Justin Chon, 28, is part of a new generation of Asian-American actors, who portray non-typecast characters. "I don't want to be Bruce Lee Junior," he told The Korea Times. / Korea Times Photo by Shim Hyun-chul
By Lee Hyo-won
Here's a tip to ``Twifans,'' or diehard followers of the infectious hit ``The Twilight Saga'' ― if you happen to be shopping in Orange County, Calif., drop by The Attic. You might catch Justin Chon ― aka. Eric Yorkie in the movie ― lifting boxes.
Or he might be found roaming the Alaskan wilderness with a broken stove.
``A couple of guys came up to me the other day in my store and I told them that they could get a picture with me if they made a $200 purchase. I'm just kidding,'' the Korean-American actor told The Korea Times in Seoul last week, with a bout of hearty laughter.
The 28-year-old has become a familiar face as a member of the quartet of classmates that gets to hang out with Bella and Edward, the mortal-vampire power couple of the multimillion-dollar franchise.
``It turned out to be a crazy ride,'' he said.
Chon was just as animated in person as he is onscreen, though he sported a shorter haircut and edgier street wear, all from his own clothing shop. Dressing for success doth right ― Catherine Hardwicke, the director of the first installment of the movie series, apparently fancied his attire at the audition and requested that he wear the metrosexual tie-and-shirt ensemble in the film.
He was one of the few Asians vying for the role, which was originally written for a Caucasian. But no one expected ``Twilight,'' a small cult movie, to turn into an international sensation, either.
With the subsequent success of the sequel ``New Moon,'' and the third installment, ``Eclipse,'' in post-production, Chon has fans all around the world, including a retinue of self-proclaimed ``Twilight moms.''
The commercial success allows him in the meantime to pursue personal interests, such as making indie music videos with buddies ― ``without worrying about paying the rent.'' He would also love to work on an independent film project in Korea.
``I'm just an artist. I'm just an actor and I didn't do this for fame. But you can do all the art you want in your basement but you need people to appreciate it, so I think it's great,'' he said, not with feigned humility but an almost impulsive, unassuming candor.
Expect the Unexpected
Chon initially did not want to even audition for ``Twilight'' but he changed his mind once he heard that the indie filmmaker Hardwicke was directing and that Kristen Stewart was part of the cast. He had been impressed by the actress in ``Into the Wild''; and during his own trip to Alaska, he camped near the film site.
Chon headed to Alaska with a friend but their stove broke down on the first day, so they ended up hugging each other for warmth and surviving on dry food.
Such unforeseen situations occur more often than not in life ― especially on the road less traveled, for Asian-Americans en route to Tinseltown.
Born and raised in California, Cho led the life of the average young Korean, enduring strict violin lessons and pursuing an undergraduate degree in business.
But while studying at the University of Southern California he knew he didn't want to push around papers at an office for a living, and started taking acting lessons.
His father was a child actor in Korea and so he grew up hearing how tough the entertainment business could be. Chon nevertheless succeeded in landing jobs, such as one on Nickelodeon's ``Just Jordan.''
He expected his breakthrough to be with ``Crossing Over,'' in which he starred opposite such big names as Harrison Ford, Sean Penn and Ashley Judd.
``I thought it was going to be my big break,'' he said. The film proved to be an amazing experience but it did not live up to expectations, while ``Twilight'' became a sleeper hit.
Chon is regarded as being part of a new generation of Asian-American actors, who portray non-typecast characters ― being neither the agile Bruce Lee nor the nerdy Long Duk Dong (``Sixteen Candles'').
But one is bound to be stuck with a broken stove ― the glass ceiling for Asian-American actors is still there.
While adequate roles for Asians are lacking, Chon suggested that Asian-American artists themselves ― filmmakers, actors, producers ― are also responsible.
``I went to an Asian film festival and the movies playing there were like `Joy Luck Club 20,''' he said, explaining that many Asian-American works have not evolved much since the 1989 book-turned-movie, ``Joy Luck Club,'' which portrays cultural and identity conflicts.
Chon's next project is a romantic comedy about an Asian-American guy dealing with the prospects of a long-distance relationship (with a Caucasian American girlfriend). Titled ``Fortune Hunters,'' it involves fortune cookies but certainly isn't ``Joy Luck Club 20.''
Yet, he also said something quite contrary to his advocacy of things real and contemporary ― that he would willingly play stereotypical roles under special circumstances.
``There will always be someone to take the role. But if someone else were to do a poor job, I'd rather take it and make it into something real,'' he said.
An adventurer at heart, Chon seems to know what he wants and, guided by passion, is ready to persevere, stoves broken or not.