My All Asian/Asian-American “Akira” Dream Cast

I wrote an hour ago about the quashing of the rumour that Zac Efron, of High School Musical, would star in the upcoming live-action “Akira. Even without Efron in the lead role, it sounds like Akira is going to suck; ScreenRant has read an advanced copy of the script, and details some of the travesties found therein. One word: “TRAVIS!!!!”

But, as I was at work today, I got to wondering what an all-Asian/Asian American cast for a live-action Akira might look like. I was further inspired by a Tweet by Greg Pak to try and put together an Akira dream cast.

Keep in mind, it has been about a bazillion years since I’ve seen the original Akira anime, so I’ve had to do some background reading to remind myself of the characters. But, here we go:

Sung Kang as Kaneda

Sung Kang as Kaneda

We’ve seen Sung Kang demonstrate an impressive breadth of talent in the many roles that he’s taken over the years, and I think he’s perfectly equipped to tackle the role of Kaneda. In particular, as Kaneda, Kang could draw out the subtle nuances of a character who would otherwise devolve into being a dumb jock with a hero complex. I also think Sung Kang has the right look (I think they call it “gravitas”) to pull off “post-apocalyptic biker”, even if his action film resume is a little thin. Physically, he’s got that right square jaw look to be a believable Kaneda; now, we just might need to convince him to cut his hair for the role…

Ken Leung as Tetsuo

Ken Leung as Tetsuo

This is a hat-tip to Greg Pak: Ken Leung is a dead-ringer for Tetsuo. He’s cunning but retains a boyish, innocent quality that lends itself well to Tetsuo, and his natural snarkiness could add humour to an otherwise heavy-handed script. Leung has played a few super-powered characters in the past: a mutant with porcupine quills in X3 and Miles, who boasted the ability to talk to dead people, in Lost. A grossly over super-powered Miles who loses his mind and goes on a murderous rampage? Scary.

Moon Bloodgood as Kei

Moon Bloodgood as Kei

This one gave me a little trouble. It’s been so long since I’ve seen Akira that I barely remembered Kei, except as a bad-ass terrorist who handles herself in physical, violent situations remarkably well. Sadly, there are few Asian American actresses who are popular today, and even fewer who could credibly survive in a war-torn, futuristic Tokyo. Then, I realized that there was one Asian American woman who has already played a bad-ass, post-apocalyptic terrorist: Moon Bloodgood in the latest Terminator. And, whoo boy, could she kick some butt. So, I’m calling upon Ms. Bloodgood to lend her talent here, and make Kei more than just some dippy Hollywood love interest; let’s make her a true, gritty, post-apocalyptic heroine.

Daniel Dae Kim as Colonel Shikishima

Daniel Dae Kim as Colonel Shikishima

Originally, I wanted to cast B.D. Wong as Colonel Shikishima, because I think Wong is incredibly talented and could play this villain-turned-hero character really well. Unfortunately, Wong simply doesn’t have the appropriate physique, especially compared to the other actors I’ve cast in the roles of the protagonists. So, I’ve opted to put in Daniel Dae Kim as the Colonel, who would obviously need to grow a moustache and be aged (via the magic of Hollywood) to appear a little older than he is. Kim needs to be forthright, severe, and physically intimidating, but ultimately a sympathetic figure who has the best interests of Tokyo and the Esper children in mind. With the way that Kim made Lost‘s Jin a heroic figure, when he was initially introduced as an abusive husband, I think he’ll be able to handle the Colonel remarkably well. And, I think we can probably forgo the Mohawk.

