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A music blog by Mark Nishimura

Singer-songwriter Bad Heart performs ballads of aloneness and loneliness, keeping the ghosts of the no-no boys and Sleepy John Estes in his throat and more than a few card tricks up his sleeve. Originally from San Francisco, he currently is absorbing the city lights of Hollywood.

“Chan” Is Still Missing

Mid-morning at the Bourgeois Pig café in Hollywood. I’m sipping a single Americano and rummaging through a crumbled Los Angeles Times, minding my own business, when a young wired screenwriter comes waltzing in. This place is swarming with young wired screenwriters. The scribe saddles up on the stool next to me, warms up his laptop and orders a double soy latte. After tossing an ill-fated wink towards the barista, he turns to me and, without a beat, proclaims, “Say, do you know who you look like?”

Oh Christ, here it comes.

“You look like that Chinese dude from ‘The Hangover’.”

Okay, I haven’t heard that one before.

“You know who I’m talking about?” he proceeds. “That Chinese guy? He played the gay gangster … uhm yakuza? What’s his name? Ken Chow? No. Ken Yoshi? Ken Nakamura?”

Ken Nakamura? I think I know a Ken Nakamura from San Francisco. The guy owes me money or something like that.

Of course, this screenwriter is thinking of Ken Jeong, who is neither Chinese nor Japanese and doesn’t look a damn thing like me. Then again, this young man’s options are limited.

It happens every once in a while, and not only just in Los Angeles. Someone will say that I look just like … and name one or two Asian or Asian American celebrities who are hot in Hollywood right now. Yes, usually an actor would be named, since Asians have yet to break the glass ceilings in pop music and professional sports. And of course, this actor would have been cast as a sushi chef or a math nerd or a martial arts expert … whatever stereotype is needed for the film.

But the “gay Chinese yakuza” from “The Hangover”? I must admit, that’s a new one. For a long while, all I was getting was, “You look just like Bruce Lee.” Seriously? Bruce Lee? That’s the only celebrity you can come up with? The guy’s been dead since 1973!

Back at the café, I just grin at the screenwriter and brush the whole thing off, but the incident reminds me of the opening scene from Wayne Wang’s 1982 low-budget film, “Chan Is Missing.” Set in San Francisco, the film begins with Jo, an ABC (American-born Chinese) cab driver, picking up an out-of-towner. Jo mentally counts down the seconds, before the visitor asks, “What’s a good place to eat in Chinatown?” “Under three seconds,” Jo thinks. “That question comes up under three seconds ninety percent of the time.”

A nudge at that horrendously racist Charlie Chan serial, “Chan Is Missing” follows Jo and his fellow cabbie and “No. 1 Son” Steve searching for their immigrant pal, Chan, who apparently skipped town with their cash. They drive around Chinatown, interviewing loads of quirky characters, all of whom have different opinions about their missing friend. Their leads throw them into a maze of Chinese and Chinatown politics, while their subject slips further and further away.

“This mystery is appropriately Chinese,” says Jo. “What’s not there has just as much meaning as what is there.” The film concludes with a photograph of Chan, who is standing in the shadow, his face unrecognizable, smiling like the Cheshire Cat.

Most of the cast in “Chan Is Missing” are non-actors; they look normal, like people I know. I feel very comfortable watching the film, like I am part of that community, that family.

Then sometimes I feel like Chan, invisible to the world without identity, just about non-existent if it weren’t for what was being said by a handful of chums. I am okay with that as well. There’s something to be said about not being pinned down.

But apparently, somebody out there thinks I look just like that dude from “The Hangover.”

So, which celebrity do people say you look like?

Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert’s review of “Chan Is Missing”:

  1. Bluto. My mother used to say that. She used to get mad when people said I look like my father. She was there to make life as hard as possible, not him, and that would set her off when people gave him credit that way. If she knew now that I see her in myself when I stand over the kitchen sink and eat, no mirror, I can just feel it. I see, or feel her in the way I chew hot food, the way I stare off into the depths of the sink when things are quiet, and the way I rest my left palm on the counter, I think she’d be proud.

    Nobody ever picks me out of a crowd and makes any specific connections like this guy in the coffee shop did toward you, Mark. But I hate it when people call me “big guy.” I always have. It isn’t a racial stereotype, but one nonetheless. They see someone over 6 feet and heavier than two bucks and suddenly I’m a bouncer, or, “You ever play ball?” The look on my face and the way I respond causes people to then say, “Oh, you’re military.” It isn’t really a question. I just roll my eyes and let it go.

  2. I’ve had several people say I look like Dylan, which took me by surprise the first time I heard it, and I’ve heard Sean Penn a bunch of times, which I can kinda see, though I haven’t got his chin or physique (I’m very thin and wiry). When it was fad of the week, I posted a couple doppelgangers on FB. That was fun but really don’t mean a thing.
    We’re all unique individuals, regardless of race, religion, nationality, class, color or creed…

    Now you, Mark- I wouldn’t even have necessarily pegged you as Asian at all from your profile pic (though I guess your last name’s a giveaway). Yeah, you do have that “hard to pin down” look that could be from a number of different places, and that’s kinda cool in my movie. And by the way, I love “Chan Is Missing”. A wonderful film!

  3. At least I was original…Jose Feliciano isn’t an Asian nor an actor. lol
    I’ll have to check out “Chan Is missing.”

  4. @ Yume: Ha! Yes, I think you are the only one who thinks I look like Jose Feliciano. And yes, check out “Chan Is Missing” — the best film ever made for only $10,000.

  5. I used to get Julia Roberts daily. People would say, “You know who you look like?…You know…that actress…” (Dude, you can’t even name the biggest actress in America? Really??) So I would just say, “Uh…don’t know…” then they’d say, “YES you do…y’know. Pretty Woman!”

    I rarely get it now which I’m content to simply look like myself. Oh dear, Eat Pray Love just opened though…:)

  6. Mark- I think Yume nailed it, Jose Feliciano! Ha, ha…

  7. thankfully I look like myself.

  8. When a bit younger and in better shape, I was actually mobbed in a mall with teenage girls thinking I was the singer from Matchbox 20, forgot his name. That was kind of scary especially since I had no clue as to who I was supposed to be, lol. The grey hair, receding hairline and aging body has made it much easier to go to the mall though, lol.

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