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On the occasion of Daniel Henney's debut on the Hollywood summer blockbuster scene, APA counts down the top ten Asian actors who were born to seduce American audiences.
So... we're the first to admit this is a highly nonacademic, inevitably biased, and minorly inappropriate study. But let us academize it and tell you why it's important to talk about.
For many decades, Asian Americans have been a minority group in the United States, dealing with irritating and offensive stereotypes, being lumped as the "model minority" or "the other," etc., etc. Asian American women have had the strange burden of being exotified, over-sexualized, and rendered submissive, while Asian American men have been stereotyped as nerdy, studious, asexual, and unable to throw a football (let alone get a girl). This has made people such as Frank Chin and David Henry Hwang -- and angry asian man -- very angry.
As Asian Americans living in Los Angeles, California (with a decent-sized Asian/Asian American population), we hear many of the activists obsess over Asian American male demasculinization -- and for good reason. But you get tired of some of the reactions. You get tired of people who watch Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and think that seeing an Asian American man with a multitude of hot white/black/Latina lovers onscreen is some sort of empowering statement for Asian male sexuality. These images serve a purpose for a certain context, but they often come across as insecure, desperate attempts to overcompensate for an Asian/Asian American male hotness that supposedly isn't really there in the first place.
The reason this drives us crazy is because it is there. Hot Asian men abound in so many different forms that it's too hard to count or categorize. And in every case their hotness comes before the politics of their race. This is abundantly clear on the other side of the planet (4/7th of the Earth's population and growing), where Asian men have long been considered hot, and no one has identity issues over it.
It can be argued that mainstream America needs to be more open-minded about its standards of beauty, so they can fully appreciate the Asian faces we've got. Sure, Daniel Dae Kim, Kal Penn, and John Cho are attractive in certain ways, but let's not pretend they're the best examples of hot Asian men we have (just 'cause they're the only ones in Hollywood we can think of). When analyzing diversity in the media and thinking about Hollywood as a business, it's important to understand that Asian male actors will make you money in Hollywood if they are hot enough by mainstream standards. Let's not put all our pressure on our existing Asian American actors to compete with the Pitts and McConaugheys, when we can easily find others who can.
We're talking about blasting through glass ceilings here, not lowering them. Take Denzel Washington. Unarguably talented, Oscar-winning actor. But let's not pretend his hotness wasn't a deciding factor (see Mississippi Masala) when he was first breaking into an industry with an embarrassing dearth of African American actors.
Nobody had to explain that Denzel is hot "for an African American." Everyone just got it. There are hot Asian equivalents around, though we might have to look across the Pacific to find some of them. With the entertainment industry going global, this is a realistic possibility. Some of the Asian actors we're thinking of are locals, some are Asian Americans who have found work in Asian cinema and television. All are equipped for international domination.
This isn't a list of Asian actors who have offbeat charm, who are adorable in romantic comedies, or who are impressive character actors (although most on our list are talented beyond their hotness). Cute isn't going to cut it; pretty boy isn't going to sell enough tickets; and let's face it, great personality is going to get you supporting roles on TV shows, leads in oh-it's-so-great-to-see-Asian-Americans-in-starring-roles! festival films, and supporting parts in Judd Apatow movies. (All are very respectable, appreciated, and near and dear to our hearts -- but it's just not what we're talking about right now.)
This is about men who are striking enough to cater to international, cosmopolitan, mainstream tastes. This is about one day being on in the front pages of People magazine's 100 Most Beautiful People, not as a token Asian, but because you have first or second billing in the next summer blockbuster. No, scratch that... it's about being on the cover.
We'll let the pictures/links for our top ten do the convincing, but all we'll add is this:
1) As Asian Americans, we believe that we are in a prime position to understand American standards of beauty (for instance, skinny spiky-haired pop stars, while hot in Japan, might not be considered hot in the US), while having familiarity with a larger pool of Asian actors that your average American might not be exposed to.
2) Since the idea is to highlight men who need to come over to Hollywood, we decided to focus on a younger generation. Which left many very hot people off our list: Hiroshi Abe and Tony Leung just to name a few.
3) There were talks about making sure the list was diverse across all the Asian countries. But we scrapped that idea when certain choices didn't seem to meet the hotness requirements we were looking for. That's not to say that there aren't hot men actors working in these countries. It's just that, at this moment in time, no one who might be competitive was high profile enough for the persistent Google Image stalker (us) to find them. In other words, no national quotas. We chose to compromise on diversity, in order to not compromise on the hotness.
4) English-language skills and worldliness were originally factors we considered for the purposes of Hollywood-readiness, but sometimes people were hot enough that we completely forgot about that.
5) We're aware of some of the controversial omissions, but we stand by them. Feel free to write to firstname.lastname@example.org to yell at us.
