ASIAN AMERICAN PERSONALITIES
THE 130 MOST INSPIRING ASIAN AMERICANS
OF ALL TIME
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Ming-Na distinguishes herself on the big and small screens by combining classically ethereal Chinese beauty with a sassy, girl-next-door style. Her regular role on one of TV's most enduring shows (ER) has proven to be the best evidence that Hollywood may not be totally blind to Asian predominance on the staffs of real hospitals. What follows is an article on Ming-Na from 1995 when she was flush from the success of her lead role in Joy Luck Club. It best captures the inimitable spirit that makes her an inspiration for Asian Americans.
omeone inside Larry Parker's Diner has just cranked up the bass, causing
spoons to shimmy and plates to buzz under what have quickly become
Mexican "jumping-bean" nachos. Video screens spash the '50s-style decor
with provocative images through a dizzying spin of parfait-colored disco
lights, while harried waiters balance temperaments with entrees.
Amid this seismic confusion, Ming-Na Wen sits completely poised, singing
along with the music and occasionally mugging over a novella-sized menu.
Parker's, known for it's extensive list of creative dishes concocted by famous
entertainment figures-turned- epicureans, is filling up. Tourists and
Hollywood stargazers crowd the doorway, scanning the Beverly Hills hotspot
in hopes of glimpsing a celebrity.
One group of disappointed tourists slumps in a nearby booth after a fruitless
search through the establishment. Ironically, they're seated only a few yards
away from one of the stars of the critically acclaimed film The Joy Luck
In a glance, it would be easy to miss the connection between Wen and her
character June, the conservative Chinese daughter she played in The Joy
Luck Club. Gone are the shapeless, neutral-colored sweaters, the
perfectly combed drape of hair and the reticent countenance she wore in the movie.
Dressed in an eclectic blend of Max Studio sophistication and Greenwich
Village funk, Ming-Na Wen looks more like a poster girl for Melrose Avenue
than a reserved "good Chinese daughter". Her black hair has been twisted
into two braids which hang like perfect ropes underneath a crimson and
black hat, and a potpourri of necklaces dangle above the neckline of a flowing
tunic and tank shirt over satiny leggings.
For those who missed her on three seasons of "As the World Turns" as Lien
Hughes, the first long-term contracted Asian character on daytime television,
Wen's face may not be as familiar as those of her fellow Joy Luck Club
compatriots, Rosalind Chao, Tamylin Tomita and Lauren Tom, nor is her
traditional Chinese name easily remembered; but her performance has
quickly placed her among the league of notable Asian actresses.
"It's so funny when people meet me," Wen muses. "In this buisness, people
want to pigeonhole other people, so when people finally get to know me, it's
like, 'God! She's the I-could - jump - into -a- jacuzzi- in- just- my- underwear
type. That's so cool!"'
In a sentence, Wen describes herself as just "a really extroverted, fun-loving
gal-chick." Yet one senses that there's something much more substantial here
than what sounds like the makings of a Miss Congeniality candidate. Her
brazen straight-forwardness and gregarious charm, topped with a palpabable
confidence, have often come as a surprise to people, including some of her
"It was really wierd because I got alot of comments from Rosalind and
Tamlyn, who said that they were so impressed because when I walked into
the rehearsal room, I walked in with so much confidence that they all looked
at each other and asked, 'Who is she?!'
Her co-stars aren't the only ones compelled to ask that question. At this
point in her career, Wen's anonymity may be a help to her popularity.
people discussing Wayne Wang's first real Asian American mainstream
breakthrough are eager to learn more about "the new girl" with the Chinese
name. Despite her low-profile, the actress is by no means "new" to the
At an early age Wen decided that she wanted to become an actress. After
playing "Thumpy the Rabbit" in her third-grade Easter play, she was hooked.
"My role was to come out and run into things," Wen recalls. "When I got my
first laugh I thought, 'Wow, how cool. What power, to affect people that way'.
Ever since then, I wanted to act." Lifting a thick calligraphy stroke of an
eyebrow, Wen will also tell you that her career choice was part of her
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"The first two years I was treated like
everybody else. But my junior year when we started doing main stage productions, I was always delegated very small parts."
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