There was a rather interesting sight at the 2010 E3 trade show (Electronic Entertainment Expo) last Tuesday where North Korean soldiers were marching around in circles inside the convention center and around the Staples center in Los Angeles. No, it’s not a sign that America’s irrational fears are coming true, but rather a promotion for the upcoming THQ video game Homefront, which takes place in the near future when North Korea invades America. (It sounds a lot like the Red Dawn remake, doesn’t it? That’s because the plot of the game is written by John Milius, writer of the original Red Dawn).
So I’m going to make a confession and let it be known that I was one of these actors. While I fully admit that it was a “sad-ass gig,” as Phil Yu would say on angryasianman and that most of you would call this “selling out,” I did what I had to do as the opportunity presented itself to me. However, I owe full responsibility for what I did and the community activist part of me would make sure I would never forget this. As such, I will provide the insider’s point of view of what really went down for this gig.
When I submitted my headshot to this particular ad agency, there was no need for an audition: just be Korean and not be overweight. With the qualifications being a simple match, I was instantly booked for the part. My only responsibilities were to be there from 8:30am to 4:30pm and march around mindlessly wearing a North Korean soldier outfit. The pay was $160 with lunch and breaks included. It was my choice to take the role because I needed the money. I noticed I wasn’t alone as I saw a lot of familiar Asian American actors I know in the Los Angeles community who were also part of this fake army. We had an amused conversation that we were aware how sad this gig was but getting paid was better than not getting paid.
There were three things throughout the day that troubled me (other than marching around in a heavy costume and sweating my arse off): more than 40% of the actors were non-Asians but no black people were hired, our presence at the ESPN Zone while Brazil was playing against North Korea, and learning about the actual game itself.
Would I still have taken the role if I did my homework and researched what the game was really about? Probably. But like a similar situation with a Hollywood movie where I was cast as an Asian stereotype, it’s but a stepping step to where I really want to be. Although the North Korean soldier was a thankless gig, I managed to squeeze some fun out of it into the character, even if nobody was paying attention. As we marched around inside the convention, I heard the Lady Gaga song “Bad Romance” playing in of one of the venues. While nobody was paying attention, I started moving my head and steps to the rhythm of the song and sang the song softly to myself as I marched. It was my one brief moment from not going insanely bored and uncomfortable with the role that I took just to make some money.
There really is no morale of the story here: working as an actor and trying to make ends meet, I’m seeing a perspective of things I used to be incredibly judgmental towards. I’m in the gutters of what it is like to be an up and coming Asian actor and thus I can’t be so picky and choose the high moral grounds of rejecting every single stereotypical role. At the same time, I set the lines of what I choose to accept and choose to reject. From those that I choose to accept that goes against what my communist activism speaks out against, I choose to report about it and take responsibility for it. Will I probably take roles like this in the future? Maybe. But will I do my utmost best to make it my own, learn something from it, and then talk about it to the world? You better believe it.