Keanu Reeves, 47 Ronin, And Being A Cat Who's Really A Pumpkin Who Wants To Be A Labradoodle

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I was reading a post down at Gil Asakawa's blog called Keanu Reeves as a samurai: Is it still ‘yellowface’ if the actor is hapa? about Reeves who'll be starring in the film 47 ronin and it definitely made me think about a few things:

The Hollywood news source Variety reported yesterday that Keanu Reeves, everyone’s favorite hapa actor (his father is Hawai’ian-Chinese) is going to play the lead role in a samurai epic, “47 Ronin.”

The 47 Ronin is the celebrated 18th century story from Japanese history, of a group of masterless samurai who avenged the death of their feudal lord, or daimyo, after a year of planning and then committed seppuku, or ritual suicide, to maintain their warrior code of honor, or bushido. The story’s been told a lot in Japanese movies, in variations of the title “Chushingura.” The most recent remake in Japan was “47 Ronin” (”Shijushichinin no shikaku”) in 1994, written and directed by Kon Ichikawa.

It’s cool to think that Hollywood is going to tell this story, with the the spectacle of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the star power of Reeves.

But it makes me wonder about the choice of Reeves.
On one hand it's great to see another Asian face on the big screen in any form and I'll take Reeves over someone like Tom Cruise any day - at the same time - it does bring up the interesting point again (as previous films have) as to who should be getting cast when it comes down to specific Asian ethnicities.

When is just being Asian good enough to play any Asian role? Is it ever? Should it ever?

I have to admit that it's something I go back and forth on - a decent amount - because I don't know if there's a clear cut answer.

For instance if Gran Torino (which opens up this December 12th) took the Hmong cast and replaced them with Chinese, Korean, and Japanese actors - wouldn't that just be wrong?

And if you say yes like me - ask yourself why - and then tack on the following questions: When do we allow Asian and Asian American actors to act as anyone - to be anyone? Isn't that what they were meant to do? Isn't that their profession? Do we do them a disservice when we say to them "You can't play (insert ethnicity) because you're not (insert ethnicity)"? Do we limit the already slim choices they can sometimes have because of that?

It's a complicated issue, and for me at least, I think it comes down to each individual film, the role, and the star.

Like I didn't have that big of a problem with Zhang Ziyi playing a Japanese character in Memoirs Of A Geisha - I get though why other people had a problem with it and I'm not discounting those views at all - I get it - but I'm also a fan of her as an actress and am up for seeing anything she's in.

So my personal preference outweighed anything else.

But like I said above, I'd have a problem with the Hmong cast getting replaced by Japanese, Korean, and Chinese actors in Gran Torino in part because of the lack of Hmong American faces in mainstream film - to finally have a film with this many Hmong characters and not have them played by Hmong actors and actresses?

We'd have a serious issue there.

At the same time if there's a bit character in a TV show and the character is Chinese and their played by a Japanese actor - I don't really care. I'm glad they're on TV and I'm glad they have work - and I guess - when it really comes down to it - in a way I'm just happy that I can even have these thoughts, because it at least means we're seeing ourselves in some form or another in mainstream media, and while we always have to keep on pushing for more - because we still have a long way to go - somedays that's enough for me.