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.
- Originally, the ad agency wanted Korean men when they submitted the breakdown several weeks ago. As time went by, the submissions opened up to Asian men and women in general (which also included Desis and Filipinos). About two days before the gig, the ad agency sent a panicked email that the submissions would be open to EVERYBODY. But EVERYBODY in terms of everybody except black people. There were dainty blondes, Latino American dudes, but not a single black person in sight. When I asked one of the assistants about whether if it was a case that no black actors simply submitted for this, the reason was a bit more troubling. According to the agency, black people would not belong in such a setting. So wait, you can have bimbo looking Caucasian women but no black people? The counter-argument is that black people stick out like sore thumbs but why is this applied only to them? If you are going to tell me that this dainty blonde white girl looks more Korean than a black person, you have got to be telling me a really good joke because I’m not finding any of this funny at all. Perhaps in terms of skin complexion, East Asians are similar to that of Caucasians but this argument fails knowing that there were darker-skinned Asians and Latino Americans that were part of the fake N.Korean army.
- The fake North Korean soldiers were told by our ad agency directors to march inside the ESPN Zone, one of the major sports bars located in Los Angeles. I had no idea what the point of this was until I looked up at the flat screens and noticed that a World Cup game was taking place with Brazil playing against North Korea. Immediately, I had this feeling of immense discomfort and second-guessing whether or not this was worth it. I felt a lot of uneasy eyes resting on us and as we went around in circles in the bar, we were eventually kicked out by the manager. When I overheard the conversation between the manager and the ad agency directors, I heard the word “disrespectful” come out. Damn. What WERE we doing in there anyways with out fake army that weren’t even composed of Koreans in the first place? I would’ve been petrified to think if we had to be there for the whole game.
- The most troubling thing that was on my mind was the game itself. The feeling grew more and more intense as I saw the trailers and posters for Homefront and how it will make the Red Dawn remake look tame in comparison. Whereas in the enemy is the Chinese government, the villain in the video game is not really North Korea but the entire continent of Asia itself. Apparently in this game, North Korea is able to reunify all of Korea under its banner and then from there, take over the rest of Asia. After that, it begins its initiative to invade and take over America. It is incredibly far-fetched and just reeks of the American mindset that the “foreign yellow devils” are out to get them. This troubling game is currently set to be released sometime in Spring 2011. As I absorb this information, I had to ask myself: “Hoooooooooooooooly crap, what the hell did I just get myself associated with?”
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.