A Leading Man: LAAPFF Review
Steven J. Kung’s feature debut dramatizes the often problematic opportunities available to non-white actors in the entertainment industry.
An industry report on the under-representation of Asian Americans in film and television might seem an obscure point of departure for a filmmaker, but apparently that’s where writer-director Steven J. Kung found some of the inspiration for this first feature. Kung’s intermittently effective script further highlights this troubling source of ongoing controversy, but the film’s thematic fixations may end up limiting audiences primarily to festivals and perhaps home-entertainment formats.
Handsome but unemployed young actor Guoqiao "GQ” Qi (Jack Yang) finally lands a lead part on a TV series, where his role is offensively stereotypical Beijing exchange student “Kung Pao,” who arrives on his white host family’s doorstep wearing a Chinese silk jacket and conical straw hat. Series executive producer Mitch (Bruno Oliver) considers the character “post-racial,” but it’s really just insensitively racist, a point that the offended GQ is eager to prove. Provoking an on-set confrontation with Mitch, he quickly gets himself fired, to the poorly concealed disappointment of his disapproving mom (Pat Tsao, Kung’s actual mother in her acting debut), who wants him to join the executive ranks of the family’s Taiwan-based semiconductor business.
GQ isn’t ready to give up acting quite yet, particularly since he’s just started dating Mitch’s attractive and incredibly well-connected casting director Rachel (Heather Mazur). Even after moving in together, her numerous but fruitless introductions make it clear that GQ has burned most of his bridges, including those he hasn’t even crossed yet, as his manager drops him and industry contacts avoid him like a pariah. Despite being supportive, Rachel isn’t exactly getting his career back on track either, prompting GQ to reconsider their pending marriage, as well as his own acting career.
Kung finds no shortage of material in both his own experiences and ongoing trends in the entertainment industry to detail the obstacles that GQ faces as an Asian American actor, drawing on a long list of frustrating situations discouragingly familiar to non-white performers that nonetheless present challenging material for a satiric dramedy. Disinterest, racism and sheer rudeness repeatedly interfere with GQ’s aspirations, although his entitled attitude does him no favors either. Although A Leading Man grasps at opportunities to lead by example, the constant remonstrating becomes repetitive as the actors run out of chances to favorably reveal their characters.
Yang certainly has the bearing and looks of a leading actor, but the script has him squandering nearly every opportunity to actually deliver a profitable performance. Mazur’s part could have been far more decisive than it turns out to be, diminishing the impact of the role. Perhaps most notably among the castmembers, Oliver effectively embodies every odious characteristic of a clueless, self-centered executive.
Competently lensed, the film predominantly connotes TV movie-readiness, accomplishing the job without demonstrating particularly distinctive stylistic flair.
Venue: Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
Production companies: Justin Bell Productions, ReKon Productions
Cast: Jack Yang, Heather Mazur, Bruno Oliver, Pat Tsao, Kate Lang Johnson, Raymond Lee
Director-writer: Steven J. Kung
Producers: Justin Bell, Jon Michael Kondrath
Executive Producer: Pat Tsao
Director of photography:Robert Lam
Production designer: Pam Chien
Music: Jeremy Zuckerman, Benjamin Wynn
Editors: Chris Witt
No rating, 96 minutes