Jamie Chung in a leading role opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt? At least that’s what Slashfilm was predicting for the upcoming film Premium Rush: “Chung would play Levitt’s ex-girlfriend, ‘a fellow daredevil bike messenger who helps him outwit the cop.'” It seemed exciting enough that Chung was rising from the ranks of being a borderline reality star to actually appearing in legitimate cinema and, finally, a co-starring role with one of young Hollywood’s big names. But a few days ago, when the trailer for Premium Rush finally dropped, we saw something different: Chung was now playing a Chinese girl with broken English who gets caught in the crossfire.
Whether she’s still a major player in the film remains to be seen (though IMDb lists her second after Gordon-Levitt and before Oscar-nominated Michael Shannon, who seems to be playing the villain). But the accent kills me. I’m all for casting Chinese actors in Japanese roles just as we often cast Irish in German roles. As long as the actor has the capability, it’s fine. But this? Getting an all-around American girl to look like she just got off the boat to meet the perceptive stereotype of how a “Chinese” girl sounds? Ridiculous. (Chung’s “broken English” sounding downright awkward doesn’t help either.)
Not only could they have hired an actual Chinese actress with a genuine accent to fill the role, but they could have simply done away with the accent altogether. I had no problem defending Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s as it was a product of its time, but if this is also a product of our time, then I’m absolutely ashamed. When was the last time there was an Asian female lead in a decently-budgeted Hollywood movie? Or a male lead, for that matter? And I’m not counting martial arts/action movies. If Tyler Perry’s ability to service the large but also largely ignored black segment of society can make him the biggest earner in entertainment for the year, why isn’t there someone trying to take advantage of the Asian-American market? I’m happy for the successes of Justin Lin, Jon Chu and Jennifer Yuh, but none have had the bravado to pull off a Perry—yet.
Basing all this in a short two-and-a-half minute trailer may be stretching things, but as I sat in the theatre, I couldn’t help but let out a loud groan of dismay and disappointment. We are better than this.