The 1980s were a magical time when capitalism and stereotypes reigned supreme. Asians males may have been the epitome of these stereotypes. Intelligent, hard-working, skilled in martial arts; it’s no wonder America has seen a surge in Japanophiles and weeaboos in recent years. Sure, there were a few bad guys in the bunch, but for the most part they were the perfect ancillary characters our movies needed during those years. Sorry to say for the ladies, but they didn’t make our list this time as their roles were far less integral and far fewer in between.
When you think of the 1980s, you think of Ronald Reagan, the end of the Cold War, “where’s the beef?” commercials, and Pac Man. But do you also remember the impact of Asian supporting characters in American cinema? We’re counting down the list of the top ten 1980s Asian characters in American movies.
10. Genghis Khan, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
In Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, young Ted Theodore Logan and Bill S. Preston, Esquire bring former world leaders and history makers to the small town of San Dimas to help them pass their history class and ultimately save the world. In their travels, one such leader they manage to find and bring to the 1980s is Genghis Khan. Played by Al Leong, Khan eventually goes on a rampage at the local mall armed with an aluminum baseball bat. Leong was no stranger to 1980s movies as he also played a chocolate stealing bad guy in Die Hard, an electrifying torturer in Lethal Weapon, and a hatchet wielding gang member in Big Trouble in Little China. However, none of those roles gave Leong the chance to show his acting chops more than Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure earning him a number ten spot on our list.
9. Yee Sook Ree, Better Off Dead
What do you get when you bring to America a high-school aged Japanese immigrant who learned all his English from watching ABC’s Wide World of Sports? In the movie Better Off Dead, you get Yee Sook Ree, and he sounds exactly like Howard Cosell. Played by Yuji Okumoto, Yee Sook Ree and his non-English speaking brother reappear throughout the movie to challenge Lane Myer to drag races whenever they meet at intersections. Aware of Myer’s misfortune’s Ree even taunts him in true Howard Cosell fashion. “Truly, a sight to behold. A man, beaten. The once great champ, now a study in moppishness. No longer the victory hungry stallion we've raced so many times before, but a pathetic, washed-up, aged ex-champion.”
8. David Lo Pan, Big Trouble in Little China
“Shut up Mr Burton! You are not brought upon this world to get it.” James Hong has played many memorable characters but perhaps none as memorable as David Lo Pan in John Carpenter’s, Big Trouble in Little China. With scenes and villains that might well be the inspiration for Mortal Kombat, Lo Pan is the 2,000-year-old Chinese sorcerer supervillain desperately in search of a green-eyed bride. San Francisco’s Chinatown will never be the same once Lo Pan and Jack Burton are through with each other.
7. Chong Li, Bloodsport
Bloodsport was an action movie straight from 1988 and starred a hard hitting Jean-Claude Van Damme. Well, Jean-Claude Van Damme can’t do any hard hitting if he doesn’t have a hard-hitting opponent. In this case, the ruthless Chong Li fit the bill. Bolo Yeung played this part and was a round mound of furious kicks and devastating punches right from the beginning. After initially putting Ray Jackson, Ogre of Revenge of the Nerds fame, in the hospital Chong Li goes on a rampage brutally destroying all comers on his way to a championship match against Frank Dux. His evil facial expressions portraying his every menacing motive bring fear into viewers as the ultimate in mixed martial arts villainy. When the crowd is chanting Chong Li, it’s a bloody sport indeed.
6. Short Round, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
“Hey, lady! You call him Dr. Jones!” In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, what Short Round lacked in size and longevity, he made up for in moxie. Ke Huy Quan teams up with Steven Spielberg yet again to play the young sidekick to Indiana Jones as they find themselves rescuing slaves from the foreboding temple of Mola Ram in remote India. The two must battle Mola Ram, save the girl, and survive the Temple of Doom’s many traps and tests to succeed. As they narrowly escape danger at every turn, young Short Round reminds us all that Indiana Jones is no nuts, he’s crazy. We’d all be crazy not to love his character.
