Sunday, January 18, 2009
ACTOR ON-THE-RISE: Ken Leung
During this lovely snowstorm, I found time to abuse my Instant Watch option on Netflix. Since it has a new restriction where the film has an expiration date, I chose the only film set to expire, a romantic dramedy called Shanghai Kiss.
The film is about a depressed, 28-year-old, aspiring actor (Ken Leung) who feels torn between being American and being Chinese, traumatized by his mother's death, which was accidentally caused by his alcholic father, and troubled by his growing affection for a sixteen year old girl (Hayden Panettiere from "Heroes"), who refuses to only be his friend. While this has "disturbing pedophilia fantasy" written all over it, Leung has honed his cynical rage-against-stereotypes persona long enough to come off as broken and relatable, instead of a pathetic perv. He has a pinch of Woody Allen and Billy Crystal sprinkled over his features as he delivers every hard-hitting punch line and over-confident criticism.
I first saw him, as many did, in Rush Hour as the villain, battling Jackie Chan. It was your typical Asian role--ten minutes of combat and maybe three lines if you're lucky. It wasn't until 8 years later that I noticed him again in X-Men: The Last Stand as Kid Omega, a sort of porcupine-type mutant villain. Not that many lines, but also no martial arts. At 38-years-old, after almost fifteen years in this business, he's finally found his niche. You probably haven't even noticed that you've seen him in action on "Lost" as Miles, one of the "rescuers" who has an interesting ability to sense and speak to the dead. Despite such an emotional gift, his character is perceived as a sarcastic and self-preserving jerk with his own hidden agenda. Thus, Leung has created a name for himself, not as yet another "Asian" actor, but as a cynical comedic actor.
If you can't wait to see him in action this Wednesday when "Lost" returns with a 2-hour premiere, then I suggest renting (or searching Youtube for) Shanghai Kiss, which I believe is his first and only lead role. And just in case you're worried about being skeeved-out by the age difference, take comfort in knowing that their relationship is totally PG.
Just watch the first 3.5 minutes of this clip to get sold on the film (and Leung):