It’s award season in Hollywood, which means that the studios are releasing their “prestige” projects in the hopes of winning Oscar gold. And when it comes to awards and prestige, nothing has traditionally topped the biopic. This season is no different with a range of biopics from Lincoln to Hitchcock to Hyde Park on Hudson vying for critical glory.
But what’s usually missing from the biopic helpings are films starring Asians. There’s no shortage of interesting Asians worthy of their own movie, but oftentimes when Hollywood comes calling, changes are made ranging from marginalization (the Dalai Lama playing second fiddle to Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet) to an out-and-out race change (I’m looking at you, 21). Very rarely does the film feature an Asian at the center of the story and when it does, the project is usually made outside the studio system (i.e. Michelle Yeoh’s turn as Aung San Suu Kyi in The Lady). But occasionally there are exceptions and here, in no particular order, are seven of them.
1) THE LAST EMPEROR (1987)
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
The winner of nine Academy Awards (and a total of 13 nominations though none were for the excellent cast), The Last Emperor was the critical darling of 1987; a true epic worthy of the master of the genre, David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia)—right down to the appearance of Peter O’Toole aka Lawrence himself. In chronicling the life of Pu Yi, the titular last emperor of China, director Bertolucci (responsible for such world cinema classics as The Conformist and Last Tango in Paris) didn’t forget Lean’s lesson to never allow the epic canvas to dwarf the characters. And in this case, those characters were birthed via career-defining performances from Asian American actors like John Lone and Joan Chen–who steals every scene she’s in as the tragic empress desperately attempting to hold on to a life that has been violently ripped from her grasp. Read more...