3.11.2006

gina on america's next top model, cycle six


So, in the same night we saw Chloe win Project Runway, they also aired this season's premiere of America's Next Top Model. I got a ton of email from people writing in to tell me about the Asian American contestant, Gina, and all the foolish things she said. Who knew so many people watched this show? It was such an overwhelming response, I had to track down the show and see it for myself. So I did, and it's a doozy.

First of all, this is one heck of an amazing train wreck of a TV show. It's brilliant and painful all at once. But I powered through and watched the whole two-hour premiere. There was much to wince at, but dude... Gina! I was like, what are you doing, woman? It starts out bad, just gets worse and worse. During the initial interview, Tyra asks her why she wants to be America's Next Top Model. She responds:
"I think there's just not enough Asian models out there. I feel that I can break down that barrier, and I think it's my responsibility."
So I'm like, all right! That's cool. She wants to represent. I can get on board with that. Then Tyra asks, "You say you're not the girl next door. You're wild." This is where things start to head south, real fast.
"If you're going to ask me to get down, strip naked, I will do it. That's just how I am.... But the thing is, my parents kind of have a thing with that, so I mean, I don't know if I'd go against my parents... I'm not sure! [Insert graduation photo of Gina with her parents.] I mean... I kind of believe more in the American culture than my parents. I'm not into Asian guys. The thing is, they're a lot shorter than I am, which is something that I can't tolerate."
I'm like, oh-my-sweet-goodness-stop-talking-now. Meanwhile, Tyra and the judges are giving her looks, shaking their heads, like, what is up with you? Jay's incredulous: "You've come so full circle from your initial statement." And Tyra just plain calls her out: "First you were saying, I'm Asian, I'm strong, I'm Korean. And then you're saying, Screw Korean boys, and I want a white boy." Cut to Gina's sit-down interview, where she looks a little bewildered:
"I don't know what exactly happened, but I got confused and I started contradicting myself, because certain things just started coming out, and it didn't make any sense."
I understand that editing plays a big part in these shows, and people don't always come off looking as articulate or intelligible as they'd prefer. But man, she was like a deer caught in the headlights, and digging herself into a deep, dark hole. These were not thoughtful responses. But somehow she manages to make the cut into the top thirteen. When Tyra calls her name, Gina is ecstatic, and exclaims, "I LOVE ASIAN MEN! I SWEAR TO GOD, I DO NOW! I DO NOW! I DO NOW!" Yeah, big change of heart, now that you've found out you're not going home.

But it doesn't stop there. In the first challenge, the contestants have to take part in a press conference, where they have to try and make some sort of first impression... it does not go well for Gina. Janice Dickinson asks her point blank, "Gina, how does being an Asian woman factor into your determination to win this competition?" Our girl's proud, thoughtful response:
"I guess, I don't know... I don't know. I don't know how to answer that question."
They press her a little more: "So Gina, when you met us during casting week, that was the first thing you mentioned. Why in a room with all these reporters, why would you not take this opportunity to put it in the forefront?" (Why, Gina? I would like to know that too!)
"I'm just... I'm 21 years old, and I don't know who I really am yet. I'm kind of like struggling. I'm like having an identity crisis here."
Everybody's like, what the hell? And Gina knows she's screwed up big time, later saying that she didn't feel she represented herself properly. Yeah, I would agree. Her fellow model wannabes confront her, suggesting that she has some insecurities about her race. Gina says it herself:
"As a Korean person and as an American person, I'm just a little bit of both, and I don't know which one I am more of."
Yo, this is a peculiar time and place to be working these issues out. If she's going to go there, like she did when she introduced herself, she needs to go there, and represent. And not crumble and shut down when she's feeling the pressure, like she does here. Well anyway, the model wannabes go out to dinner, and Gina decides to drown her troubles away by getting as drunk as possible. Whoo! Like a good Korean girl.

Like I said, the whole thing was like a big ass train wreck—I wanted to cover my eyes, but I couldn't stop watching. I actually felt sorry for Gina, because they sort of put her through the identity wringer. But woman, please, get some spine and represent! By episode's end, she is NOT eliminated, and makes it to the next round. But I don't think I've ever wanted an Asian American reality show contestant eliminated this badly before. Keep an eye on her, because there's likely more drama to come.

3.04.2006

asians on tim horton's commercial


There's an interesting commercial that's been running regularly on Canadian television for Tim Hortons, a Canadian chain of coffee and donut shops.

The ad features a relationship between a Chinese father and son (part of their "True Stories" series of commercials), and has apparently been airing on pretty heavy rotation, and getting a lot of attention. View it here [updated link].

Kind of touching. Now go hug your dad. This article, however, is a bit more cynical about the ad: Forget Hockey Dad. Meet Anti-Hockey Grandpa.

asian filmmakers fight back!

