What Movies Mean To Me 

Posted: August 13, 2015 in Blog

I’m sitting in my bed, in my hotel room again in the middle of the night, thinking about my day and thinking about what I want to talk to you guys about. I had a long day of walking around Disney World, took a bunch of silly pics on my snapchat and rode a bunch of rides. I was pretty taken with Hollywood side of the park, walking through the gates and seeing my town, Los Angeles on display for the whole world to see. Familiar sites, replicas of buildings and restaurants. Sometimes you don’t see the beauty of the things in your backyard. On a last minute decision, we raced across the park to catch The Great Movie Ride, actually they we’re closing that area for some reason, I think due to end of the evening, we kind of jumped the roped off area and went to catch the ride anyway. We ended up being the last folks to do the ride. I was sucked into the movies again.

I just loved seeing the films that I grew up on, not because I’m as old as most of those films, but because I grew up an actor and a big part of my training was watching all those films, watching and studying what is literally the history of our industry and craft. I went through my head the names of all the films that were being showed in the clips… Public Enemy, Maltese Falcon, Tootsie, Bonnie and Clyde, Grease, Doctor Zhivago, True Grit, Singing In the Rain, Casablanca… some films I haven’t seen in awhile and feeling that urge to go back and watch the classics. The excitement of seeing the opening of films and the music of the lights of 20th Century Fox or the Universal globe, knowing I’m in some way apart of all that.

The ride takes place in a replica of the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and I was thinking of being in the original theater for my own movie premieres, one being “Biker Boyz,” which I was ironically recognized for later in the park, shooting in front of the theater in a pilot called “Hitman,” where I was stealing a Corvette. It’s cool to see your town being recreated somewhere on the other side of the country and people enjoying it, to feel like you’re apart of it all, even if it’s just a little bit.

Upon returning to my hotel, I remembered I couldn’t play my favorite video game, League of Legends, due to a restriction on the internet and I went back to Netflix and found myself watching this amazing documentary on Roger Ebert, called, “Life Itself.” I must say, I’ve never really been keen on movie critics, I mean what actor really is? I always felt we do the work, we’re filmmakers, let them decided if what we did was good or bad, they can talk about it all they want later… But, I was really touched by the film and felt a kinship with the man, he loved film as much as I do and was incredibly articulate about it all. He lived a fascinating life, a great life. Through the film, I definitely have more respect for the role of the critic… They help raise the bar.

I do remember him not liking the movie “Hook,” and of course, I know the film was flawed and didn’t really open to critical acclaim only became a cult classic later… but I also remember him really appreciating a smaller film I did  called, “The Debut,” an indie movie about a Filipino American kid coming of age played by myself.

I guess I feel like, in the Hollywood movie making fraternity, with this guy and all us who’ve been around this industry for years, Ebert is one of the people who help make these movies we make for entertainment, fluff to some, have weight and importance, puts it in the context of great literature and fine art.

Movies just mean the world to me, I’m lucky to have been apart of some classics, big films, indie films… I look forward to telling more stories.

3am. Orlando. Nina Simone.

Posted: August 13, 2015 in Blog

I’ve been traveling all day and now I lay wide awake after an early evening nap in my hotel room in Orlando. I’m in town to make an appearance at the Anime Fest Orlando. After finishing up the Daredevil series on Netflix, I wandered on to the documentary, “What Happened, Nina Simone?” about the life and times of this amazing musician. Honestly, I can’t tell you I knew much of her life, I know some of her music, because I love music and some of her songs have been anchors in my memory to my family and special times. Her voice is instantly recognizable and incredibly powerful.

Parallels that I’ve always made in my mind to Nina Simone, has been Lauren Hill and Amy Winehouse. Artist that are supremely talented and impactful in my life, yet somewhat tortured, you can hear it in their music, maybe it’s why I love there songs so much.

With Nina Simone and this film, I got to see her true craftsmanship as an artist, she was a world class classic pianist and she became an activist in a time when America was in great disorder and was in need of change… She was apart of that.

As an artist watching this film, I am deeply moved. One can only wish to be in a class of artistry that Nina displayed, fame and everything else aside, I want to be that good. You know, sure we all want to be rich and famous, but to be really, really good, is most important… to me at least.

And then there is the life beyond the art, the activism and just living… being happy, in the end, artist or not, we want to be happy. Exactly what will bring that happiness can be elusive.

As the years go by, I checkin with myself and how happy I am, as an artist and a human being. What have I accomplish professionally, what have I accomplished personally. There’s still a lot of work to be done on both sides of that coin.  The humanizations of those we put on pedestals, is always interesting to me, the singers and actors and politicians. Sometimes they’re like gods in our minds and then you see their flaws, not unlike our own, there is something comforting in that, hell it even makes the art that much more great.

