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Happy Birthday, Lisa Lu: The Veteran Actress Turns 95!

19 Jan

Actress Lisa Lu turns 95 today, January 19, 2022. I’ve written about her four previous times, the last one being a celebration on her 90th birthday five years ago. It’s great to celebrate someone’s career while they’re happily still with us. Since that last post, she had a major supporting role in CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018), marking her 60th year in the film/TV industry. In the film she played the mother of Michelle Yeoh’s character and the grandmother of the male lead played by Henry Golding, who struggles to get their approval of his marriage to a Chinese-American woman (Constance Wu) who is considered by his wealthy family to be beneath their station. Here’s what I wrote about her and Yeoh after I’d seen the film: “It’s great to see Michelle Yeoh and Lisa Lu onscreen together, but they’re so antagonistic to the poor heroine that I found it jarring. I’ve never seen them in roles like that before.”

Lisa Lu, Henry Golding in CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018)

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Bruce Lee Comics (1994)

22 Sep

In looking through boxes of comic books I purchased in the 1990s, I found five issues of “Bruce Lee,” a comic series from 1994, published by Malibu Comics. I have issues #1, 2, 4, 5, and 6. I’m not sure how long the series lasted, but it’s about a character named Bruce Lee, whose similarities to the actual Lee involve getting jobs in the film industry and setting up a school to train students in jeet kune do, a martial arts philosophy Lee devised from his own synthesis of varied fighting styles and methods. The similarity pretty much ends there.

The story is set in southern California at the time it was published, 1994, and not the 1960s when the real Lee was a young aspiring actor and martial arts champion who trained select students, first in Seattle and then in Los Angeles, and took various film and TV acting and fight direction jobs before achieving a short-lived burst of international stardom in the early 1970s, ended tragically by his untimely death from cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 32 in 1973.

I wrote about Lee here in 2013 on the 40th anniversary of his death: https://briandanacamp.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/bruce-lee-40-years-ago-today/#more-1328

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OPERATION BOTTLENECK – A Hollywood WWII Film with Asian Female Commandos

1 Aug

Friday, July 24th, marked the 95th birthday of Japanese-American actress Miiko Taka, who is, happily, still with us. She is best known for co-starring with Marlon Brando in SAYONARA (1957), in which she plays a Takarazuka performer in Kyoto who has a romance with an American Air Force officer. To celebrate the occasion of her birthday, I found one of her more obscure Hollywood films on Amazon Prime and watched it. OPERATION BOTTLENECK (1961), released by United Artists, is pretty much a standard World War II tale of a small American unit going behind the lines in Burma to blow up a “bottleneck” in a key road the Japanese army needs to advance into India. In the course of it, however, they free five “comfort girls,” local village women who had been forced into serving the Japanese officers at their headquarters, and must train them in combat to assist in their mission. It’s a pretty far-fetched story, done on quite a low budget and has some major problems with sexist dialogue and racial slurs, not to mention profoundly insensitive treatment of the comfort women, but it’s also quite distinct from other Hollywood treatments of the war with Japan. It is, I believe, the only World War II movie made in Hollywood with an actress of Japanese descent given top billing and also the only time Hollywood has shown an American officer leading Asian female guerrillas in a war movie, although when they go into combat they’re not quite dressed as they are in this poster:

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Toshiro Mifune Centennial, Part 3: Fifty Years a Fan

31 Mar

April 1, 2020, marks the centennial of the birth of Toshiro Mifune, Japan’s greatest film actor and, arguably, the greatest film actor who ever lived. I first became aware of Mifune when his films played New York arthouse theaters in the 1960s and were advertised widely in the newspapers and sometimes reviewed in the local press. A number of older Mifune films got released for the first time in the U.S. during this period as the arthouse crowd became enamored of Japanese films and those of Akira Kurosawa and Mifune in particular.

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Great Moments in Classic TV 2019

25 Jan

In 2019, I saw 425 TV episodes, 325 of them American and 100 Japanese. I will focus here on highlights from classic American TV that I discovered this past year.

The single series I watched the most episodes from was “Perry Mason,” for a total of 70. I’ve been going slowly, but methodically, through the nine-season box set I purchased in 2017 and I watched from “The Case of the Renegade Refugee” (Season 5 / #13, Dec. 9, 1961) to “The Case of the Simple Simon” (Season 7 / #24, April 2, 1964).

