What Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan's Oscar wins mean to the Asian Community.
You cannot forget the movies that stick with you throughout childhood. In the 80's, there were almost TOO many to name, but like the Macho Man Randy Savage said so eloquently – the cream rises to the top.
For me, who can forget the greatness of Ghostbusters, Over The Top, Bloodsport, The Last Starfighter, Twins, Back to the Future, Nightmare on Elm Street, Tron, Karate Kid, Delta Force, RoboCop, Top Gun, Star Trek, Rocky, Willow, The Lost Boys, the list goes on and on. I mean, don't you remember that awesome scene where Sylvester Stallone turns his hat around and wins that arm wrestling championship? "It's like a switch," – what a phenomenal movie, 'Over The Top!' And at the top of arguably the greatest era of movies in the history of cinema, are Indiana Jones (the whole trilogy but for this post, we'll be talking about 'The Temple of Doom') and The Goonies.
Even to this day, as a 41 year-old Vietnamese-American, I can quote lines from each movie and review scene after scene in my head with vivid clarity. The part where #KeHuyQuan (who plays Chinese orphan Short Round in the movie), watches people eat snakes then monkey brains as a piece of food falls from his mouth in disbelief, still genuinely makes me laugh after all these years. Then, add on the hilarity with his friends in The Goonies as they search for One-Eyed Willy's pirate ship, and you've got a tremendous movie you'll never forget. Also, shoutout to his stint as Jasper Kwong on 'Head of the Class' (which is a great show, btw).
Speaking of great things, the 80's and early 90's marked a huge boom in Hong Kong cinema with the popular '4 Heavenly Kings of Hong Kong' – #JackyCheung, #AndyLau, #AaronKwok and #LeonLai – as well as rising comedic action stars #JackieChan, #SammoHung, #YuenBiao of the '7 Little Fortunes.' Rising alongside them was #MichelleYeoh – a Malaysian-born actress who initially aspired to be a professional dancer. She'd later become Miss Malaysia, and eventually ventured into acting once Chan and D&B Films saw her during commercial work. It's from here that I remember watching SuperCop (aka Police Story 3) for the first time and seeing Yeoh perform these incredible stunts (like riding a dirt bike onto a moving train). Her fighting choreography and on-screen presence made her an equal opposite Jackie Chan; no small feat for sure, especially when you watch his fighting skills in 'Dragons Forever' against Benny Urquidez or 'Drunk Master 2' against Ken Lo.
Fast forward 30 years later, and you can see why Quan and Yeoh's #Oscar wins mean a lot. In between 'The Goonies' and the recent 'Everything Everywhere All At Once' there wasn't much to be excited about when it came to Asian representation, let alone Asian success within TV/Film. It was only in the past few years we got an Asian superhero in 'Shang-Chi' or a highly successful Asian-led movie in 'Crazy Rich Asians.' Some may argue we've had 'The Joy Luck Club,' 'Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story' and 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon' that serves as successful moments in Asian cinema history, right?
Ok, I'll give you that. But let's do the math – that's 8 or so films in the past 30 years that we Asians can toot our own horn about. Not the greatest percentages. And definitely not the greatest representation when you talk about "diversity" in Hollywood. This is almost like giving a participation award in kids pee-wee soccer. We want to win damnit!
Since the 90's, we've seen James Hong, Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan stand on the apple cart trying to make Hollywood see the talent that's not given the time of day. Creatives such as #Nigo, #MCJin, #JohnJay and #AndyNguyen have made a mark, but we want more. We NEED more.
This is why the recent #AcademyAward wins by each actor are extremely impressive. We got to see real appreciation and real talent rise to the top, like Macho Man said. It felt like the recognition was genuine, based on talent and not charity. It took almost 30 years to show the world how great of an actor Ke Huy Quan and Michelle Yeoh really are, so we have to ask the question: what other Asian or Asian-American is out there we have yet to discover?
It is a giant group that, along with other minority groups, are highly overlooked. We could be glossing over the next Virgil Abloh or Jay-Z as we speak. Respectfully, you have aspiring cultural entrepreneurs like Alan King and Kevin Poon but who else is out there we've yet to hear of within these creative industries?
When we say "here come the Asians" what we really mean is "everybody take notice." Indiana Jones himself, Harrison Ford, looked very much filled with adulation and happiness when hugging his former Short Round. When others start to get out of their comfort zone and feel the way we felt seeing The Goonies or SuperCop for the first time, they'll know they're breathing in rarified air and taking in something special. We just need to give them more opportunity to shine. The marinating is done. We're ready for the main course.
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