Asians in Film: The Movies

If you were curious, finding twenty, prominent, movies with leading Asian characters is as difficult as it sounds. I initially decided to search through the highest grossing films of all time, then pick out the ones where an Asian received top billing. For those that don’t know, billing refers to the order that each actor/actresses names appear in the credits. The farthest forward names are the actor/actresses with the most star power and they are often, though not always the leads.

This approach, quite simply, didn’t work. After looking through 150 movies, the only thing I had to show for it was a list comprised solely of Ken Watanabe in the Last Samurai. So, I had to resort to less objective methods. I put together a least of every Asian actor/actress that had at least three movies on their IMDB page.  From those, I picked the most prominent ones and divided them into five categories: Drama, Comedy, Action, Romance, and Sci-Fi.  Within the four movies in a genre, I focused on an Asian actor for two movies and an Asian actress for the other two. At this point, if you have taken a basic Science class you are probably ready to chuck your computer against a wall. I know this process doesn’t in any way come close to the gold standard of random sampling. However, given how small of a sample I was looking at, and how many obscure movies made my list, a random sample would have left me with a large portion of Indie films that would not be helpful with my intended goal: to find out what it looks like when Asians enter the mainstream. Furthermore, for a random sample to work I would have had to compile an exhaustive list of all movies with Asian actors/actresses, something that would be time-consuming and of very little use to me. Thus, I ended up picking the movies sampled largely based on their prominence, and given how many movies I looked at (over 200), I can say with a high degree of certainty that they constitute the mainstream.

The list for those that are curious:

Last Samurai Ken Watanabe
Crimson Kimono James Shigeta
Babel Rinko Kikuchi
Daughter of the Dragon Anna May Wong
White Frog Harry Shum Jr.
Sayonara Miiko Taka
Memoirs of a Geisha Suzuku Ohgo
The One Jet Li
Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan George Takei
Babylon A.D. Michelle Yeoh
Advantageous Jaqueline Kim
Rush Hour Jackie Chan
Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle John cho
Fakin’ Da’ Funk Margaret Cho
Chu Chin Chow Anna May Wong
The Way of the Dragon Bruce Lee
Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift Sung Kang
Charlies Angels Lucy Liu
The Transporter Qui Shu
Letters from Prague Tio Pakusadewo


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