5. Takahara Kazuhiro, Gung Ho
Gung Ho was a movie that displayed the cultural differences between Japanese and American workers. Michael Keaton’s character befriends disgraced Japanese businessman, Takahara Kazuhiro. Takahara is played by 1980s Asian movie staple, Gedde Watanabe. From his initial appearance in the film it is obvious that he’s not in the good graces of the company owners as he’s forced to wear ribbons of shame. Well, after some soul searching and lessons learned about being American, he and Michael Keaton’s character do learn to become great partners. Kazu is able to teach the Americans about what it means to be a Japanese worker and to take pride in their jobs. Michael Keaton is able to teach Kazu about the importance of work life balance and the need to stand up for himself. They don’t quite get to the required 15,000 cars produced in a month, but they do win the respect of their Japanese boss and the admiration of the American movie going public.
4. Toshiro Takashi, Revenge of the Nerds
1984 brought us several movie classics including the monumental piece of filmmaking better known as Revenge of the Nerds. Revenge of the Nerds was full of stereotypes of different ethnicities and sexual orientations and even included a laughable rape scene. Well, as an off-color film of the 80s it included a stereotypical Asian character too, Toshiro Takashi. Played by Brian Tachi, Toshi was always smiling as Booger taught him some of the lesser known tenets of being American. He taught us some things as well. For example, Asians must pronounce the letter L as the letter R. Toshi had a frush in poker and at one point wanted robster craws. The Lambda Lambda Lambda crew wouldn’t have been the same without Toshiro. And for his efforts Toshiro got his own song, membership in a fraternity, victory over the Alpha Betas, and the chance to see hair pie. Sank you Toshiro Takashi for being a grand ambassador of culture at Adams College.
3. Long Duk Dong, Sixteen Candles
Back in the 80s, foreign exchange students seemed to be rather common. In Sixteen Candles, Long Duk Dong was one of the most memorable. Coming to America from the Far East, the Donger, came along with one set of Sam Baker’s grandparents and only added to her frustrations of turning sixteen. Gedde Watanabe plays Long Duk Dong to perfection as he quickly finds love in the arms of an Amazonian who at one point thanks Molly Ringwald’s character for, “loaning her the Donger.” The Donger falls out of trees, gets an American girl, gets to taste American cuisine, and royally pisses off his host parents by crashing their car in a drunken escapade. Hey John Hughes, thanks for loaning us all the Donger. What a time to be alive.
2. Richard “Data” Wang, The Goonies
In The Goonies, Mikey and the gang would never find One-Eyed Willie’s treasure without the help of Richard “Data” Wang. Played by Ke Huy Quan, Data first makes his entrance as a young and somewhat bumbling genius inventor and carries that role admirably throughout the film. Whether he’s setting booty traps, that’s what he said, booby traps, or being saved by his pinchers of peril, Data is a tenacious youngster and provides stereotypical comic relief so prevalent in 1980s cinema. At one point in the film, his father attempts to take his picture in stereotypical Asian fashion, and Wang tells his father, “That’s okay daddy, you can’t hug a photograph.” Mr. Wang responds, “You are my greatest invention.” Well Mr. Wang, as a fan of the movie I’m inclined to agree.
1. Mr. Miyagi, The Karate Kid
With a blend of Asian mysticism and aged wisdom, is there anything Mr. Miyagi can’t do? In The Karate Kid, young Daniel-san moves with his mother from New Jersey to the mean streets of the San Fernando Valley. Daniel san quickly finds a need for someone to fix his bike, create a Halloween costume, and teach him to fight. Enter Mr. Miyagi, a building maintenance supervisor who just happens to be a karate expert and the father figure young LaRusso desperately lacks. The Cobra Kai strike hard, they strike fast, and they show no mercy. Luckily for LaRusso, Miyagi knows karate even if his kind of belt is canvas and costs $3.98 at JC Penny. Noriyuki “Pat” Morita received an Academy Award nomination for his role as Daniel’s sensei and left the movie going public with still used quips like “wax on wax off” and “paint the fence.” After watching the movie, who didn’t wish for a Mr. Miyagi in his life?