4 Reasons the Movie ‘Columbus’ (#StarringJohnCho) Made Me Cheer, Beyond its Romance

As everyone settled down on Sunday for an evening of Oscars, not even the red carpet glitz and glamour could distract some of us from the movies and actors that should have been nominated. While women and people of color have made strides this year in the Academy Award nominations, some have noticed the lack of Asian and Latinx actors in the mix and the films they appeared in.

One movie that has inspired some to decry its absence at the Academy Awards this year is “Columbus,” led by the talented veteran actor John Cho (in a role that once again proves his star power – and why he was the focus of the #StarringJohnCho movement) and remarkable newcomer Haley Lu Richardson.

I was thrilled to learn about this movie, and truly enjoyed watching it. But beyond just the fact that this is a romantic indie drama with the unusual pairing of an Asian man and a white woman, here are 4 more things that made me cheer for “Columbus”:

#1: John Cho, an Asian actor, is the romantic lead

A few years ago, the TV show “Selfie” came on the scene – with John Cho in the lead role — and I was raving about it for a very good reason:

Just consider that for a moment – an Asian man as the leading romantic role in an American TV series. When have you ever seen that before? It’s historic! If there’s only one reason you choose to tune in to see Selfie, make it this one.

Well, the excitement sadly didn’t last, as “Selfie” was cancelled after only 13 episodes. Yet Cho’s performance was widely applauded — and it left many of us asking, when will he have the chance to be a romantic lead in the movies?

Enter “Columbus.”

In a world where far too many people still don’t think Asian men are sexy, it’s always a breath of fresh air to see movies that challenge that stereotype in a positive way, such as John Cho’s character in “Columbus.”

#2: “Columbus” subtly handles racial identity

The Korean American identity of Jin, played by John Cho, is something we’re reminded of throughout the film – whether Jin is speaking Korean on the phone, or talking about his translation work in Seoul, or even discussing how funerals are handled in Korean culture. But while this is a part of his identity, it’s not something that provides momentum to the story, nor is it or subverted into stereotypes either. Instead, we’re presented with this man named Jin who happens to be Korean American (and is presented very authentically throughout the story), yet Jin is also given room to be a complex individual, sharing thoughts and emotions that make for great drama.

This is, in fact, one of the things that John Cho loved about “Columbus” from the beginning, as he described in an NPR interview:

…race exists very naturally. It’s simply a component of this person’s identity, and it doesn’t drive the narrative. But neither is it ignored. And it’s – I think it’s a very difficult balance to achieve, and it requires a deft touch.

#3: John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson have great onscreen chemistry

When I was watching “Columbus” a second time around and taking notes (yep, I’m a movie nerd), I couldn’t help noticing that many of the moments that touched me most happened when John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson were onscreen. Like when Jin asks her, regarding the piece of modern architecture, “Tell me about what moves you,” a line that feels a bit flirtatious. Or when the two are laughing over that awkward question from Jin about whether her mom does meth, and that laughter is layered over a certain tension that can happen when you’re inching toward closeness and not entirely certain about it. It’s a delight to watch the two of them, whether they’re just hanging out in the front seat of a car or standing among the pews in the breathtaking interior of a modernist church building.

#4: “Columbus” is an incredible movie, period, and deserves every accolade

Here’s the best part about “Columbus” – it’s a beautiful movie to behold.

Granted, it might not be an obvious choice for those moviegoers who tend to pass on anything that feels a little too “art house.”

But for those people who delight in great cinematography (the shots really are gorgeous), nuanced stories filled with great depth and feeling, and real-to-life characters, this is a joy to watch.

Many top film critics have named “Columbus” one of the best films of 2017, and it currently has a 97 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 89 on Metacritic.

So while you’re in a hurry to catch up on all the Oscar-nominated (or Oscar-winning) films for 2017, be sure to take a moment and see “Columbus” (which you can now watch on Amazon).

Have you seen “Columbus” yet? What do you think of the movie?

5 Reasons You Must See Hayden Szeto in “The Edge of Seventeen” – Pub’d on WWAM Bam

The group blog WWAM Bam (Western Women & Asian Men – Breaking All Molds) just published my post titled 5 Reasons You Must See Hayden Szeto in “The Edge of Seventeen”. Here’s an excerpt:

Whenever I think of Hollywood teen movies, I cringe.

It’s bad enough that white actors get all the best roles, with almost no exceptions. But a Hollywood teen movie also gave the world one of the most racist, stereotypical portrayals of Asian men ever – Long Duk Dong in the John Hughes’ movie Sixteen Candles. Talk about one enormous “screw you” to the whole Asian community, including the many talented Asian male actors out there who deserve better roles and representation.

Thank goodness for the new teen movie The Edge of Seventeen, just released in late 2016.

The film features one of the most refreshingly unstereotypical portrayals of an Asian man in a teen movie – the breakout role of Erwin Kim, played by Hayden Szeto.

