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Justin Lin's Finishing the Game: search for a replacement actor for Bruce Lee. San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival - Bruce Lee News

Bruce Lee Beams From His Grave
SAN FRANCISCO – Kicking off the largest San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) in its 25th year, Asian American director pioneer Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow, Annapolis, Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) opens the festival with a hilarious comedy, Finishing the Game (FTG), that gives hope for the future of Asian American community in the entertainment industry.

The movie centers around the search for a replacement actor for Bruce Lee to act in Game of Death shortly after the real Bruce Lee passes.

FTG aptly opens the rest of SFIAAFF as it is the clever prelude to a dominant martial arts-themed (particularly Bruce Lee character inspired) music videos in the collection Music Video Asia 2007.

Actual images of Bruce Lee are not shown in the film. Lin talks about Bruce Lee as a prominent Asian American male role model.

“His presence is still alive. For people to make a movie and not ever see a frame of him, that’s how strong and how present he still is with us,” he says.

The most unique character of the variety of storylines was the realistic Troy Poon, (Dustin Nguyen) a prominent Asian American actor. The film showcases the struggles of Asian American actors. Poon plays small food-delivery-man roles until he hits the big time and becomes a TV hero. He then rejects the opportunity to play Bruce Lee in Game of Death.

The film mirrors actual experiences of the leading actors.

Roger Fan [Better Luck Tomorrow (BLT) Annapolis] who plays Bruce Lee look-alike actor, Breeze Loo, notes, “I feel very fortunate to stumble across this group of people and work with Justin the capacity I get to. If I didn’t have Justin in my life, I don’t think I would have much hope. I would question if I would still be an actor. If he wasn’t around, I don’t know who could do what he could do. I just don’t.”

Sung Kang (Better Luck Tomorrow, The Motel, Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) says he too feels a sense of gratitude to Lin who fights for Asian American characters in films, especially Annapolis and Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift to exist in films, when most of mainstream Hollywood ignores them.

Kang tells Philippine News, “Before I met Justin, I was already on my way out five years, six years auditioning for one-line waiter roles. I was going ‘maybe America’s not ready, forget it.’ There are realistic life problems that come in the way, you want to be able to have insurance thinking about having a family, put gas in your tank, having to worry about rent. I can’t make a career out of this.”

Aside from Fan’s cocky actor character and Kang’s happy-go-lucky aspiring-actor character, there is a variety of quirky, memorable characters.

Making a cameo is infamous 90s hip-hop artist MC Hammer, who plays a swanky businessman, Roy Thunder. Hammer met Lin in Las Vegas when he was an aspiring filmmaker and donated a chunk of money to complete Better Luck Tomorrow.

Hammer says, “Being a minority and understanding the experience of minorities in this country, we all can relate to oppression, segregation, being culturally divided. The beauty of this film was that as Justin and Josh dealt with stereotypes, they dealt with it in a way with an uncomfortable laugh. So you would laugh and it’s funny, but then if you were one of the people who support racism, then you know the joke’s really on you and that you need to respect the history, the past and it was brilliantly done. It’s funny, but at the same time there were some great messages in this film. At this is the time in the country this is the type of the film we really need to see. It’s time to get rid of all stereotypes, we laugh at certain things, but we also need to understand we might we’ve come a long way and we’ve got a long way to go.”

Hammer further tells Philippine News that his being originally from the Bay Area, working with a cast of predominantly Asian American characters was “just natural.”

Another notable character in the film was Tarrick Tyler, (played by Mccaleb Burnett) an Asian American activist of mixed ethnicity played by an actor who looks white. Lin says the character was inspired by a Caucasian friend who was “more Asian than me.”

“Tarrick is totally valid, he is half-Asian, but he is concocting something, this fight he wants to be a part of. In his mind it’s valid, and in a way it’s valid you have to have a sense of humor about it too because at the end of the day, he chooses to be Asian American. But by appearance he can get away and walk down the street without being called a chink. The thing with FTG it’s time for people to laugh at ourselves and that’s always empowering,” explains Lin.

Lin’s vision

Lin recounts seeing Spencer Nakasako’s aka Don Bonus at his first SFIAAFF.

“This is where I learned what community really means,” he recalls.

“A community is not an assumption. A community is earned…Without the shared experience it’s all assumption because how dare ‘If you look at me kind of, we’re a community.’ That makes no sense, that’s arrogant for us to assume that. And it’s great to be back and see all these faces from 12 years ago, and to see that wow, we earned this. It’s not anything else and that means a lot to me.”

Lin says he provides three-dimensional characters in his films and not people as caricatures.

“I think when you make a movie, growing up watching movies as an Asian American, I could relate to characters who aren’t Asian. The three-dimensional aspect of it is what makes it universal. We didn’t make this movie in mind with just one people, we do hope to share this with everyone and the issues of racism is inherent and it’s real. That’s a part of life,” he says.

Lin believes being an Asian American filmmaker is a personal choice.

“I feel that as an Asian American filmmaker I just want to support someone that wants to do what they want and do what they love,” he says.

Dustin Nguyen stresses the importance of a rare high-quality film made in 18 days and is representative of Asian America.

“In a perfect world I would like people to just realize that there are people who are making an effort with genuine, their heart is in it to produce something that is representative of what Asian Americans stand in this country without being too political about it. You can laugh without going into the details, I’d like for people to know a film like this doesn’t come very often. The climate of filmmaking doesn’t encourage this type of filmmaking. There is some kind of movement and the people involved with these kind of films fight very hard to get it made and it needs to be supported.”

Lin’s rare talent allows his range from dramatic to sarcastic pieces. They inspire young Asian Americans to pursue filmmaking from a variety of vantage points.

“When we made this movie I didn’t want to go through the same experience going in as a filmmaker, you make a movie and you hope someone will pick it up and take it to the world which is the way to go. But at the same time I feel like we’re in this position we can take it on ourselves,” he argues.

“At the end of the day it’s about a business plan, if you’re able to garner, consistently get a base of supporters that will go and buy tickets, Hollywood will make any film,” Lin continues.
Author: Erin Pangilinan

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