Dangerous Liaisons in 1930’s Shanghai

The Jang Dong-gun Seduction Games: China’s Adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons

Re-routed to 1930’s Shanghai, the latest adaptation of the romantic thriller Dangerous Liaisons stars Zhang Ziyi, Cecelia Cheung, and Korea’s Jang Dong-gun as the serial womanizer.

by Ada Tseng

Jazz music plays in the background as the debonair Xie Yifan (played by Jang Dong-gun) gets his hair done in his lavish apartment. He admires his chiseled good looks in a multiple-planed mirror that conveniently showcases the many angles of his hotness. He’s calm as a cucumber when a girlfriend surprises him with a morning visit, only to find another naked lady in his bed. He quietly slips out with his coffee when an inevitable catfight breaks out: it’s just a typical part of his normal day.

Outside, he meets Du Fenyu (Zhang Ziyi, often sporting a deer-in-headlights expression to convey fear and innocence), who he assumes is another one of his girls he has already forgotten. She is the type of woman who feels the need to adjust her too-open cardigan, even though she’s already covered from neck to toe by her qipao — her traditional Chinese dress is white, the ultimate color of purity. Du Fenyu seems horrified just by his attempt at conversation, let alone by any hint of flirtation or advances, which of course makes her an attractive challenge for this veteran seduction artist.

The Dangerous Liaisons story has been adapted many times; most famous in the US is either the 1988 Academy Award-nominated film of the same name starring John Malkovich, Glenn Close, and Michelle Pfieffer or the Sarah Michelle Gellar/Ryan Phillippe/Reese Witherspoon love triangle in Cruel Intentions, depending on your generation.

Those familiar with the story know that this game of seduction has an integral third player, the instigator of a high-stakes bet against love that could lead to all of their downfalls. In the Chinese-language version, Mo Jieyu (Cecelia Cheung) is Xie Yifan’s female match in terms of their similar views of victims as pawns for their play. Cheung expertly plays off what has become an inherant assumption (fair or not) of both her public and on-screen personas — the bad girl who can’t be trusted — in a scene-stealing performance that is equal parts menacing and thrilling to watch.

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Tim Jo of The Neighbors!

The Alien Next Door

Actor Tim Jo explains why his role on ABC’s The Neighbors isn’t such a stretch for him.

by Ada Tseng

Tim Jo admits he always wanted to be on an alien show.

“I’m a total nerd. I watched everything from Mork & Mindy to ALF and 3rd Rock from the Sun,” the Korean American actor says, naming some of the classic alien shows from the 1980s and ’90s.

Now add The Neighbors to that list. On the freshman ABC sitcom, created by Dan Fogelman, Jo plays Reggie Jackson, the teenage son of the leader of an alien neighborhood in the gated community of Hidden Hills, N.J., where the Weavers, an all-American human family (with the parents played by Jami Gertz and Lenny Venito), unwittingly decide to buy their first house. It turns out that the aliens, from the planet Zabvronia, have been inhabiting Hidden Hills for a decade, awaiting instructions from back home, and the Weavers are the first humans to live among them. Zabvornian community leader Larry Bird (Simon Templeman) and his wife Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye) end up latching onto the Weavers, hoping they will be their guides to understanding the human race. In turn, the Weavers also learn from the aliens’ way of life—like how they sleep in green pods, cry with their ears and read books for sustenance (hence, their refrigerator is full of books).

Jo, 28, is not only thrilled to play an alien, but says it doesn’t feel like that much of a stretch for him. Having spent his formative years living in his native Texas, he moved overseas to Poland where work took his petroleum engineer father and his family for three years. There, Jo got used to being the token Asian boy, which helped the actor instantly connect with The Neighbors premise.

“I had a mother who was always making friends with neighbors,” Jo recalls. “She’d always bring Korean food to our neighbors, and we were constantly sharing: ‘Here’s my culture. What’s your culture?’ It’s always been like that for me: moving around, finding new cultures. “I hope this show resonates with minorities,” he adds. “I feel so fortunate that I’m on a show that’s about two different cultures coming together. It’s a melting pot comedy about growing up in America.”