And surprisingly, The Edge of Seventeen even shares some common ground with, of all movies, Sixteen Candles (Vanity Fair noted “Steinfeld’s character is derivative of Molly Ringwald circa Sixteen Candles”). Who’d have thought?

If you’re hungry for a good teen movie, one with a positive portrayal of an Asian guy, you must see The Edge of Seventeen, featuring Hayden Szeto. Here are 5 reasons why:

To find out those five reasons — and feast your eyes on some cool GIFs at the same time — head on over to WWAM Bam to read the full article.

Guest Post: Did You Know Hollywood’s 1st Sex Symbol Was an Asian Man?

Logan Lo enlightened me with this guest post, which speaks to an oft-forgotten side of Hollywood history and how it has impacted Asian men in the media today. He writes: “…there are some that feel that the modern effeminization of Asian men in Hollywood and television was due – at least in some part – to the backlash over the first Hollywood sex symbol, a Japanese man named: Sessue Hayakawa.”

Who was Sessue Hayakawa? Read on to learn more about this fascinating and pioneering actor. (UPDATE: For more background on this topic, read Logan Lo’s post titled Asian-ish.)

Logan Lo — who wrote the books A Great Online Dating Profile and A Great First Date — has also authored another terrific guest post for Speaking of China titled “Why limit yourself? Logan Lo shares his interracial dating story.”

Want to follow in his footsteps and get your writing published here? Learn how by visiting the submit a post page.

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"Sessue Hayakawa 1918" by Unknown - Internet Archive. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sessue_Hayakawa_1918.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Sessue_Hayakawa_1918.jpg
“Sessue Hayakawa 1918” by Unknown – Internet Archive. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sessue_Hayakawa_1918.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Sessue_Hayakawa_1918.jpg

Jocelyn recently wrote 5 Reasons You Should Watch The New AMWF Comedy “Selfie” so I thought it would be a good a segue into into Asians in mass media, which was actually my thesis in college.

But for the purposes of this blog entry, let’s talk about just Asian men in Hollywood and television.

There’s always been a peculiar mindset about us in Western cinema. For years, there were two contradictory caricatures: the diabolical and animalistic Fu Manchu trope on end, and the intelligent and effeminate Charlie Chan trope on the other.

Both played, for years, by white actors.

The former can be traced back to the Mongol hordes and the Huns that were the boogymen of Europe for centuries but there are some that feel that the modern effeminization of Asian men in Hollywood and television was due – at least in some part – to the backlash over the first Hollywood sex symbol, a Japanese man named: Sessue Hayakawa.

"The Cheat FilmPoster" by The cover art can be obtained from Movieposterdb.com.. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of The Cheat (1915 film) via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Cheat_FilmPoster.jpeg#mediaviewer/File:The_Cheat_FilmPoster.jpeg
“The Cheat FilmPoster” by The cover art can be obtained from Movieposterdb.com.. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of The Cheat (1915 film) via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Cheat_FilmPoster.jpeg#mediaviewer/File:The_Cheat_FilmPoster.jpeg

How popular was he? He was as well known as Charlie Chaplin, got paid $200,000 a film, and made enough to drive around in a gold-plated car.

Unfortunately, in his breakout role on The Cheat – where he even appeared prominently in promotional posters – he was still in the mold of the sinister Asian male, albeit in a hyper-sexualized sorta way. That was the first time an Asian man was portrayed as, well, a leading man.

A sexual deviant man, but a man nonetheless.

Unfortunately, only a few years later, the idea of an Asian man as a masculine movie lead disappeared, leaving the simple extremes of Fu Manchu/Charlie Chan as the only dramatis personae for Asian dudes.

By the time WWII rolled around, it was exclusively one or the other, with the effeminate version culminating in “Long Duk Dong” of Pretty in Pink, which NPR examines far better than I could.

In that NPR article, however, the author uses a then up-and-coming John Cho as an interesting juxtaposition for the Long Duk Dong character. And currently, Cho is the Asian lead of the US television show, Selfie and the first Asian-American lead opposite a white female ever on television.

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So here we are: 99 years after The Cheat, we have Selfie.

The hope is that it’s good. That John Cho doesn’t play some version of Fu Manchu or Charlie Chan but just your everyday all-American dude that just happens to be Asian.

Let’s see how it goes.

Logan Lo is a native New Yorker who’s been blogging since 2006. In between practicing law by day and teaching Filipino fencing by night, he’s managed to get married and write a popular article on online dating titled “eHarmony vs. Match,” as well as the books A Great Online Dating Profile and A Great First Date. He currently lives in Manhattan with his wife and his plant, Harold.

UPDATE: For more background on Sessue Hayakawa and Asian men in Hollywood, read Logan Lo’s post titled Asian-ish.

SECOND UPDATE: Changed the book titles mentioned in Logan’s bio.

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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.