By Andrea Plaid
I need this to be as much as an official record as to what may happen as a Crush post.
See, Senior Editor Tami Winfrey Harris and I are planning an upcoming Table For Two about Downton Abbey and period pieces in general. (The hold-up is my fault: I’m slogging through all three seasons. And I do mean “slogging,” like it’s a this-is-boring-the-hell-out-of-me-and-there-are-no-hawt-ass-people-on-this-show-to-at-least-alleviate-the-tedium struggle. I’m doing this for you, Racializens. Remember that, hear?) And I mentioned the dearth of sexy on the show to Tami. She contends that Thomas (Rob James-Collier) is all pale and dark hair and angular cheekbones and bad boy. And I’m, like, naw, Thomas got that Crispin Glover coloring I can’t get with (and looks like Glover’s socially well-adjusted younger brother). There are just no Colin Firths on this show, I whined. (And I said that as I don’t really think of Firth as spank-bank material–again, just me–but I know he turns the Masterpiece crowd all the way on.) We started trading sexy-in-an-unconventional-looking-way white dudes’ names (Benedict Cumberbatch for Tami; Adrien Brody for me) and hairy-chested white dudes (Hugh Jackman and Scandal‘s Tony Goldwyn for me; neither of them for Tami, though she ‘fessed up that she’s down for the plush upper torso). We happily concluded that we’d “never throw down for a man.”
Then, just to make sure that she and I were solid on the “never throw down for a man” guideline, I ran this week’s Crush by her. Do y’all know what she said?
“I’d cut you for him!”
I was all, like, “Can we at least get out our calendars and arrange days or something?”
So, yeah…Russell Wong.
Wong’s foine-ness has sizzled our screens for at least a couple of generations: some of us remember the Troy, NY-born, California-reared actor from his debut in the mid-80s in Tai-Pan or from 21 Jump Street. Some of us swooned over him in New Jack City. Some of us remember him as the seductive-turned-adulterous-and-abusive playboy husband in The Joy Luck Club. And quite a few of us sighed watching him as Jet Li’s nemesis in Romeo Must Die. Of course, he’s done other roles on the big and small screen, from playing an impregnating angel in the Christopher Walken-led supernatural thriller Prophecy II to a US-exiled Chinese musician-turned-political activist in the groundbreaking TV show Vanishing Son to a son dealing with familial issues as he and his four siblings bury their mom in Dim Sum Funeral. And Wong recently appeared in an IKEA commercial.
As for that swagger on full display in Joy Luck Club and Romeo Must Die: besides from what I suspect is sheer confidence–Wong impresses me to be someone who’d take being named one of People’s “50 Most Beautiful People” (this happened in 1995) with a wink, a grin, and a shrug and keeps it popping–he also took up martial arts (tae kwon do, Shoji Ryu karate, and Fu Jow Pai Kung Fu) and dancing (ballet and jazz–he’s appeared in videos by David Bowie and Janet Jackson). He also took film production courses at New York University (NYU). Asia Pacific Arts says this about Wong in their analysis about Asian American men in pop-cultural consciousness:
Ironically, no Asian American male star today, with the possible exception of Daniel Dae Kim, commands that sort of undeniable sexual allure within the mainstream imagination. That’s not to say today’s stars aren’t sexy; it’s just that the market and the marketing has changed. Further, Asian American males today are looking for their own styles of sexuality just as Asian American cinema is attempting to blaze its own identity.
But the icons are there…Russell Wong stormed into the popular consciousness with his memorable role as the steamy hunk in Wayne Wang’s Joy Luck Club…Wong is quiet, well-groomed, and grateful to be a part of Lee’s indie noir. But despite his pleasant demeanor, he doesn’t scream model minority, in part because of his size (six feet, well-built), and in part because in talking to him, you realize he’s been through a lot to get to where he is–he’s earned the right to be genteel.
When asked in an interview what upsets him, Wong gives a one-word response: “Racism.” (For those of you wanting to be all in his family life, he’s the father of a mixed-race daughter with African-American dancer Eartha Robinson. He says in the aforementioned interview that being a dad “changed” him.)
And his acting contributions have garnered the mixed-race (Chinese/white) actor some love right back: the Organization of Chinese Americans bestowed him their Image Award and the Media Action Network for Asian Americans gave him their Media Achievement Award in 1994. The Asian American Arts Foundation honored him in 1997, along with director John Woo.
Oh…and if you see a couple of Black women hunched over tablets and laptops saying Russell Wong’s name and some dates and giggling, that would be Tami and me trying to figure out the days we can love him, too. But not today, since it’s his birthday and all.