On February 23, 2012, Asia Pacific Arts issued an APA Challenge: Who would be the best candidate to play Jeremy Lin in the future movie about his life?
It ended up being a challenge, alright. In one sense of the word, it was a game. We had pretty much decided in our heads (and hearts) that Godfrey Gao was the front-runner by a landslide. We were daring others to prove us wrong -- and virtually bonding with everyone (men and women) who couldn't properly take on the challenge cause they were too busy being stunned by Godfrey Gao's hotness.
But in the second sense of the word, it was a challenge to come up with many competitive contenders. Unless your vote is to vaguely hope for a yet-unknown talent who's bound to emerge in the next 2-3 years, it forces us to admit that reality has its limits. Most of the go-to Asian American male actors in Hollywood, while pioneers in their own rights, are a bit over the early-20s age range (John Cho, Daniel Dae Kim, for example) or don't quite have the build for the role (Aaron Yoo, Justin Chon, for example).
That said, although we still don't have enough Asian American "stars" that fit snugly into pre-conceived notions of a typical Hollywood biopic, we do have an impressive amount of talent -- at least enough for us to come up with our APA Jeremy Lin Challenge follow-up: Top Ten Jeremy Lin Biopic Ideas.
Reality might have its limitations, but Jeremy Lin has inspired us to let our imaginations fly. Here is a round-up of suggestions we have gotten, organized into heavily-editorialized film scenarios of varying degrees of seriousness and appropriateness.
Inspired by the True-Life Story of Jeremy Lin...
(in no particular order)
1. The "Authentic to the Taiwanese American Experience" Version
(Specifically, Taiwanese American Hotness)
Starring Godfrey Gao
Directed by Tom Lin Shu-yu
Our original pick, Godfrey Gao, was a stand-out, not only because of his height, looks, and bilingualism, but also because he's specifically Taiwanese -- Taiwanese Canadian, to be precise. Taiwanese identity has become an important part of the Jeremy Lin discourse, and it's likely that the ethnicity of the actor cast as Jeremy Lin would be symbolic for the proud community of Taiwanese Americans that rarely see their people represented in film.
Who better to direct a film authentic to the Taiwanese American experience than Taiwanese American directors Tom Lin Shu-yu and Arvin Chen? Tom Lin Shu-yu (WInds of September, Starry Starry Night) grew up in Minnesota, attended bi-lingual school in Taiwan as an adolescent, and came back to California to get his MFA at CalArts; Arvin Chen (Au Revoir Taipei) was born in Boston, grew up in the Bay Area, and graduated from film school at USC before making his career in Taiwan. With Godfey Gao in the lead role, Tom Lin Shu-yu narrowly edges out Arvin Chen for the job because of Lin's penchant for filming pretty faces (most of his cast in Winds of September were print models with no acting experience) and bringing out their individual charisma. Chen, on the other hand, tends to take his hot actors, like Joseph Chang, and turn them into adorable losers. Good for film; not as good for a Jeremy Lin biopic.
2. The Art Film/Oscar Contender Version
Starring Wilber Pan
Directed by Ang Lee
Taiwanese newspapers actually beat us to this suggestion. Wilber Pan is a Taiwanese American, who was born in West Virginia, attended Taipei American School for high school, and Cal Poly Pomona in California for college, before moving back to Taiwan to become a TV drama actor and Mandopop singer. Despite being in the industry for a decade, he's recently been getting acclaim for his acting chops, having won the Best Leading Actor in a Television Series Award at the 2011 Golden Bell Awards for his performance in Endless Love.
Acting chops are necessary to work with the Oscar-winning director and "pride of Taiwan" Ang Lee -- and to convey the layers of reserved emotion necessary to tell the Jeremy Lin story which would inevitably become about alienation, Lin's outsider status, and freedom in a world of restraint. We admit, it's a little bit of stretch to think of Ang Lee taking on a film like this. But if he were game, Ang Lee already has experience coaxing impressive performances out of Taiwanese Mandopop singers, after casting Wang Leehom in his 2007 film Lust, Caution. And if Lee wasn't game, it could be a film directed by Wang Leehom, who must have learned some directing lessons from Lee before he ventured into the role of director in 2010's Love in Disguise.