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Asians in TV Westerns: “The Virginian: Hour of the Tiger”

17 Dec

I recently stumbled across an episode about Chinese laborers in “The Virginian,” a long-running NBC western series that ran in a 90-minute time slot from 1962 to 1971 and is now running every weekday evening on the Starz Encore Western Channel. This particular episode was called “The Hour of the Tiger” (Season 3 / #16, airdate  December 30, 1964) and it turned out to be a suitable entry for my ongoing series on “Asians in TV Westerns.” Its chaste relationship between the title hero and a cultured Asian woman echoes those in other westerns I’ve written about here, including Laramie: “Dragon at the Door,” and two with Lisa Lu: Cheyenne: “A Pocketful of Stars” and Bonanza: “Day of the Dragon.” In all of these, the hero and the Asian character (Japanese in “Laramie” and Chinese in “Cheyenne and “Bonanza”) discuss their cultural differences at length, with the American suggesting that she doesn’t have to follow tradition, but can follow her heart and take advantage of the freedom possible in America. The Virginian episode shares a plot element with two of the others, in that the woman is promised to another man. In each case, respect is shown by the hero toward the other culture. He’s never condescending or critical, but simply offers the option of another way. (These episodes were made at a time when cold war tensions prompted frequent expressions of American values in popular culture to contrast the lack of basic rights in the Soviet Union and Communist China. Conversely, these episodes can also be seen as a way of inserting messages into network entertainment about racial prejudice and the civil rights battles of the time when TV executives were still timid about treating the topic directly. )

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Perry Mason in Japan: “The Case of the Blushing Pearls” (1959)

24 Oct

Well, okay, he doesn’t go to Japan exactly, but rather to Little Tokyo in Los Angeles in an episode of “Perry Mason” called “The Case of the Blushing Pearls,” which had its premiere on Saturday night, October 24, 1959, 58 years ago today. It was Raymond Burr’s first on-screen encounter with Japanese characters since he’d shot scenes with Japanese-American actors three years earlier to be inserted into a re-edited version of the Japanese monster film GOJIRA (1954), to be called GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956) for its U.S. release, as seen here:

This was, of course, the film that turned a lot of young Baby Boomers into lifelong Japanophiles. Fortunately, the outcome of Burr’s encounter in Little Tokyo was a lot more pleasant for him than that with Godzilla.

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Robert Mitchum Centennial

6 Aug

Robert Mitchum was born on August 6th, 1917, 100 years ago today. (My father was born less than two months later.) I was born on August 6th also, on Mitchum’s 36th birthday. Mitchum died on July 1, 1997, a little over a month shy of his 80th birthday. He happens to be my favorite movie star. I wrote about him here three times already, covering his debut film, BORDER PATROL (1943); his 1949 film, HOLIDAY AFFAIR; and in a piece about Sam Fuller’s THE BIG RED ONE, his appearance in THE LONGEST DAY (1962), where he played the general leading the attack on Omaha Beach, site of the bloodiest fighting on D-Day.

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James Bond in Japan: 50th Anniversary of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE

13 Jun

50 years ago today, on June 13, 1967, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967), the fifth of the James Bond films starring Sean Connery, was released in the U.S. It’s one of my favorite films and I’ve seen it over 30 times, probably more than any other film in my lifetime, and that includes WEST SIDE STORY (1961), THE WILD BUNCH (1969), KING KONG (1933), CASABLANCA (1943) and the second Bond film, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963), all of which I’ve seen close to or more than 30 times. Back then I had to wait to see YOLT until it came to a neighborhood theater in the Bronx in September of that year, but it would be the first Bond film I’d see during its initial release (I’d seen the others in reissues) and I was psyched for it from the beginning of its ad campaign. I remember visiting Times Square sometime that spring and seeing the massive billboard for the film adorning the full block of Broadway from 45th to 46th Streets atop the marquees of the Astor and Victoria theaters. The billboard had three distinct images from the film, all featuring Bond in unlikely poses, but promising action, sex and spectacle. Here’s a shot of that billboard:

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Happy 90th Birthday, Lisa Lu

19 Jan

Actress Lisa Lu turns 90 today, January 19, 2017, and, according to IMDB, remains active. I’ve written about her here on four occasions and have seen everything in my collection in which she appears. The last unseen item was the 1962 feature film, RIDER ON A DEAD HORSE, a low-budget western about four characters battling each other over a buried gold stash, in which she plays one of the four. I purchased it from Warner Archive and watched it yesterday before starting this piece. I’ll discuss it further down.

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