Now I’m just rambling in the middle of the night, taking stock of what I’ve done, being happy with that, but not content, knowing you can still hang with with the best of them. But it’s 3 o’clock in the morning, in Orlando and I’m alone in a hotel room, I’m just going to fall asleep listening to Nina Simone songs.

So I’ll leave you with on of my favorites: Angel of the Morning

I know I’ve been writing every day of this month, but today, with my blog post, I’m including a video. This entry comes because I wrote a new poem and performed it at our monthly gathering of #WeOwnThe8th. We created this amazing Asian American Arts Collective and we’re continuing to inspired each other and collaborate each other. So I hope you enjoy the video and poem. You can find out more about #WeOwnThe8th at weownthe8th.com

And for those of you that enjoy my poetry and have been asking about when there will be more copies of my sold out book, “Dante’s Poetry Lounge,” now is the time. A limited amount os signed books are available at Maker Shop.

Sunday Nights

Posted: August 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

Growing up, around the time sun would set on Sunday evenings, I would usually get a pain in the pit of my stomach because I hated Mondays! I hated the idea of having to wake up early the next day. All the fun of the weekend had ended, the playing in the park, the cartoons on Sunday morning, the meals after church and more playing around, it all ended and the only thing I can see in my foreseeable future was school… I dreaded Sunday nights.
Now as I get to sleep on Sunday nights, I have a different feeling, I don’t know when it changed. Maybe it has do with being an actor. See, now when I get in bed on Sunday nights I’m filled with a little bit of excitement. The dread, I used to feel is now almost opposite that feeling. And the thing that I’m excited about is Monday morning, the beginning of a new work week. I’m reminded that this week is filled with infinite possibilities. I said I may have developed this feeling with me being an actor and all because, we never know when we’ll have an audition, with every new week is the hope that a new opportunity is right around the corner.
I remember an actor told me once his car broke down on a Monday, he got an audition on that day, tested on a Wednesday and was a series regular filming in San Francisco that Friday. His whole world changed in a week… infinite possibilities.
So as I crawl into bed from such a fun weekend which included an amazing meeting with #WeOwnThe8th and judging the Ms. Philippines beauty pageant, I’m reminded a new week starts in the morning and you never know what’s going to happen. 

We Own the 8th Surprise

It’s the 8th of the month and today is the day that our Asian American arts collective meet’s in downtown LA in at The Great Company. Now every month, there’s a different event that takes place, from open forum meetings to talk about issues effecting the community, to keynote speakers and workshops, and live performance nights. Now, tonight was supposed to be a performance night where some of the founders including myself we’re supposed to perform from the group at large. The whole evening was hosted by Beau Sia, also one of the founders and was supposed to be us and others just performing for everyone… as I was introduced and took the stage to begin my set, the screen come down and a video starts to play… it’s a tribute video… to me! Friends and colleagues and fellow members of the 8th wishing happy birthday.

Beau really got me, I took a seat in the front row and after this wonderful video of well wishes, Beau began to bring on friends and family to honor me. It was funny and emotional and people talked of how I may have impacted them and the community. You know, the funny thing is, of course as performer, I’m comfortable in front of an audience to act or talk, but as the center of attention otherwise, it can be a little uncomfortable for me, I much rather lay low and fly in under the radar. But brothers hit the stage and told stories, roasting me a bit, a lot of laughter, then other stories which filled my heart up, I love those guys, songs from friends Olivia Thai and AJ Rafael, AJ even got me to join him for a duet… that was pretty crazy. I poem from my sister.

And the other crazy thing is, Beau, within planning for the show, asked me to write a new poem, talking about age and also becoming the leader of this group, “We Own the 8th.” It was to be apart of my set… although, ultimately there was no set to do. I was up all last night writing this new piece. Lucky for me, or I guess it might of happened how Beau planned it, this new poem I wrote was the perfect poem to end the night. So I read it to thank all those in attendance. (I’ll probably post the poem on my youtube later)

So my actual birthday is on the 29th… but this was a special night, to celebrate and honored by my peers and family, I appreciate everybody that came, everyone that took time to send in a video, everyone that performed, the poets, the singers and of course Beau. I am truly proud to be a member of the crew, #WeOwnThe8th!