3. The Major Hit at Asian American Film Festivals Version
Starring Jimmy Tsai
Written by Jimmy Tsai
Directed by Jessica Yu
Ernie Hsiung (8 Asians) and Nelson Wong (AARisings) gave possibly the most intriguing suggestion we're surprised we hadn't thought of before: Jimmy Tsai, the writer, producer and star of the 2007 comedy Ping Pong Playa. Tsai plays Christopher "C-Dub" Wang, a street talkin' basketball pro-athlete wannabe who is forced to enter a ping pong competition to save his family's ping pong store. In the film, Wang wasn't particularly good at basketball, but he could talk the talk and walk the walk. Tsai would have the humor needed to play Jeremy Lin, and he'd be able to pull off the cocky celebrations after each last-minute point at the buzzer.
Now, let's be honest. Hollywood would never make this movie. But it'd probably be more entertaining than any other film on this list -- especially if Jimmy Tsai wrote it himself. Ideally, we'd be able to lure back Jessica Yu as director, since we already know Yu and Tsai make a great team. But if she's too busy making her next Oscar-winning documentary (this time a feature), then we'd go with Dave Boyle, for his expertise in toeing the line of earnestness and insanity (one might say, linsanity), as evidenced by Hiroshi Watanabe's performance in White on Rice.
4. The Hollywood 3D Version
Starring Harry Shum, Jr.
Directed by Jon M. Chu
Theme song by Jaden Smith and Charice
Harry Shum, Jr. has the charisma, height, abs and agility to play a pro-basketball star. But Harry Shum, Jr. is arguably best when he's directed by Jon M. Chu (See: Legion of Extraordinary Dancers: "Elliot's Shoes") and Jon M. Chu is definitely best when he's directing movies in 3D (Step Up 3D, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never). This film will be your typical underdog story, but the games will be watched with even more intensity because the 3D will make you feel like you're sitting courtside right next to Spike Lee. Sometimes the practice scrimmages will break out into hazing rituals where Lin's teammates try to get him to do the dougie. Yet, the Harry Shum, Jr. version of the dougie naturally transitions into some crumping and freestyling, earning Lin respect with his teammates who aren't used to seeing Asian Americans with such killer moves. And while there can't be too much dancing in a Jeremy Lin movie, over the credits, there can be a feel-good flash-mob music video, with a special appearance by Taiwanese American dance crew Instant Noodles.
5. The Action/VFX Version
Starring Daniel Henney
Directed by The Wachowskis
Some people might have learned about Daniel Henney from those Bean Pole commericals co-starring Gwyneth Paltrow. Others might have caught his 2005 debut in the Korean drama My Lovely Sam Soon, where he became "the half-Korean, half-white actor who was so hot that he became a star in Korea without even being able to speak Korean." The character of Dr. Henry Kim was an Asian American who didn't speak Korean (and was coincidentally good at basketball); Daniel Henney was born in Michigan, lived in New York where he was in a band, and did modeling internationally before pursuing acting in Korea. Since then, Henney has made a small dent in Hollywood, playing Agent Zero in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Dr. David Lee in the short-lived CBS series Three Rivers. In his upcoming film Shanghai Calling, he plays a Chinese American ex-pat in his first leading role in an English-language film.
So what have we learned? Having played two doctors already, Henney can pull off playing a man with Jeremy Lin's Harvard pedigree. And he's basically being primed for someone like the Wachowskis to launch into Hollywood stardom. The Wachowskis are a good choice because they, having worked with Korean superstar Rain in both Speed Racer and Ninja Assassin, seem to understand the benefits of casting an actor who has appeal on both sides of the Pacific Ocean in this global economy. And they know how to take someone like Keanu Reeves (who many may have assumed was not a "real" actor, just a pretty face), give him the role of a lifetime, and further hone the sleek male-action-star type of hotness that was screaming to be let out.