Here's an article about how Asian film industries are making efforts to challenge Hollywood's status as the worldwide entertainment industry juggernaut:
Asian Filmmakers Fight Back Vs. Hollywood

Faced with the threat of big-budget Hollywood productions, ethnic
Chinese filmmakers are fighting back by closing ranks and pooling
talent, money and ideas with their Asian counterparts.

The strategy: casting big-name Japanese and Korean stars with
regional appeal alongside Chinese actors to target more markets
across the region and forming creative alliances that can create
better movies and appeal to a broader range of investors.

As a result, budgets and quality are going up and, in turn, raising
the prospect of opening up foreign markets and of even challenging
Hollywood in the world entertainment industry.

The rise of Korean film and pop culture is a big part of the
equation.

Backed by a strong and supportive domestic market, South Korea has
been able to generate big productions and a host of stars with
regional appeal. Lee Young-ae, the star of the hit Korean TV
series "Dae Jang Geum," or "Jewel in the Palace," is mobbed by
adoring fans whenever she shows up in Hong Kong.

So casting Korean actors in a movie has a double market effect, in
both the Chinese-speaking and Korean-speaking worlds.

That's why filmmakers cast another "Jewel in the Palace" star, Ji
Jin-Hee, in the Chinese-language musical movie "Perhaps Love," said
William Pfeiffer, chief executive of Celestial Pictures, which
invested in the film.

"We didn't put Ji Jin-hee in just because we thought we needed a
Korean to appeal to the Korean market. We put Ji Jin-hee in because
we knew he was a good actor who could also appeal to the people in
Hong Kong and the rest of the region because they like Ji Jin-hee,"
he said.

There's a financial incentive for the diverse casts as well. The big
budget required to match Hollywood competition means films need to
garner a regional audience to recoup their costs.

"For Chinese movies, Japan, Korea and southeast Asia are our main
markets. There are few Chinese stars who have name recognition
throughout the main markets of mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong,
Japan and Korea. There are not enough to back up a movie," Hong Kong
director Stanley Tong said.

In Tong's recent film "The Myth," he cast Jackie Chan alongside
Indian sex symbol Mallika Sherawat and South Korean Kim Hee-sun.

Asian movie budgets are going up but still pale in comparison to
Hollywood budgets. Pfeiffer estimates the average Asian budget is
about US$2 million (euro1.7 million). "Perhaps Love" cost US$10
million (euro8.4 million) and Chinese director Chen Kaiges mythology
epic "The Promise" US$35 million (euro29.2 million). In Hollywood
the average is in the high tens of millions.

Another driver of regional cooperation is the potential of the
mainland Chinese market. China has a population of 1.3 billion, but
its movie market is underdeveloped, focused mainly in big cities.
The total Chinese box office in 2005 was just 2 billion yuan (US$249
million; euro208 million) in 2005, according to official figures,
whereas a big U.S. box office hit can rake in hundreds of millions
of U.S. dollars (euro) alone.

Pfeiffer said filmmakers can increasingly count on the China market
to recover their costs, with the Chinese box office covering up to
30 percent of production costs for some movies.

He said "Perhaps Love" has grossed more than 30 million yuan (US$3.7
million; euro3.1 million) in the mainland, a big jump from what
could be expected a few years ago.

The idea of pooling markets and resources within Asia is also a
positive trend because it breeds better quality, which in turn opens
more markets and encourages more investment, creating a "virtuous
cycle," Pfeiffer said.

"As the production values increase, or improve, because the budgets
have increased, because the home market is bigger and because you're
more confident that you can secure business outside of your home
market, you'll put more money into it," he said.

Asian moviemakers are also seeking new creative collaborations that
they hope will give their product a new look. Hong Kong, known for
its violent action films, has reached out to dance-driven Bollywood,
and vice versa.

The dance routines in "Perhaps Love," directed by Hong Kong's Peter
Chan, were choreographed by Farah Khan from Bollywood as India's
Hindi film industry is known while the upcoming Bollywood
film "Krrish" will feature action sequences designed by Hong Kong
director Tony Ching.

Eventually, Asian filmmakers are hoping they can give Hollywood a
little heat on its home turf.

The consolidation of the Asian movie industry comes as Asian content
becomes more popular in the U.S. following the success of "Crouching
Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Similar martial arts films "Hero" and "House
of Flying Daggers" have posted respectable showings since then.

Producer Andre Morgan, whose credits include Bruce Lee's "Enter the
Dragon" and more recently, "Perhaps Love," said regional
collaboration is a matter of survival.

"Ultimately at the end of the day the battle will be fought and lost
or won over showing the audiences of Asia that Asian production
companies, Asian producers and directors can give them product that
is as entertaining, and of a comparable quality to the foreign
language product coming into the marketplace," Morgan said.

"And if we can't do that, ultimately we should all pack up and go
home," he said.
If only they could find a way to prevent Hollywood from making pointless American remakes of Asian films.

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