It’s been thirteen years since Lucy Liu’s character Ling Woo took the lawyer-comedy TV series “Ally McBeal” by storm. By flooding the courtroom backdrops with her unadulterated, hypersexual snarkiness, Woo crushed the all-too-common meek and submissive Asian typecast with her sharp stilettos. However, another harmful oversimplification rose from her toxic pool – the Dragon Lady, a stereotype that cast Asian female characters as deceitful and yet mysterious as the dark side of the moon.
Media images of Asian women depict one of two opposites: docile or domineering. Gwen Stefani exoticized her songs with four interchangeable back-up dancers called the Harajuku Girls. Tom Cruise in “The Last Samurai” film becomes aroused by Japanese village woman Taka’s quiet, helpless nature. Twins Fook Mi and Fook Yu teased Austin Powers in the “Goldmember” movie with their oh-so-clever names, tiny skirts and insatiable desire for international spies.
Adding these examples to the damning list of asexual nerds, kung-fu fighting sidekicks and Laundromat owners, it’s not surprising that Asian people feel ostracized by Hollywood. So why should they get excited about the upcoming, all-Asian, Jersey Shore-inspired reality show called “K-Town?”
According to executive producer Mike Le, who sat down for a phone interview with The Campanil, “K-Town” will demonstrate that Asians are also human with their own imperfections – that they are “not all model minorities or one-dimensional.”
The series is based in Koreatown, Los Angeles – nicknamed ‘K-Town’ – a culturally vibrant community known for its fluorescent lights, 24-hour eateries and extravagant nightlife. It is the largest Koreatown in America, spanning almost a mile long. Filled to the brim with bars, restaurants and dance clubs, K-Town’s parties last from dinnertime to dawn.
Now “K-Town” is making its way into mainstream media in the form of a reality series. In April 2010, Le teamed up with two other Asian-American producers, Eugene Choi and Eddie Kim, to create a show with a cast of Asians – not just Korean – partying and living together in Koreatown. They brought their idea to actor and singer Tyrese Gibson, who helped promote and fund the project.
Although “K-Town” is still waiting to be picked up by a major network, the show pitch has circulated throughout the media, in The New York Post and LA Weekly, Chelsea Lately’s talk show and Saturday Night Live, gaining approval and wary side-eye glances.
After a video reel was released where various “K-Town” cast members are shown getting drunk, fighting and conducting interviews on the toilet, critics accused the show of creating even worse stereotypes of Asians, especially women. Comments on various blogs like IAmKoream and Jezebel ranged from, “How can they do this to themselves?” to, “It’s like Better Luck Tomorrow gone horribly wrong.”
However, Le sees “K-Town” in a different light.
He said the show features the eight most fascinating and intelligent Asian-Americans that will ever grace television. Le attributes particular credit to the female members, describing them as the “strongest, most colorful Asian women” he’s ever met.
Of the four women, dark-haired cast member Violet Kim has received the most attention. Throughout the blogosphere, Kim has been advertised as the ‘Snooki’ of “K-Town” for being the shortest person in the group. As a single mother with a fiery personality, Kim has drawn media buzz.
Le describes her as a very complicated person “who puts everyone on blast and takes enemies down.”
Kim notes that, for many others, it’s strange to meet a single Asian mom and, more often than not, people look down on it.
“I know they’re judging me each and every week,” Kim said. “I try to be strong.”
Kim considers herself a jack of all trades, working three jobs and seeing her son on weekends.
“When you’re in my position, you have to fight for yourself. I hope to do the best I can to provide for my kid,” Kim said.
Another female cast member causing double takes is tattooed Chinese-American Scarlet Chan. During her video interview with MTV blogger Iggy, Chan unflinchingly discussed her bisexuality and jokingly recalled a time she left an expensive sex toy out in the open for her mom to see. She also runs a NSFW blog called Scarlet Harlot, dedicated “to hookers, whores and cross-dressers” on which she posts her poetry, provocative modeling photos and her honors thesis profiling sex workers.
Chan’s former job as a stripper and self-proclaimed title of ‘ethical slut feminist’ has earned her the harshest of backlashes from those fearful of furthering the Asian sexpot typecast, but criticism hasn’t stopped her from continuing with K-Town.
“Most of the time, Asian women in the media are cold and passive, always behind the man,” Chan said. “People need to see more Asian women who are fun, raw, empowered and even totally slutty.”
“K-Town,” in many ways, has become a passion project for the cast. While Kim hopes to become an actress and make a name for herself, Chan strives to use the show as a forum for her discussion of the abuse she faced in the past.
“I want to talk about all the violence that happened in my family. There is a pressure in the Asian community to come off as ‘perfect,’ like nothing is wrong,” Chan said. “I was the first in my family to speak up and was shunned.”
She hopes that, by opening up about such difficult subjects, “some kid going through the same thing might speak out, too.”
Chan found herself in a few verbal altercations with mostly other women who did not approve of the televised exposure of their extremely close-knit community. Although she expects the situation to get even crazier once the reality series goes on the air, Chan and the other cast members aren’t hesitating in the least.
For more information on K-Town, visit their website. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter @KTownRealityTV.
Read our other stories on K-Town:
Opinions: Cultural Misappropriation: Yep, Still Racist
Blog: NSFW: Leaked sizzle reel of K-Town reality show (aka “Asian Jersey Shore”)