This post does not mean to offend or upset anyone who is reading. This post is solely my opinion.
With the growing success of the Korean Wave, Korean artists such as Psy and BigBang are gaining more coverage and popularity in Western countries. But during my research in to my dissertation, I realised that the Korean Wave has been around before most of our favourite K-Pop groups and artists. The Korean Wave initially started with Korean Cinema.
Korean films gained popularity in Western countries in the early 2000’s. This lead to the rise in Korean actors wanting to be casts for Hollywood Movies. The increase in interest in Korean films made it possible for Korean actors to succeed in getting roles in Hollywood films. However, are they gaining recognition as being Korean?
Last week I watched Fast & Furious 6. at the end of the film, it occurred to me that Sung Kang (Han in the films) is Korean. To be exact he is American Korean but what made me think was, in Fast & Furious 6 he is in China and of course he was in Japan in Tokyo Drift, but his character has never been stated to be Korean. In Fast & Furious, he actually has two names, Han Lue & Han Seoul-Oh. Obviously the later is a Korean name, but as the film does not mention that he is Korean, many people believe his character is Japanese. This made me realise that many Korean actors are cast in American films, but the characters they are cast for are very rarely Korean.
Now I know this isn’t important but it cropped up in my research for my dissertation. My dissertation was about how the Korean Wave has influenced adopted Koreans to connect with Korean culture. As the topic is under researched and specific, I needed to conduct in-depth interviews with adopted Koreans. One person I interviewed mentioned Korean actors in American films and this was really important.
To prove my point, listed below are a few examples of Korean actors in Hollywood films, being cast as non-Korean characters.
Sung Kang – The Fast & The Furious series – Korean name but thought to be Japanese or in The Fast & The Furious 6 – Chinese
Rain – Ninja Assassin – Japanese
Sung Kang again – Ninja Assassin – Japanese
Randall Duk Kim – Ninja Assassin – Japanese
Lee Byung Hun (eek) – G.I. Joe – Japanese
Jong Dong Gun – The Warrior’s Way – Character name Yang – used by American directors when they don’t want to define the origin of Asian characters.
Leonardo Nam – The Fast & The Furious – Tokyo Drift – Japanese
Rick Yune – The Fast & The Furious (2001) – Vietnamese
James Kyson – TV Series Heroes – Japanese
Ken Jeong – The Hangover – Chinese
Bae Doona – Cloud Atlas – portrayed as 3 different characters with 3 different ethnicities – Korean, Mexican and White (or possibly Mixed Race White & Black)
And many more.
However, as previously mentioned this post is not intended to offend anyone . I am not saying that Korean actors should only play Korean characters in Movies and TV shows, I just hope that American movie and TV shows can start to acknowledge Korea more in their films. There are, of course, films and TV shows such as Lost (starring Daniel Dae Kim & Kim Yun Jin), The Walking Dead (Starring Steven Yeun) and Film Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (John Cho as leading character Harold). But, during research for my dissertation, I spoke to adopted Koreans who, in their childhood and teen years, looked for Korean role models in Hollywood films and TV Shows. One adopted Korean I interviewed stated that he:
‘looked for Korean role models but whenever I saw an Asian guy in a movie, he tended to be Japanese or Chinese. I knew I was Korean so finding a role model was important for me to feel connected to my culture. When I grew up, I realised that Rain from Ninja Assassin was actually Korean, but his character was Japanese. I feel like the younger generation of adopted Koreans are probably doing the same thing I did but are having no luck. It’s strange how there are a lot of Korean actors in American films, but they aren’t playing Korean characters’.
But in the end, I am proud of all of the actors and actresses listed above and others who are breaking into Hollywood films. They are truly great actors and I wish them success in the rest of their careers. Hopefully with the growth of the Korean Wave, more Hollywood films and TV series will include Koreans as Koreans and acknowledge Korea more.