6. The Fanboy Version
Starring James Kyson Lee
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Wall Street Journal columnist Jeff Yang's suggestion is Korean American actor James Kyson Lee, who Yang argues looks a little like Lin from certain angles. Other valid observations: not only does Lee play hoops for the celebrity basketball team Hollywood Knights, but he actually plays point. And he's used to playing superheroes.
Since Lee's strongest appeal would be to the fanboy crowd he's cultivated over his time playing Ando Masahashi on the hit TV series Heroes, it makes sense to pair him with equally fanboy-approved director J.J. Abrams, who helmed Lost before making blockbusters such as Mission: Impossible III and Star Trek. Also, the Asian American community can trust Abrams with his handling of three-dimensional minority characters: even before casting John Cho on Star Trek, Maggie Q in Mission: Impossible III, and Daniel Dae Kim, Yunjin Kim, Ken Leung, and Hiroyuki Sanada on Lost, he gave Keiko Agena her breakthrough role on Felicity (pre-Gilmore Girls) back in 2000.
7. The 900-Million-Hits-On-YouTube Version
Starring Jeremy Lin playing himself during off-season
Directed by KevJumba, Nigahiga, Wong Fu Productions, ClaraC, David Choi, Kina Grannis, Far*East Movement, AJ Rafael, Dawen, Jennifer Chung, Jason Chen, Joseph Vincent and Community Channel
Make-up by Michelle Phan
Produced by International Secret Agents
Thrills by Freddie Wong and Brandon Laatsch
Art Direction by Mista Cookie Jar
Soundtrack by New Heights, from their latest album Something to Believe In
Remixed by Mike Relm
If you are an advertiser targeting anyone under the age of 35, it'd probably be wise to keep your eye on this version.
G.O.D.'s "Lie" music video
8. The Epic Benjamin Button Blockbuster Version
Starring Sung Kang
Directed by Justin Lin
When there's all this logic-defying digital technology at our fingertips, why be ageist? Sung Kang may be 39, but Brad Pitt was about 43 when he was filming The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and who better than Hollywood powerhouse -- Justin "Fast Five Made Over $625 Million Worldwide, Bitch!" Lin -- to attain access to the most high-tech tools in the industry to push his creativity, expand his vision, and make Hollywood studios another billion dollars. The China market! The China market!
This would be the Jeremy Lin story from his birth in Los Angeles, to his childhood in Palo Alto, to Harvard, to the Warriors, to the Knicks, to now -- or until Jeremy Lin is 85 years old (the sky's the limit). Sung Kang would play the ages that were old or young enough to his current age, while the rest of the film would be cast with child character actors and their heads would be digitally replaced by Sung Kang's head in post-production -- like the most famous "replace the head" method VFX of all time, Bruce Lee's in Game of Death. And cause it's a Justin Lin film, the women would all be hot bikini-clad white and Latina girls who are attracted to Jeremy Lin -- even though Lin doesn't partake (he is a good Christian boy after all) -- so instead, the hot girls all enjoy tongue-kissing Jeremy Lin's average-looking Asian American male friends while Lin escapes to do community service with disabled children. Cars also explode for some reason. Maybe Jeremy Lin jumps over an exploding car, to one-up Blake Griffin and dominate the 2013 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest.
9. The Visually-Stunning Parent Immigrant Story Version
Starring Takeshi Kaneshiro and Faye Wong as Jeremy Lin's parents in the 1970s up until today
Directed by Wong Kar-wai
The Jeremy Lin Biopic told from a different perspective: from the eyes of Gie-Ming and Shirley Lin. Both Taiwanese, both 5' 6", Lin's parents emigrated from Taiwan to the United States in the mid-70s, amidst political turmoil in Taiwan. Even though they've made a safe haven for themselves in the United States, their hearts ache for their homeland and the family they've left behind. Each time there's news of riots, Shirley Lin leans seductively against the red brick wall -- turquoise phone headset in one hand, a thin Chunghwa cigarette in the other -- wracked with fear that her loved ones are involved. They vow that they will raise their future children with the ideals of liberty and justice for all, as Gie-Ming whisks Shirley away on wild motorcycle rides under dimly-lit tunnels.
