The 5 most fascinating Asian male TV characters right now (Part 1 of 2)

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

We talk a lot on Racialicious about how the media perpetuates tired stereotypes about Asian men (they’re weak, asexual, nerdy, kung fu masters, evil, slithery, inscrutable , the list goes on and on).

But I’ve always believed that if we’re serious about creating meaningful advances in media representations, we can’t rely just on bashing the bad representations. We need to let media outlets know when they’re doing a good job too and explain why, so that hopefully they’ll be encouraged to do it again.

It’s actually been a great year for Asian men on TV. And it goes way beyond Yul winning Survivor — there have been some really terrific characters on TV shows played by Asian men.

So here’s my totally unscientific list of the 5 most fascinating Asian male TV characters – from just the shows I happen to watch. If you have more, I’d love to hear about them!

But first, I’m gonna do some honorable mentions and while these characters are somewhat interesting in their own right, I’ll admit right now that the eye candy factor is high motivating to me. So please forgive the objectification that is about to follow. ;)

First, Mohinder Suresh on Heroes, played by Sendhil Ramamurthy (those cheekbones!). Second, Archie Johnson on CSI, played by Archie Kao (those big sparkly eyes!). And finally, Sanjay on Weeds, played by Maulik Pancholy (total cutie!).

5. Detective Mike Tao on The Closer

Played by: Michael Paul Chan
You can watch it: on TNT though they’re on hiatus right now

Okay, so he’s the tech guy on the team and you could argue that that’s a bit stereotypical for an Asian character, but he’s incredibly respected by his peers and his bosses. And perhaps most importantly, he has no accent ! That’s right, he’s just a regular American cop. There’s no particular reason for him to be Asian on the show. He’s smart as hell and cool in a quiet sort of way.

4. Jin Kwon on Lost

Played by: Daniel Dae Kim
You can watch it: on Wednesdays on ABC, though they’re on hiatus now, much to my frustration

Racialicious readers know that I’m a total Lost fangirl (as in, I listen to the podcasts and geek out on the theories and followed The Lost Experience and all that jazz).

But part of what makes watching Lost so great is seeing how the characters of Sun and Jin have developed. There was this great scene in a Season 1 flashback where they were at the airport, and Sun accidentally spilled something on Jin, and hastily wiped it up for him. And this white woman, thinking they couldn’t understand English, made a disparaging remark to her companion, something along the lines of, thank god she didn’t live in an oppressed society where she had to be all submissive like that.

I thought it was a sharp piece of commentary on how many non-Asians look at Asians as walking, talking stereotypes: domineering, chauvinistic husband and cowering, submissive wife. And for a long time, the Lost crew saw Jin and Sun in those terms too. But over time, the Losties and we, the audience, got to know these characters intimately and learned about their complexities and contradictions.

It has also been refreshing to see a loving, real relationship between an Asian man and an Asian woman on TV. Because how often do you see that on TV or in the movies? Asian women are inevitably paired with non-Asian men. And when Asian men are on TV or in a movie at all, they rarely have any kind of love interest.

Check back tomorrow for part 2 of 2, where I reveal my top three picks for the most fascinating Asian male TV characters!