It's time for us to welcome the future. And throw Hollywood some suggestions, so they'll be able to help us spread the filmic eye-candy.
[in no particular order]
He's worked in Bollywood for the last eight years, managed to steer attention away from Shah Rukh Khan even when sporting gray hair and glasses, and just finished shooting a new commercial with Nicole Kidman. The ad (for a carbonated water and ginger ale beverage company) is produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Shekhar Kapur. YouTube clip: A sweet musical number in an otherwise stressful thriller, 2005's Yakeen, costarring Priyanka Chopra.
No stranger to memorable commercials with leading Hollywood ladies, Daniel Henney is the Chicago-born actor who became a superstar in Korea, without even speaking Korean. A Best Actor "Rising Star" award for his film My Father hinted that he could actually act, which bodes well for his expectant American fans who are just waiting for him to come back. YouTube clip: a Bravo ice cream commerical that dares to test whether Henney's hotness can make you forget there's a cover of "Mmmbop" playing in the background.
Takeshi Kaneshiro. The reason Hong Kong is smarter than the rest of the world because their Armani ad campaign decided to plaster Takeshi Kaneshiro billboards all around town. Most known in the West for House of Flying Daggers and the two Wong Kar-wai films Chungking Express and Fallen Angels, Kaneshiro recently showed that he can also embody the role of legendary strategist Zhuge Liang. YouTube clips: The only thing better than Takeshi Kaneshiro is four Takeshi Kaneshiros and Takeshi Kaneshiro multiplying beyond count.
While only 32, Won Bin has been acting in Korea for over 13 years. He garnered international recognition in 2004 with Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War, but true fans find him hottest as Han Tae-suhk in the TV drama Autumn Tale. YouTube clip: I don't know what Forval is, but I don't care.
Half-Japanese and half-Filipino, Mokomichi is known for his roles on Japanese TV dramas such as Densha Otoko and Tokyo Tower. In his popular Zettai Kareshi (Absolute Boyfriend) series, he plays the Night Tenjo, "the perfect male humanoid programmed to be devoted and completely loyal to his lover." YouTube clip: The boy knows how to sell a pair of acid-washed jeans.
It's true that his forte is the dance, and Hollywood tends to not prioritize the art of the jaw-dropping dance number in their contemporary films. (Not yet, at least.) Luckily, Hrithik is also very good at standing still and wielding a sword (a little more useful), not to mention carrying a three-hour film while taking the audience through laughter, suspense, tears, and above all... love. Roshan already has Hollywood representation with Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, but is reportedly being choosy about his crossover role. YouTube clip: He wears a suit well too, with or without the jacket.
Born in Texas, Dennis Oh started to rise in popularity around the same time as Daniel Henney, another option for girls who appreciate broader shoulders. So far he's acted in the TV dramas: Sweet Spy, Manyeo Yuhee, and East of Eden. YouTube clip: Gotta go with the modeling shot.
His eyes talk, is a comment made from one of our collaborators. Steadily working in Korea for over 15 years, his memorable films include Joint Security Area, Bittersweet Life, and The Good, the Bad, and the Weird. Good news for Hollywood fans: Lee has a role in the upcoming G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra, where he plays a character named Storm Shadow. YouTube clip: It's good to be chivalrous and romance a lady with a waltz, but it's also important to catch important beverages before they fall.
To be honest, we were hesitant about incuding an actor associated with Johnny's, but we made an exception with Junichi Okada. The powerful agency Johnny & Associates trains and represents the male idols in Japan, and while there are lots of very cute pop stars that come out of that professional family, we weren't sure that was what we were going for. However, Okada makes us remember that even Takeshi Sorimachi and Departures star Masahiro Motoki started out in a Johnny's '80s boy band. And look where they are now. YouTube clip: What a smooth way to endear yourself to women, as everyone knows food (especially chocolate) is the way to a girl's heart.
When he shows up in the middle of Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together, we suddenly understand how one unassuming man in a baseball cap can give a broken soul a reason for hope. Since then he's seduced Gong Li in Eros, thrice romanced Shu Qi in Three Times, and joined Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro in Red Cliff. YouTube clip: No one makes a hot man even hotter better than Wong Kar Wai. Here is the Wong-directed DJ Shadow video, "Six Days."
[We're cheating. Number 11:]
A last minute addition, we thought our list was complete until we found an actor that was too hot to overlook. Having acted in Korean TV shows since 2001, including Super Rookie and Couple or Trouble, Ji-Ho Oh can currently be seen starring in Queen of Housewives. He's won multiple MBC and KBS Drama awards, including the Popularity Award in 2006. YouTube clip: After a session at the recording studio, this music video showcases clips from his 2008 drama, Single Dad in Love.
Compiled by Rowena Aquino, Kanara Ty, and Ada Tseng.
Suggestions by other members of our staff appreciated but respectfully ignored.
Date Posted: 5/1/2009