James Kyson Lee as Kai

James Kyson Lee as Kai

Kai is a member of Kaneda’s gang, normally quiet and shy, but a capable fighter and biker. I think James Kyson Lee, if he grew his hair out a little, could probably play Kai ably. As he showed in Heroes, he’s capable of carrying a scene on his own, while also sharing a scene with another character without taking away the spotlight. On an unrelated note, have you ever Googled images of James Kyson Lee? I had no idea he was so ripped… Mamma mia…

Jamie Chung as Kaori

Jamie Chung as Kaori

Any actress who plays Kaori has to fit two simple criteria: young and good-looking. And, whether we like or we hate Jamie Chung, she fits this bill pretty nicely. Kaori is the Ophelia character in Akira, who pretty much runs around helplessly, angst-ing over her boyfriend Tetsuo’s transformation into a villain, until she is ruthlessly (and graphically) killed. Jamie Chung’s profile has been rising lately, with her recent casting in Sucker Punch, but her acting chops simply haven’t been tested yet. Given that Kaori’s role is neither particularly demanding, nor particularly important, Chung’s as good a choice for Kaori as any (as long as she can act morose enough, since Kaori spends most of her time unspeakably, irritatingly sad). As an added bonus, Jamie Chung recently starred in Dragonball: Evolution, which already makes her a veteran of the anime-turned-live-action movie genre.

And there you have it — my dream casting of a live-action, all-Asian American adaptation of Akira. I’ve decided not to cast the roles of Akira or the Espers, because the Espers would probably be child actors with CGI faces, and because Akira should be played by an unknown actor who is significantly younger than most of the high-profile Asian American actors today. It’s also a pretty small role, anyways.

What do you think? Think you can do better? Post your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.

Zac Efron Will Not Star in Upcoming “Akira” Film

Zac Efron: "Do these blue eyes and dirty-blond hair make me look Asian?" Uhm, not really, no.

Last week, rumours abounded on the Internet that Zac Efron, star of High School Musical would be cast in a lead role in “Akira. Folks who hadn’t seen the original anime movie assumed this meant that this meant Efron was being considered for the role of Akira; fans of the original anime knew that Akira’s actual role was too small and that Efron was being considered for the role of Kaneda, who is the film’s actual protagonist.

Well, it doesn’t really matter which role Efron was supposedly being considered to play, because it now looks as if the Hughes brothers, who are helming the “Akira” project, have squashed the Zac Efron rumour. Possibly because they realized that Akira, the live-action musical, was just too ambitious a project to undertake.

While there’s a collective sigh of relief being heard all over the Internet with this latest news, it’s not as if we’re going to see an Akira remake that actually includes Asian/Asian American actors. Phil, over at Angry Asian Man, notes that the upcoming Akira remake is intended to take place in a war-ravaged Manhattan, not Tokyo, thus freeing all of the characters up to be played by “American” (re: White) actors.

Personally, while I think Akira is a ground-breaking anime film, the more I think about it, the more I think it simply cannot be translated into live-action for American audiences. The Akira film is genre-redefining, but may ultimately be too fantastic for a live-action screen. Anime provides the perfect medium to blend the real with the unbelievable, because the entire world is, ultimately, an artistic reconstruction where anything is possible. Live-action grounds stories in a need to be believable; is there any way to show the final scenes of Akira without having it devolve into impossible, and laughable, camp?

Akira may be doomed to failure from the get-go. All race-bending issues aside, this may be one project where Hollywood should know well enough to leave it the hell alone.

The White-Washing of Akira?

"Akira" deserves better than to be the latest in Hollywood's White-washing of Asian/Asian American characters.

The Last Airbender. Dragonball: Evolution.  21.

In the last few years, we’ve seen several big-budget Hollywood “adaptations” of popular stories. These stories star and follow an Asian/Asian American character, but in the big-budget adaptation, these characters are “mysteriously” played by “ethnically-ambiguous appearing” Caucasian actors.  

The Last Airbender is set in an Asian-inspired world populated by characters inspired by ancient Chinese and Inuit cultures. Yet, in M. Night Shyamalan’s silver screen treatment of this beloved Nickolodeon cartoon, Aang and his friends are played by White characters (even though many of the extras were Asian). Shyamalan also elected to cast Asian Indian actors to play the first movie’s villains.

When I was in high school, Dragonball was one of the most beloved anime series on television. But recently, a movie adaptation of this movie cast the oh-so-very White Justin Chatwin as the movie’s spiky-haired protagonist, Goku.

