Riffing Further on Phoren Heroines

While writing a previous entry on phoren heroines in Bollywood and their long term prospects, I kept wondering about the cinema industries in Far East Asia. Did they face a similar situation - an influx of white artistes interested in getting into the business? Consider Hong Kong. This is about as cosmopolitan a place as you can get but I don't remember seeing any Western actors in any of the Wong Kar Wai or John Woo films that I've seen. Now, there's a very famous Aussie cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, who works in that part of the world, although not exclusively, but then foreign cinematographers have also worked in Bollywood. I had to go back as far as Bruce Lee films to remember foreign actors. So, I did a bit of digging and found this, an interview with the actor Ricardo Mamood, who apparently is based over there:

2. What do you think of the use of foreign actor in the Hong Kong cinema ?

Foreign actors are not used enough, or misused. For several reasons. The first one is the fact that stories, scripts do not contemplated a significant presence of foreign looking characters. There is still a very closed-up approach when it comes down to storytelling in Hong Kong. Their presence ranges from extras to small supporting roles. I wish the local industry would contemplate this a bit more and the fact that this town is very cosmopolitan, just take a look at it. So, you have a few talented and trained foreign actors in town but not many.

Then you have a lot of people that is scouted on the streets but with no training whatsoever and unfortunately then you see the final product on the screen and it sucks. It's a waste. This doesn't encourage talented or trained foreign actors to stay or come to work here but hopefully it will change in the future.

Sound familiar? I investigated further and it turns out there is a page further detailing the foreign presence (or the lack thereof) in Hong Kong:

Westerners have appeared in Hong Kong films for decades- as extras, supporting actors, co-stars and very rarely, as the star.

The first foreigner to headline HK films was Ron Van Clief. Jim Kelly, Brandon Lee and Shannon Lee have all starred in one HK movie respectively, yet the best known round-eyed star to make it in Hong Kong was blonde American martial artist Cynthia Rothrock.

Who would've thought that? Sounds like the combination of blonde and martial arts expert did the trick! Just ask Quentin Tarantino.

As for China, if anything, it's a lot more insular than Hong Kong, although that's changing fast of late. Hence you'd be expecting zero penetration in the film industry there. But I was still surprised to see this article in Salon which talks about Rachel DeWoskin who moved to Beijing in 1994 to work at a PR firm but ended up in a very popular Chinese soap:

Shortly after arriving and settling into the grind at an American P.R. firm, she met a man who decided her white skin was all the qualification she needed to act in a soap opera about American girls in Beijing...

The show's title, "Foreign Babes in Beijing," says it all. Two American exchange students (one played by a German) come to China and pursue romances with Chinese men. There's the predictable good girl-bad girl split: the blond Louisa, who loves Chinese culture almost as much as she loves her Chinese boyfriend, and the lusty, slutty, brunet Jiexi, the "dishanze" (mistress, or "third") who steals the honorable Tianming away from his hardworking wife and homeland.

Apparently, her exotic value (and the cliches she represented) were enough for Rachel to play the Jiexi role. I suspect if Bollywood were to delve into the phoren heroine thang further, it'd follow the same template i.e. noble Amit (Ajay Devgan), a man who doesn't start his day without prostrating at his mother's feet, is seduced at work (his own highly successful company of course) by his lusty, slutty, blonde secretary Nicole (insert fantasy here) and strays from his wife Priya (played by Rani Mukherjee of course). All Priya can do is pine away, wearing designer salwar suits and doing many, many karwa chauths. It all ends happily, but not before the seats at the local multiplex have been thoroughly doused by tears. A Yash Raj production, naturally. You heard it here first!

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- May 18, 2005 7:57 PM // Film , Select