9.13.2011

Blasian Chemistry

In his interview with me, actor Peter Jae stated, "I had a chance to work with [Gabrielle Union] on Perfect Holiday but playing a dry cleaner. I would love to be opposite [her] playing a different character. Damn, Morris Chestnut, can an Asian brother get some shine too?"

So just for fun, I sent him "Blasianism", a nice, simple composite of recognizable romantic Blasian scenes set to some laid-back music.  Mr. Jae replied that while he liked seeing these types of vids, a lot of the love scenes looked forced.  He attributed it to actually knowing a couple of the actors, but he also added that like it or not, chemistry - from the get-go - really is key.

Naturally, it got me thinking.

Whether we care to admit it or not, some of our more recognizable Blasian couples didn't have great chemistry, at least not compared to others, and I've been thinking about the variables which contribute to the problem.

The Actor's Image

Actors are folks who want to go on display and get paid for it.  And that's cool.  However, most actors go into the business strictly thinking about what they want - whom they want to work with, what types of projects they'd like to be involved in, which magazine covers and talk shows they want to grace, and most importantly - whether they care to admit it or not - how they want to be seen by specific people.

I was watching a behind-the-scenes special for (I think) the TV show 24.  An actress remarked in passing that on the very first day of shooting, while sitting in make up, she turned to a castmate and asked,"What's the name of this show that I just signed the next five years of my life away for?"  This right here confirmed the obvious: actors don't always know what the hell they're getting into.  We have to remember that they're people like us, struggling to their pay bills, and when a job comes along - with a multi-year contract, no less - they don't question.

However, this doesn't mean their heart is automatically invested in whatever role they're playing.  So when you have misguided Black and Asian actors who want to impress white audiences, right away they know they're not going to accomplish this by pairing up with each other.  And that right there is a Blasian chemistry-killer.

Personally, I look for keywords and code phrases in interviews.  If the best the actors can do is chant "diversity" or essentially beg the audience not to pay too much attention to their skins, I tend to take that as a really bad omen.  It means 1) they're aiming for a universal narrative, which I maintain does not exist, and 2) here in the West, "universal" often defaults to "white".  Need I say more?

In other words, Narrators, if an onscreen Blasian couple is shying away from the "Blasian" label offscreen, and they are anything short of amped, psyched, and eager to specifically play a Blasian couple...run.  You're not their intended audience, they are not excited to represent you, and you will be disappointed eventually, if not right away.

The Couple of Intent

After disasters like Romeo Must Die (2000) and the second half of the first season of FlashForward (2009), I don't think I need to stress how much writing factors into chemistry.  First of all, I'll be blunt: I don't like non-POC writing Blasian couples when there are hundreds of thousands of writers of color more than willing to do the job for themselves, and with a hell of lot more insight (or at least better access to insight).

Case in point: one of things I really respected about Audrey Kelley (Audrey & Dre [2011]) was that she did her research; she consulted with a real-life Blasian couple (Sam Cacas and Dora Love, no less), and even included them in her show.  Likewise, Joe Dougherity (Akira's Hip Hop Shop [2007]) based his short film on a real-life Blasian couple he personally knew.

This leads me to the issue of what I call "the couple of intent", i.e., the couple which matters most to the writer.  On FlashForward, Demetri & Zoey were most assuredly not the couple of intent.  Needless to say, such a couple gets plenty of screen time, the most kisses/sex scenes, and the most thought-out storyline.  For a story not centered on a couple so much as a primary protagonist, the protagonist + whoever the hell their love interest is = the couple of intent.

But identifying the true couple of intent is not so easy at times.  Take "Clay" from Robot Stories (2004), for example.  I like Tim Kang.  I think he's sexy as hell, and I was glad to see him portray the younger version of John opposite Helen (Eisa Davis).  But the more I watched their tight-lipped kisses and quickly truncated love scene, the more I realize that Young John and Helen were not the couple of intent.  Older John (Sab Shimono) and Helen were the real couple of intent; that is, after all, where the chemistry and genuine emotion lay.


Bear with me for a moment longer:

Blasian Chemistry Fails

~ John Cho and Gabrielle Union

Sorry.  The more I analyze, I think Cho appeared more romantically relaxed opposite white actress Christine Woods (who was playing a lesbian) than he did opposite Union.  Same thing in Harold and Kumar, when his love interest was the very light-skinned Paula Garces.  To be honest, I don't really foresee Cho really doing anymore Blasian media, unless it's to wrap up the sham that was FlashForward, or the paycheck has more zeroes than he would care to ignore.  As much as I love him and most of his work, I'm not convinced "Blasian" is his thing.

What's wrong with this picture?

