Justin Lin's Finishing the Game brought the point home strongly: Too often, Asian-American actors are relegated to bit parts (the food delivery guy, gangster #3, mysterious prostitute) simply because of their race. Of course, it can be argued persuasively that all actors of color are denied opportunities because of their appearance. As independent film producer Karin Chien pointed out in a television interview, though, people will say: "What about Jackie Chan? Or what about Jet Li? ... Asian cinema is a completely different thing altogether. It's a bit difficult, as an Asian-American producer, to fight for the cause of Asian-American films when we are grouped together with Asian cinema."
This list is an attempt to identify just a few of the Asian-American actors who have not yet crossed over to broad, mainstream recognition but who caught my eye this year. (Among others, you won't find Lucy Liu, John Cho or Kal Penn here; they're all folks that have established varying degrees of stardom.) It's also intended to serve as a starting point for Cinematical readers to name other talented Asian-American performers: Who do you like, who should be better known, who is ready to break out as a star?
Fan made an impression in Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow as the class leader who lured Ben (Parry Shen) into a life of crime. Before that, he played parts like Student #2 (Party of Five), Hood #1 (Blue Haven) and Student #15 (ER). His next two parts after BLT were not much bigger: Executive #1 (Stuck on You) and News Anchor #1 (D.E.B.S.). With his performance as Bruce Lee-imitator Breeze Loo, who lives in a delusional dream world in which he's a much bigger star, Fan brought a human touch to his comedy. In person, Fan is so funny he can make you spit; at a post-screening Q&A in Dallas, he had the crowd in stitches. Fan's comic genius deserves a much bigger stage -- and more starring roles.