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?

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”: 3 Reasons You Should Watch this New TV Series

A year ago we all mourned the loss of Selfie and its revolutionary casting of John Cho as Henry Higgs, wondering if we’d ever see another Asian American man as the object of her affections.

If only I’d known that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend would parade into this Fall’s American TV lineup and pretty much steal the show, featuring a white woman (played by Rachel Bloom) so obsessed with an Asian hottie (played by Vincent Rodriguez III) that she ditches her New York life to follow him to California (West Covina, to be exact).

It’s such a fresh, fun show for television. And even better, there are great arguments for why anyone reading this blog needs to watch (if you aren’t already). Here are my top three reasons you should check out Crazy Ex-Girlfriend:

#1: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend “Always Wanted the Male Lead to Be Asian”

Rachel Bloom and Vincent Rodriguez III from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Rachel Bloom and Vincent Rodriguez III from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”

That’s right – from the beginning, the show’s creators intended to cast an Asian man as the romantic lead:

Since Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is set in the San Gabriel Valley, they wanted to make sure the lead and background actors represented the culture. “We always wanted the male lead to be Asian because I grew up with Asian bros, and I hadn’t seen that represented on TV.” Rodriguez, who plays her object of obsession/affection, is Filipino.

In a world where we’re pushing for more diverse casting on TV and in the movies, this is outstanding – and totally different from Selfie. According to NPR Codeswitch, “John Cho wasn’t supposed to star in the My Fair Lady-like ABC sitcom Selfie.”

While we’re at it, given that creator and star Rachel Bloom is white herself, that means she meant to have an AMWF attraction (or, more aptly, obsession) in the show. How cool is that?

#2: For the First Time, an Asian American Guy Is Clearly the TV Heartthrob

Vincent Rodriguez III and Rachel Bloom from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Philip of You Offend Me, You Offend My Family tipped me off to this fantastic reason to watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend:

Yes, the romantic male lead is an Asian American dude. And while rare, we have seen this before—most recently, in last year’s short-lived ABC comedy Selfie where John Cho was the male romantic lead to Karen Gillan–but here’s where Crazy Ex-Girlfriend takes that trope one step further and turns it into something I don’t think has ever existed on a prime-time broadcast network series before: the Asian American guy is the undisputed objection of affection for the white female lead. [emphasis added]

As progressive as a show like Selfie was, the premise is still based on the traditional love-hate relationship between the main guy and girl. Yes, you know the two leads are meant for each other and will eventually get together, but there’s a lot of back-and-forth in regards to how they feel about each other. With Bloom’s character in Crazy Ex-Boyfriend, there is no ambiguity. She is completely obsessed with Josh Chan—he is presented as the epitome of the “perfect” male specimen and she will do anything to win him over.

Josh is Andrew McCarthy in Pretty in Pink—the cool, sophisticated guy that Molly Ringwald has a crush on, but thinks he’s too good for her. When was the last time you saw an Asian American guy playing that role? We’re lucky if he even gets to be Jon Cryer’s Ducky (and yes, there is a Ducky equivalent on the show, but he’s the white guy).

Exactly.

Take a look at this pic of Vincent Rodriguez III. Doesn’t he remind you of that ultimate college hottie? You know, the one all the girls drooled over?

Vincent Rodriguez III from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

And if you’re still not convinced, then you must watch this clip where he stars as his own boy band. Justin Timberlake, eat your heart out.

#3: TV Critics Totally Love Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Here’s another area where the show excels over Selfie – the critics think Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is actually good TV.

The New York Times applauded the series, saying, “…this is a show about willing yourself, even past reason, to hope. Amid an overly cautious fall crop of network series, it could just be crazy enough to work.”

TV Worth Watching gave Crazy Ex-Girlfriend an A-minus, and said:

The situations and characters aren’t entirely novel to be sure. But Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s vibrant premiere episode nonetheless is able to make the sale…. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend romps and rolls without really missing a beat.

In fact, TV Worth Watching’s founder David Bianculli named Crazy Ex-Girlfriend as one of Bianculli’s Best Bets, adding, “If you found, and stayed with, last week’s series premiere, you’ve already seen one of the fall’s best new series.”

Vulture.com calls Crazy-Ex Girlfriend “Crazy Good” and writes:

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is that glorious anomaly, a welcome surprise. There’s a running gag in which our heroine Rebecca hears an “I’m in love” bar from South Pacific‘s “I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy.” I hear it, too…. It’s funny and sharp and perceptive, with an emotional depth and magical attitude that reminds me of other outlier shows like Wonderfalls and Ugly Betty.

