As I mentioned in my last column, if you wanted to see Asian Americans in movies over the Memorial Day weekend, you had two big choices: “Fast & Furious 6,” directed by Justin Lin and featuring Sung Kang, or “The Hangover 3” with Ken Jeong.
It was clear the critics unanimously praised the former for being a well-made thrill ride and threw up over the latter for running out of gas and lacking the solid humor of the first “Hangover.”
So which one did I end up seeing? “Hangover 3.” Not because I expected to have a great time (as I recounted in this space in 2011, I hated “The Hangover 2.” I couldn’t believe people found variations of men screaming, “What’s going on?!” “How did this happen?!” and “I can’t believe this is happening to us!” funny). But contrary to trailers that barely showed Jeong, who was billed fourth in the credits, the Korean American actor was supposedly “the real star” of this film.
A few things out of the way first: I actually enjoyed this one. Which just goes to show you can’t trust the opinions of the usual movie critics whom “Rotten Tomatoes” polls to come up with their scores no matter how unanimous the verdict (only 21% recommended it). It was far better than the second installment.
The film opens with a prison riot in Bangkok and drug dealer and general lowlife Leslie Chow (Jeong) escaping. Then we catch up with the childlike/selfish Alan (Zach Galifianakis), who’s been off his meds and creates a pile-up on the freeway when a giraffe he just bought gets decapitated by an overpass. After this causes another tragedy, his family and friends — Phil, Stu and Doug (Bradley Cooper, Ed Weeks, and Justin Barta, respectively) — stage an intervention to get Alan to agree to go to a clinic in Arizona where he can get his act together once and for all.
Only they never get there. Thugs of mob boss Marshall (John Goodman) run them off the road. Before he was sent to prison, Chow stole half of Marshall’s gold ($21 million). So Marshall takes Doug hostage, saying he’ll kill him in three days unless the friends deliver Chow to him.
Long story short, the guys meet Chow in Mexico and he convinces the trio to help him break into a Tijuana mansion he used to own, where they can retrieve the gold he stashed and save Doug. Then Chow betrays them in more ways than one. Finally, our hapless heroes pursue Chow to Las Vegas trying to hand him over to Marshall before the deadline.
Racial slurs: When giving the guys his ultimatum, Marshall refers derisively to Chow as “some Chinaman” (which is bizarre, because Marshall’s man is Asian). When the gangster says he got, er, screwed over by Chow, Alan testifies, “He does that from time to time,” implying he’s at least bisexual. And at one point when Chow’s desperate to get free, he offers oral sex to one of the trio.
Overall, though, Leslie Chow comes off as crazy as a fox, confident, and smarter than anyone around him. His presence wasn’t that overbearing as some critics had suggested, and his accent isn’t so strong that it’s distracting or annoying.
After the success of the first “Hangover” film, Jeong’s gotten bit parts in many movies, but he’s yet to announce a starring vehicle. Could he carry his own film? Yes. He’s got the confidence and comedic talent to pull it off. It just depends on whatever situation he’s placed in.
Now, cynic that I am, I’m assuming Warner Brothers didn’t want to feature Chow too prominently in the trailers, fearing potential customers might think too much of the sociopath and decide to see another movie instead (well, most of them did — they saw “Fast & Furious 6” in droves to a record $120 million, an all-time high for Universal Pictures). But in the future, it would be encouraging to see a big Hollywood studio not shy away from using Asian faces in their promotional clips.
In the past, the first thing you’d hear in a voiceover would be, “From director M. Night Shyamalan…” But after one continuous critical flop after another, the last one being the universally hated “Last Airbender,” Sony Pictures realized they were better off not trying to use his name as one of the movie’s calling cards.
Heck, they also tried fooling viewers into thinking they’d see more of Will Smith when “After Earth” was actually a vehicle for his son Jaden, who I’ve called “the most hated kid in Hollywood” for his conceited appearances on “Oprah” and “Late Show with David Letterman.”
I had a good laugh seeing that this costly $130 million film was only predicted to make between $35-40 million over the weekend, and instead came in third with just $27 million. I’m not so masochistic as to confirm the critics’ hatred for this movie, the director and the star, but it’s now being touted as one of the biggest flops of 2013.
All of which is karma for Shyamalan, who white-washed “Airbender” by turning the all-Asian/Inuit characters of the cartoon series white except for villains, made the most ridiculous statements in defense of it, and has lost all perspective on his work and how to make a solid film.
Too Trashy to Turn Away? Department: ABC’s summer series “Mistresses” debuted Monday night. It’s notable for featuring the return of “Lost’s” Yunjin Kim, who gets second billing to Alyssa Milano. Four girlfriends — two white, one Asian, and one black — support each other through their crises. Each is touched by infidelity.
The black woman (Rochelle Aytes) learns her dead husband fathered a child with another woman. A real estate agent (Jes Macallan) may be starting a lesbian relationship with one half of the lesbian couple who are her clients, and a lawyer (Milano) gives in to the advances of her co-worker (Jason George, who’s black) after estrangement from her husband, who’s frustrated over his inability to conceive a child.
Kim plays Dr. Karen Kim, a psychiatrist who began a short affair with one of her patients, Thomas Grey (John Schneider of “Dukes of Hazzard” fame) after he told her he had a terminal disease. Six weeks later, she attends his funeral. His son Sam stalks her, needing closure because he had a fight with his father just before he died and can’t forgive himself. Sam also knew his dad was having an affair with someone; Kim denies it was her.
After she demonstrates how his father still loved him even after their fight, Sam starts pursuing Kim. Despite Milano telling her there’s an investigation into Grey’s death (his wife gave him drugs — which Kim supplied — to end his life when the pain became too great) and to cut all ties to the family, Kim begins having an affair with Sam.
One friend, after seeing the first episode, said this show set back the cause of women. I can see her point.
This is one of those potentially trashy but too-good-to-turn-away shows that could’ve been more successful had it not been released in the dog days of summer. It got a 1.2 rating in the 18-49 age bracket (as I’ve said before, if you sink below 1.5, your show’s on shaky ground).
While Yunjin Kim played a Korean national on “Lost,” she speaks English and without much of an accent here, so we assume she’s American, which is nice.
Not a One-Hit Wonder Department: Last year, I mentioned that almost every artist who performed a #1 hit in a foreign language never reached even the Top 40 again with another song. Psy’s “Gangnam Style” peaked at #2 for seven weeks, so maybe that’s why the curse didn’t affect him.
The South Korean artist’s follow-up, “Gentleman,” got as high as #5, but it only spent five weeks in the Top 40 and is already on its way down. So technically, he’s not a one-hit wonder, but unless he can get a song to stay on the chart for a longer period of time, he may still be remembered as one.
’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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.