21 is based on a book that documents the story of a group of Asian American MIT students who learned to count cards and made heaps of money in Vegas. But the 2008 movie adaptation featured a largely-White cast of actors, despite the fact that the book — Bringing Down the House — upon which the movie is based involves discussion of how the race and gender of the MIT Blackjack Team influenced their scheme.

And then, today, /Film posted a rumour that Zac Efron — a Caucasian actor — has been offered the titular role of Akira in the upcoming live-action adaptation slated to be directed by the Hughes’ Brothers. (Although, I wonder if they actually mean he is being offered the role of Akira, which is a relatively small part of the movie. Or, do they mean that he is being offered the role of the movie’s protagonist Kaneda, who is actually pictured on the movie poster? I mean have these people who are writing about the Zac Efron rumour actually seen Akira?)

Zac Efron: "Do these blue eyes and dirty-blond hair make me look Asian?" Uhm, not really, no.

Akira is a wildly-popular anime movie based on a six-volume manga, and is considered a landmark movie that has defined modern anime. It is a complex story set in a futuristic, dystopic Tokyo, and it features Japanese characters living in a Japan destroyed by nuclear war. It makes absolutely no sense for Akira, Kaneda, or any of the other characters to be played by obviously non-Japanese actors.

Yet again, Hollywood just doesn’t get it. Yet again, we will hear about how “it was about casting the right actor, not an Asian actor”, or about how “there just aren’t enough ‘bankable’ Asian American actors” to cast.

Bullshit. Justin Chatwin sucked (so I’ve heard) as Goku. Noah Ringer as Aang was among the worst child-actors we’ve been subjected to in a long time. Is Zac Efron really the best that the Hughes Brothers think they can do? Did they even try to find one of the many struggling Asian American actors out there — many of whom would be “bankable” if a production company ever bothered to cast an Asian face in an Asian protagonist role.

And besides which, this is fucking Akira — one of the most popular, most well-loved, and most timeless, genre-defining anime movies there is. Hollywood doesn’t have the right to fuck this one up.

MTV’s Jamie Chung’s Skyrocketing Career

Jamie Chung plays Amber in next year's "Sucker Punch"

Anyone remember when Jamie Chung was that quiet chick on MTV’s Real World? You know you’re old when those you remember as the new “roommates” are now too old to be the veterans.

After her season on Real World, Jamie Chung was one of the only roommates to eschew the speaking circuit, the endless Challenges, and the paid party-goer gigs, and launched an acting career.

Chung’s break-out role was on Sorority Row as, apparently, one of the first girls to get slaughtered. I admit that, since then, I haven’t paid much attention to her career. But, Chung just keeps popping up in the most unusual places. She was featured quite prominently in Dragonball: Evolution, and I’m sure all three fanboys who saw that movie delighted over that White-washed travesty.

Recently, Chung was cast in one of the primary roles of Sucker Punch. The Wikipedia for the film says that the folks behind Watchmen are collaborating on this film, which explains the cool-looking visuals, the slick style, the interesting premise, and the unfortunate cheesecake factor that is guaranteed to have males aged 12-29 drooling. I’ll admit, the Girl, Interrupted meets Tank Girl element of this film appeals to me — I’ve always loved American McGee’s Alice, and this sounds pretty similar.

Chung is also making her rounds in the Asian American blogosphere this week after it was recently confirmed that she is cast in Hangover 2. Rumours have it that the boys travel to Bangkok for reasons unknown, where presumably they meet Chung’s character. The plot has all the indications of being a horrible litany of Thai hooker jokes, but hey, maybe Chung plays the sexy, intelligent, Asian American, feminist rocket scientist they meet on the airplane? Yes? Maybe? Yeah, probably not.

(Angry Asian Man also confirms that Ken Jeong will also reprise his role as Mr. Chow. Fabulous.)