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Truths and Misconceptions About China’s Performing Arts Scenes

US Artistic Ambassador to China: Ping Pong Productions’ Alison Friedman

Through her performing arts organization Ping Pong Productions, Alison Friedman aims to develop long-term cultural exchanges between the United States and China — not through commercial-driven, one-off tours, but by facilitating discussions and collaborations between two complex world powers.

by Ada Tseng

Even The New York Times sometimes falls prey to American journalism’s tendency to twist stories about China to fixate on dramatic tales of government corruption and censorship.

In November 2011, L.A. Theatre Works collaborated with Ping Pong Productions to bring Geoffrey Cowan and Leroy Aarons’ American historical drama, Top Secret: The Battle for The Pentagon Papers, to China for two weeks. The plan was to have post-production discussions with Chinese audiences about the complex issues of journalism and politics that the Nixon-era play raises, but the panel scheduled for after the Peking University show was canceled last minute.

It was an eye-catching premise that everyone from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The New Yorker jumped on: Ping Pong Productions’ founding director Alison Friedman receiving a last-minute text message canceling the discussion because of “unforeseen consequences spreading beyond the theater.”

But this was only part of the story. Although she was grateful for the articles and the publicity, Friedman admits to being disappointed that some of the articles focused so much on the censorship — with the implication that they were lucky that the “skittish cultural czars” of China allowed a political show into their country in the first place.

“Certainly, [the talk after the Peking University performance] was canceled, but it was one cancelation in a very successful tour that did go ahead,” Friedman explains. “We had tremendous support on the Chinese side to do the play. We had nine discussions planned, and only two were canceled. After seven of the shows, and at a number of off-site classroom discussions, we had unbelievably open, intelligent, and substantive conversations.”

These are exactly the types of misconceptions that Friedman hopes to clarify with her work at Ping Pong Productions, a producing and consulting organization that aims to develop cultural diplomacy through the arts.

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Cop Sung Kang vs. Killer Sylvester Stallone

More Work to Do

Sung Kang, who co-stars with Sylvester Stallone in the action flick Bullet to the Head, reflects on his own Rocky Balboa-esque story.

by Ada Tseng

Sung Kang can check one more thing off of his bucket list: co-starring in a Sylvester Stallone movie.

“I was a big fan of Rocky,” says Kang, referencing the famous rags-to-riches boxer film from the 1970s. His dad collected all the early Stallone films, and their family would often watch action movies together when Kang was growing up in Georgia. “Whenever I felt like the chips were down or if anybody was picking on me, I’d put on Rocky, and it’d always cheer me up. Rocky is all about a nobody having a chance, and I feel like that’s the story of my life.”

This “nobody” didn’t even have to audition for the role of Taylor Kwon, “a young NYPD detective who needs the help of abrasive hitman Jimmy Bobo (played by Stallone) in order to catch the bad guys who killed both their respective partners.

Inspired by Alexis Nolent’s French graphic novel Du Plomb Dans La Tete, the film adaptation Bullet to the Head, which opened Feb. 1, was relocated to New Orleans, and Thomas Jane had originally been cast for the role of Stallone’s sidekick. Later, when the filmmakers decided they wanted to switch up the typical (read: traditionally Caucasian) cop action genre by casting a minority actor to go up against Stallone, they called up Kang on Memorial Day weekend of 2011.

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Oscar-nominated Animated Filmmaker Minkyu Lee

Adam, Before Eve: Interview with Oscar nominee Minkyu Lee

Minkyu Lee’s directorial debut Adam and Dog, a Garden of Eden story about man’s first friendship, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

by Ada Tseng

27-year-old, Korean-born, Los Angeles-based animator Minkyu Lee celebrated his first Oscar nomination on January 10, 2013, when the official Best Animated Short Films list was announced on the Academy Awards website. Funded out of pocket and supported by a crew of friends and volunteers — some from CalArts, where Lee studied and teaches, and various professional connections through his years of work at Disney — Lee’s 15-minute debut took over two years to complete. The result, Adam and Dog, is a quiet, ethereal, gorgeously-animated short film about the dog Adam befriends in the Garden of Eden, before Eve comes into the picture.

Starting February 1, Adam and Dog can be seen in over 260 theaters across the US, Canada, and Europe as part of the Oscar Nominated Short Films theatrical release presented by ShortsHD The Short Movie Channel and Magnolia Pictures.

Director Minkyu Lee answers some of Asia Pacific Arts’ questions about Adam and Dog in an email interview.

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