~ Garrett Wang and Kelli Kirkland

Sorry.  *shrug* This was the only time we saw Ensign Harry Kim messing around with an actress who wasn't white, and 1) she was technically evil, and 2) I noticed that she kept initiating the kisses, while he clearly the favored the attentions of the white actress and was visibly more comfortable with her.  It was like even though the script plainly indicated he was attracted to Kirkland's character (and he did try sometimes), Wang himself clearly wasn't feeling it.

~ Tim Kang and Eisa Davis

Sorry.  Just not buying it.  Not enough screen time to even attempt a purchase.

Blasian Chemistry Successes

~ Joy Bryant and Nelson Lee

Virtuality didn't give these two a goddamn thing to work with, but they were playful and comfortable with each other.  The way made each other smile was most endearing, and it's shame we didn't get to see this relationship explored further.

~ James Kyson Lee and Emayatzy Corinealdi

This one's sort of the on fence.  What makes it a success for me is that Lee kisses like he means it.  He's clearly the star of that love scene, oozing raw sensuality every second of it and appearing quite comfortable, while Corinealdi seemed a bit tense and self-conscious.  Another thing is, Lee has a bit of a *pattern*.  After seeing his pics with Telisha Shaw, I have to conclude "Blasian" works for him and we may very well see more from him in the future.

~ Sab Shimono and Eisa Davis

Eventually, Blasian art and media are going to explore the older/younger dynamic, so we might as well start now.  That being said, these two broke my heart.  They seemed so deep with each other, exhibiting a complex, tortured affection which made their story ever so haunting.  This was some grade-A work, and we need to see more like it in the future.

~ Jet Li and Aaliyah

Believe it or not, these two actually had decent chemistry; they were simply robbed of fully showing it (it showed much more in her music video anyway).  If you wonder why you keep going back and watching Romeo Must Die - despite its endless number of flaws - it's because these two piqued your curiosity and really drew you in.  Also, it helps that Aaliyah had a real-life crush on Li (as did many of us at the time).

~ Rain and Naomie Harris

There's a reason these two are the undisputed Prince and Princess of the Blasian Narrative.

Rain has a *pattern* to the Nth degree, and Harris admits to having lost her mind while filming the infamously lost shower scene with him.  Both are open to doing a sequel, which I doubt we'll ever really see, but hey...they're ready and willing.

~ Monsieur Nov

As we've all noticed by now, Monsieur Nov has a *pattern* which even puts Rain's to shame.  I mean, damn.  This man fears nothing.  There's one video of his where his main vixen isn't black, and yet near the beginning, the camera focuses on random on a BW/AM couple as if to "remind" the audience of his infamous theme.  And if there are any lingering doubts, one only need to watch "Tous le Jours, Tous le Soirs" a few times.

Just remember to bring cigarettes.

~ Auburn

No, we're not particularly fond of her music here at the Narrative, but Auburn's *pattern* (and self-respect) is executed delightfully enough to produce sufficient (and appropriate) chemistry.  She's clearly drawn to Asian men (she's reportedly dating one in real life), and she casts those who can reciprocate in her videos.  *shrugs*  What else can you say?

~ Jay Tavare and Tembi Lock

'Nough said.
***

So what about you, Narrators?  What do you think we can do to improve the chemistry quality in Blasian media?  I, for one, see a pattern here: the best people to portray Blasians...are Blasians themselves.

Go figure.

12 comments:

  1. Have you guys seen this Marvin's Room cover?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFv2HX8bdcw

    I liked the older man "younger woman" pairing in Clay. That entire movie is just epic.

    But you have to remember that Helen is dead and her consciousness has evolved. So it's almost like she's ageless in a sense, in eternity. But physically they are an older man/younger woman pairing. And they were the couple of intent.

    We didn't see much of their son. I would have liked to know more about his character.

    I would love to see a reprisal of Naomie and Rain's roles. They were robbed of much intimacy, but did quite a bit with what they were given.

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  2. I always wondered about the AMBW supporters who went and still go crazy over Flashfoward. Cho had as much chemistry with Gabby as if she were a man. He clearly wasn't feeling it.

    I recently saw Romeo Must Die and was surprised with the good vibes Aaliyah and Jet Li had together. I expected them to be chemistry-less too. Too bad their kissing scene was cut out.

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  3. I always wondered about the AMBW supporters who went and still go crazy over Flashfoward.

    I understand where they're coming from; this pairing is only recently increasing in mainstream media and they're still at the stage where they laud any attempts at a Blasian couple. However, the more Blasian-minded folks that get involved in these projects, the more they give mainstream media a run for its money.

    When I was listening to the director's commentary on Once Were Warriors, director Lee Tamahori talked about how he handled the casting; he met with each actor personally and had long, intimate discussions about their character to see if the actor really was fit to the play the role. Mainstream folks, of course, don't do this Blasian couples. They grab a famous Asian actor/singer, a famous Black actress/singer, and basically just toss them together, not seeming to care whether or not they really work well together, or if they even want to portray a Blasian couple.

