officially cancelling “Trauma” in December, NBC brought the medical drama back to the Monday night schedule this week… with no promotion. The network hoped to use their highly-watched Olympics coverage to promote their line-up but apparently didn’t feel invested in the show.

So surprise, surprise: Only 4.8 million people watched it, the lowest ever.

Update: Grace Park of “Battlestar Gallactica” fame has won the part of Kono Kalakaua in CBS’s pilot for a new “Hawaii Five-O” TV series. Jean Smart, who was twice nominated for Emmys for playing the First Lady in “24” and who won a “Best Supporting Actress” award for “Samantha Who?” will play the governor. Both roles were played by men in the original ’68-’80 series by Zulu and Richard Denning, respectively. Scott Caan (James’ son who appeared in Oceans Eleven) gets the part of Danny “Danno” Williams. They join the already announced Alex O’Loughlin (ugh) as Steve McGarrett and Daniel Dae Kim as Chin Ho Kelly.

For those of you who attended the Asian Excellence Awards about three years ago, Park and Kim did a little skit before the program and served as co-hosts.

They’ll play niece and uncle in this new sure-to-be series.

Till next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
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Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale and can be reached by e-mail. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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