The children are born: Josh, Jeremy, and Joseph. Gie-Ming teaches the boys how to play basketball, feeding them canned pineapple expiring on May 1 in order to reduce muscle soreness. Shirley, to combat the stress that comes from continually fending off criticism for letting her sons play basketball, breaks into the school gymnasium after hours with her sons. She teaches them to follow their dreams -- by rocking out to Cranberries "Dreams." And the movie ends on February 4, 2012 -- just as the older Gie-Ming and Shirley Lin (played by Takeshi Kaneshiro and Faye Wong with slight gray highlights) get their first glimpse at hope. Hope that all of their immigrant suffering has paid off, because their children will have better lives than they ever had...
10. The 6-Hour Silent Film That Critics Say Is A Must-See Version
Directed by Patrick Wang
Starring Keanu Reeves
If you thought Patrick Wang's Independent Spirit Award-nominated debut feature film In the Family was a transcendent movie-watching experience during its pitch-perfect 169 minutes, just think about what Patrick Wang could do with double the running time. A true artist, Patrick Wang would naturally be pushed by Hollywood executives who abhor originality to replicate The Artist, and in exchange for the promise of 1) double the running time and 2) complete creative control, Wang would agree to 1) cast Keanu Reeves (vastly underrated actor who just needs someone to give him a serious role to showcase his raw talent) and 2) keep the black-and-white silent film concept. (This is mostly so middle America will not expect this to be a Matrix IV; however, theater director Wang will also be intrigued by the challenge of using creative lighting to show that age, ethnicity, and voice are purely distractions that prevent us from truly seeing Jeremy Lin's soul).
During pivotal games, a close-up of Reeves' face would constantly be framed at the right side of the screen, and the only way we'd understand what was going on is through the sound of the fans reacting in the background. It'll be the first time an experimental film by an Asian American filmmaker wins a Palme d'Or. No one will make fun of Keanu Reeves ever again.
11. The Black Swan Cult Version
Directed by Gregg Araki
Starring Chi Cao
Suggested by Brian Hu, editor of Asia Pacific Arts and artistic director of the San Diego Asian Film Festival -- this would be a very different kind of Jeremy Lin movie. Sort of an anti-hero movie, with swirling passions and physical sacrifice and some performance-enhancing drugs (for his performance both on- and off-court), thus making the Asian male hero even more revolutionary. The movie would probably have to not be a "Jeremy Lin" biopic, but would have to be about a fictionalized basketball star named Jerome Chin who goes to Yale, undergoes torture, has sex with black men, and learns to harness the ravishing potential of his entire body. Jeremy Lin might not approve. Neither would God.
Chi Cao is only really involved because his ballet training results in his athletic build, he seems to be good at accents (his own accent sounds British, he did a Chinese accent in Mao's Last Dancer, so he'd probably be able to pull off a believable American accent), and he'd look a little bit better shirtless in leather bondage than Leonardo Nam.
The Hybrid Docu-fiction Feminist Version
Starring Godfrey Gao
Directed by Ada Tseng and Rowena Aquino
This Jeremy Lin film would concentrate on the poetics of Jeremy Lin's sports training sequences and feature slow-motion shots of Godfrey Gao doing cardiovascular fitness, strength training, and pool workouts. There will also be reenactments of moments from Lin's life, personal and public. This version will be inspired partly by Japanese filmmaker Ichikawa Kon's documentary film of the 1964 Summer Olympics, Tokyo Olympiad, and partly by the post-colonial feminist work of Trinh T. Minh-ha. Currently in development.
(You're welcome, fans of the original APA Challenge article.)