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  4. Yeah I was pleasantly surprised at how well Jet Li and Aaliyah vibes in Romeo Must Die. You could tell there was a mutual adoration for the other.

    And Rain and Naomie Harris, yeah the chemistry there.....yeah.

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  5. I do take Rain Bi and Naomie's Harris's portrayal of a Blasian couple very seriously. I remembered reading his bio on here behind the making of Ninja Assassin.After reading it, I was more convinced of this combo. With Rain,it's more than him wanting to be to try something different..deep down inside that is who rain Bi is and if given the opportunity again, I believe he would do it..his way.

    I also didn't know how sexy James Kyson Lee was until I looked at Akira's hip-hop shop. I was so used to him being the father figure to Masi Oka's pops on HEROES ( I also liked Sendhil Ramamurthy. That was one hot guy. He was the reason I started to watch it) I didn't know that side of him. He wasn't just playing a role, he was being romantic. I liked that in him.

    I must agree with you about John Cho and Gabby's TV pairing. Although they did capture more attention with AMBW unions r.. I don't know... I've always seemed a little mismatched to me. I don't know why. Gabby seemed more like a sophisticate than John.He seemed more reserved. I didn't see that romanticism in him...at least like you said, with Gabby.

    Aliyah and Jett..Oh yes! I wished that they could have moved forward with it. Jett was cute like Aliyah was beautiful,but it wasn't about that. They had good chemistry and Jett seems to have no problem playing diverse roles.Jett said he wanted to do more romantic scenes,but he said between Hollywood and the netizens.. they wouldn't make it happen.

    If I wanted to improve Blasian media, one thing I wish I could do is to leave Hollywood out of it because they don't mixed raced couples of any kind to be seen on TV as it is. If I was in Kathy Hughes shoes right now, I would want my media to be more open to ideas and if they story line is impressive, I would accept them( definitely I would want to be the one to add more interesting series with more AMBW's).

    I also agree with Lee. People just cannot put mixed pairings in pictures don't have character or people just doing as work as usual. They would have to have some experience and/or a feel into what they're doing. It's ironic how Peter Jai said he wanted to act with Gabrielle Union. If I was casting a movie, depending on Pete's acting skills, I would have gotten him for the role. I probably would have even gotten James for that role.

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  6. I heard that the test audiences didn't score the kissing scene very well between Jet and Aaliyah. Like WTF!! Who are these racist idiots that are uncomfortable with an Asian dude kissing a Black Woman. And talk about chemistry, did you see the video to the title track? Oooozing chemistry. I hate hollywood.

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  7. One of the men in Auburn's videos is actually her real-life boyfriend. Her pattern is authentic lol.

    I honestly haven't seen most of these movies/programs so I'll have to take your word for it. I, too, will add that the chemistry in Romeo Must Die was very blatant.

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  8. @Ed

    It is said that the test audience for RMD was mainly made up of black men....

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  9. I must say I've always hated that photo from Flashforward. Gabrielle clearly seems uncomfortable and more focused on keeping her hair in place. It just looks way to platonic for a couple that is supposed to be in love and in bed together.

    RE: Rain and Naomi, that scene where he is chained up, she walks in to free him then kneels down in front of him, HOT HOT HOT. Sent my mind straight to the gutter.

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  10. I must say I've always hated that photo from Flashforward.

    As have I. They looked like they were arguing right before they took this pic.

    Gabrielle clearly seems uncomfortable and more focused on keeping her hair in place.

    1) I hate weave.
    2) I know exactly what you mean.
    3) I hate weave.

    It just looks way to platonic for a couple that is supposed to be in love and in bed together.

    TV scheduling and casting methods always have to be taken into account. Sometimes a "wife" meets her "husband" the very first day of shooting. Next think they know, they're locking lips with a complete stranger in front of a camera crew.

    And the writers, directors, and producers are all "shocked" when the audience isn't buying it.

    Gabrielle Union lucked out on Night Stalker. Even though she and Stuart Townsend were cast one week apart, right before shooting, they still managed to generate some convincing chemistry.

    TBH, I wonder if it was the Blasian thing which threw these two. I've seen them in other projects acting comfortably opposite white/white-looking love interests (I've even seen John Cho be comfortable opposite a guy), but I don't recall ever seeing either of them in a Blasian situation before FlashForward.

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  11. JOHN CHO OPPOSITE A GUY? WAIT? WHAT?

    Links or it didn't happen!!!!!!

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  12. @ Neo-Prodigy

    It was in See this Movie (the dude he's hugging in the third to last screen cap, and the dude in the pink shirt in the last one).

    We don't get to see onscreen action, but the chemistry (along with Cho's "tender" looks and touches) is quite surprising.

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