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Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Are we cool, or what?

In a recent interview, Roger Garcia, a longtime observer of Asians in American, tells how he was struck by how, despite their long presence in Hollywood, both on- and off-screen, they continue to have such a low profile. In part to address this, the Hong Kong native and former director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival edited "Out of the Shadows: Asians in American Cinema," a collection of essays and interviews, many penned by himself.

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What made you decide to put this book together?

I was always very interested in the different histories of American cinema. It struck me that there was very little material about Asians in Hollywood despite their obvious contributions, and that they needed to be researched.

Over the years, what is the biggest change in how Hollywood depicts Asians?

Probably the combination of Asian acting talent with [actors drawn from] other minorities. Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan in "Rush Hour," for example. But actually, Bruce Lee had been the first to put Asians and African-Americans in the same frame.

Have Asian-Americans tried to change stereotypes of Asian women?

I would say the most visible change in recent years is Lucy Liu in "Charlie's Angels" -- the kick-ass Asian woman as opposed to the exotic sexual prize or pathetic victim of war. But let's not forget that Hollywood is an industry. Catering to stereotypes, Asian women and otherwise, is part of the business. And as a business, it also depends on where the money comes from. For example, "Cyclo" was made on French money so the part of the woman and the entire tone of that movie panders to the French notion of Vietnamese aesthetics.

Is it hard to be an Asian in the American film industry?

Very hard. The toughest thing is the lack of repetition. We had "The Joy Luck Club," but despite its huge success, there weren't many Asian-American followups to that. We got "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," but it remains to be seen how the Asian-Amercican filmmaking world picks up on that. Usually, mainstream Hollywood gets there first -- after "Joy Luck," there was a wave of American and African-American knockoffs, like "How to Make an American Quilt." Suddenly, mothers and families became en vogue and they remain so to this day. And of course, there are the martial-arts movies like "The Matrix" that have a huge Bruce Lee complex. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Hollywood has finally caught on to the fact that Asians are cool.

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