In any event, I can’t say I’m a converted Jamie Chung fan (I haven’t actually seen any of her movies, so I’m not sure if she actually has any acting talent). But, I do think it’s kind of cool that Chung broke out of the Real World niche and is on her way to a successful acting career. And she didn’t even have to join the WWE to do it.

Mark Wahlberg In Talks To Star in Remake of “The Crow”

Will Mark Wahlberg reprise the role made famous by Brandon Lee?

I caught a headline on CNN this afternoon saying that Mark Wahlberg is currently in talks to star in a remake of “The Crow”. Asian Americans (and pretty much anyone else who was around for the 90’s) might remember that the original “Crow” was played by Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee. Eight days prior to the wrap of filming, Lee was fatally shot in an on-set accident involving improperly constructed dummy rounds fired from a prop gun; Lee was shot in one of the scenes and died hours later in hospital. Filming of “The Crow” was completed with Lee’s stunt doubles standing in for him in the remaining scenes.

Lee was wildly praised in “The Crow”, with Roger Ebert predicting that, based on the strength of his performance, Lee “might have become an action star, had he lived.”

For me, “The Crow” has a special place in my childhood. Heck, I had the above image as a poster in my college dorm room. As a teen, I remember finding particular solace in the movie: in comparison to other examples of Asian Americans in films and on television, Brandon Lee’s Eric Draven was recognizably Asian American without having a particular reason for being Asian American. Then — and now — Asian American characters in cinema often seem to require some excuse written into the script to justify their ethnicity, as if the character was only made Asian American for a reason. Consequently, we are the martial artist, or the translator, or the immigrant, or the triad member or some other stereotypically Asian thing. Often times, Asian American characters are shown drawing upon their heritage — their knowledge of Chinatown or their ability to speak Chinese — as if to further emphasize our Other-ness. And while it’s not always a bad thing — take, for example, the multiple Asian American characters on the current Hawaii 5-0 who prvide insight into native Hawaiian culture and language — sometimes it’s refreshing to see an Asian American character who can just be.

Brandon Lee’s Eric Draven was one of the first examples I can remember of  an Asian American playing a role that wasn’t specifically colour-coded to suit his skin colour. In fact, the inspiration for Lee’s film role — Eric Draven of the comic book series — is not Asian American at all: he is based on American rock musician Iggy Pop. In “The Crow”, Draven isn’t re-written to justify Lee’s hapa-ness; Draven is just a gothic undead rocker with a taste for vengeance, who happens to be biracially Asian American.

So it’s with all that in mind that I feel a little sadness at the thought of Wahlberg, or any other non-Asian American, reprising the role of “The Crow”. It’s not as if the casting of Wahlberg or another White actor will be yet another example of Hollywood White-washing of an Asian American role (as we saw with 21 and The Last Airbender), but I’m still unhappy to see Hollywood moving past Lee’s iconic role in this remake without at least some discussion about what Lee’s performance meant to Asian Americans. 

But, on the up side, maybe Wahlberg can draw upon his personal experience in the music industry in playing the undead Eric Draven?

Update (10/21): N reminded us in the comments that Mark Wahlberg’s “turning point” moment, which put him on his path to Hollywood, involved a hate crime against Vietnamese Americans. Wahlberg was 16, and high on cocaine and alcohol, when he assaulted two Vietnamese American men. As a result of the incident, one of the two victims was blinded in one eye. Wahlberg was arrested after he confessed to officers on the scene; at that time, he also shouted racist slurs including “slant-eyed gooks”. Wahlberg pled guilty to two counts of criminal contempt, was sentenced to two years in jail. Of that sentence, Wahlberg did 45 days at Deer Island prison before being released.

It was during his time in jail that Wahlberg bulked up and decided to pursue a career in entertainment. The above is based on the Suffolk County Public Criminal Record of the incident, retrieved by Model Minority and re-posted in an article. That article is now defunct, but was reproduced in this forum thread on Asia Finest.

Which makes discussion of Wahlberg reprising the role made famous by Brandon Lee go, in my books, from disappointing (for the reasons described in the above post) to criminally insulting.