Frazier Moore of the Associated Press has great expectations for the series:

IF this series can sustain the infectious abandon of its pilot, and IF it can continue to do justice to the rapturous Rachel Bloom (its star and executive producer), THEN “Crazy” will be the fall’s big crazy breakout hit.

This show has a 96 percent certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes from the critics, plus an 86 percent approval rating from viewers, proving the public loves it too. And if you dare to watch (especially the hilarious and spot-on “Sexy Getting Ready Song”), I can almost guarantee you’re going to become a fan too.

OMG, I just laughed so hard I spit out my green tea. 😉 Seriously, though, you must watch this show!

P.S.: If you still can’t read enough about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, read this terrific article Vincent Rodriguez III: On facing challenges as an Asian American actor and scoring a lead role in CW’s ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’

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.

5 Reasons You Should Watch The New AMWF Comedy “Selfie”

My secret American TV wish? To see a series with an Asian man starring as the romantic lead opposite a lovely non-Asian gal.

Well, thanks to ABC, it’s coming true in the new comedy Selfie, a modern remake of My Fair Lady starring John Cho and Karen Gillan.

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Now the pilot has been out for over a month for online viewing — and has garnered a mixed bag of reviews (everything from “Selfie is your new favorite comedy” to “Selfie is such a piece of s–t”).

Admittedly, there’s a little truth to some criticism. This first episode does feel a bit heavy-handed at times and the vomit gag seemed a little too much (NOTE: don’t watch the first half of the pilot while eating or on an empty stomach). Still, just as Eliza eventually blossomed in My Fair Lady, I see great potential for this series to shine.

Besides, there are many wonderful reasons why you need to tune in to this truly unique TV show. Here are my top five!

1. It features an Asian man as the romantic lead

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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. (P.S.: Check out this fantastic article I found in the HuffPost: “Will John Cho Be Television’s First Asian Romantic Lead?”)

 2. The story centers around an AMWF pair

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Again, think about that. An AMWF couple is not the side show here (ahem, The Walking Dead) – they’re the main attraction. Ask yourself, when was the last time you ever saw a show built around an Asian man and a white woman, meant to fall in love with each other? Yep, another one for history. Another huge reason to tune in!

 3. John Cho and Karen Gillan have great chemistry

Photo: ABC/Eric McCandless
Photo: ABC/Eric McCandless

Of course, it’s already amazing to have an Asian male romantic lead and an AMWF pairing – but it would be all for nothing if there’s no zero chemistry there. Fortunately, Cho and Gillan make a charming pair together in Selfie. In fact, in my opinion, the best scenes in the pilot featured just the two of them. They shared some beautiful moments and I’m looking forward to seeing more sparks fly!

 4. There’s a really smart premise behind it all

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One of the coolest things about Selfie is that it’s a smart critique of our social media selves.

Just look at the title of the series. Selfie doesn’t just refer to those ubiquitous photos of ourselves we share all over the social networks. It’s also a reference to the kind of selfishness that’s on parade when we go a little too overboard online (a quality embodied to the extreme by the Eliza character played by Gillan who has some 263,000 followers hanging on her every post).

The pilot alone takes swipes at everything from hashtags and over-posting your life online to how people use mobile phones at some of the most inopportune moments. I loved it. Finally, a show that pokes fun at – and serves as a commentary – on our social media lives.

 5. There’s lots of interracial love to go around

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If you’ve watched American TV as long as I have, you know it’s not just AMWF couples getting the short shrift. In fact, it’s tough to catch pretty much any kind of interracial coupling on your average TV show.

But here’s the amazing thing about the pilot for Selfie – it’s bursting with interracial love.

The boss for Cho’s character on the show (played by David Harewood) is a black man who happens to have a white wife. They have a mixed-race daughter who ties the knot with a white guy during the pilot.

Imagine that. In one half-hour of American television, you will have seen not one, not two, but THREE interracial couples. That seriously has to be a record.

While I don’t know how things will shape up after the pilot (will we see more of the boss’s wife or their newly married daughter and son-in-law?), they’re off to a great start.

Catch the premiere of Selfie on ABC this Tuesday, September 30 at 8pm Eastern/7pm Central. You can also view the pilot on ABC’s website or Hulu.com.

What do you think of Selfie? Will you watch the show this season?