Fame

Posted: August 7, 2015 in Uncategorized

image

My relationship with the idea of fame spans decades now. I’ve been an actor for 30 years, so I’d like to say it starts there or from 25 years ago when I did the movie “Hook,” but in all honestly, it starts before that. See, fame, for lack of a better definition, is just people knowing you, that you don’t know. And being from a small town and being a performer, I got my very first taste of fame at a young age. I was probably around 8 when I won my first breakdancing competition, I remember getting a trophy bigger than me and just like that, I was everybody’s little cousin. To this day, if I run into a Filipino in Cali, the Bay or LA, there is a chance that they’ll tell me, “you know, I think we’re related.” and who knows… Maybe we are.
Now traveling around at that age, I remember getting confronted by another crew in Lake Tahoe of all places, who knew us, our crew, by name and challenged us to a break off right there in a hallway of a casino. We won… and yo, that’s a lot of fame for an 8 year old kid.
As I’ve grown up and have been fortunate to have a career span three decades so far in the crazy industry, where just surviving through a pilot season can be considered a success. I happened to do some roles that became iconic for certain generations or fan bases, namely Rufio and Zuko, and thus I become recognizable, some would argue, one of the most recognizable Asian in American.
Now fame, for those that don’t know or don’t have much fame… doesn’t really do anything. I mean, the fact that people recognize you or appreciate some of your past work, is nice, but there is no real tangible-ness to it. It doesn’t, in and of itself, doesn’t add to your pockets. What I mean to say is, fame… at least how I see it, is really just a tool. It’s something that if used right can be leverage to help create new projects or open up doors. But fame by itself, can get you in trouble. If you’re chasing fame to feel validated or fill some kind of hole you may have… That can get dangerous. Because it’s so elusive, and like I said, not that tangible. One day it can be here, the next day it can just float away.
But nowadays, it’s not just the artist in this fame game, all of us with social media accounts are out there, vulnerable to the public scrutiny. Many of us can get really depressed from the negativity that ultimately comes at all of us. But the reality is, we’re not as bad as anyone says we are… but on the flip side, we’re not really as good as people say we are either. You’re just you. For those of us that take the negativity too hard, it’s probably because we’re putting too much stock in the “likes” and “follows.” We just are who we are… I think we forget that sometimes, myself included.
So I’ve been lucky in my life, to have this so called “fame”, which can range from someone shaking with nervousness when meeting me for the first time, to someone who just knows he knows my face from somewhere… thinks we might of went to school together. Funny thing about fame, it’s not something you can create, sometimes it’s just something that happens, no matter how much we try, we can’t truly control what people care about. And it can be a blessing or a curse… and with that, we can give the guy tweeting at me a little negativity, a little fame for the moment.
 

FullSizeRender

Tonight I was invited to watch a preview of the upcoming movie, “Straight Outta Compton.” Wow… this movie took me back! As I started my August blogathon because it’s my birthday month and around this time of year I get reflective, it’s suiting to go watch a movie that brings us back to the 90’s to relive stories and a time that feels like so much of my own personal history.

So in the 1990’s I grew up in a town called Paramount which just so happens to be the next city over from Compton and the stories that get told in this movie are like legendary tales from around my way. In those days, our high school football team, Paramount Pirates, we’re state champions and Eazy E and MC Ren would show up at the games. I can remember hearing gangsta rap for the first time, they all looked like guys from our neighborhood and the stories they rapped about we’re about things that happened close by, even on our own streets sometimes. I mean, the 90’s we’re the height of gang culture, we all kind of looked like we were in gangs, it was just part of the fashion… baggy pants, flannels, bomber jackets, baseball hats. If you’re from, where we’re from, the gang culture, seeing it, dealing with it was an every day thing. From being bullied by gang members to hanging out with friends that happen to be in gangs to be mistaken by other gang members or cops for being in a gang… it’s just part of life back then… I’m sure it still a part of life for folks in the neighborhood.

And this movie took me back to those times. Sure there were rough moments… but a lot fun times too. Hearing gangsta rap for the first time was something that was exciting and scary at the same time. And knowing that these were guys from around our way was even cooler. It’s like you hear, “so and so is Dr. Dre’s cousin” or “that girl is dating EZ.”

And that era was such a different time in Hollywood. African American culture was everywhere, it was actually more diverse than now in many ways. Hip Hop ruled the pop charts, they’re we’re several Black shows on the network television, from “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” to “Moesha” to “Hangin With Mr. Cooper” and so many more… I was on most of them! The great thing is there was a lot more work in Hollywood for actors of color… myself included. Not only that, there were so many African American movies being made, sometimes I think of them as LA Hood films… again, I was in some of these like, “Fakin Da Funk.”

Yeah, many people know me from mainstream projects like “Hook” or “Avatar the Last Airbender,” but for a whole generation, people from my neighborhood and neighborhoods all over the country remember as part of “Black Hollywood.” I mean, there wasn’t any Asian American projects getting made and not a lot of roles in mainstream or “white” Hollywood, I found work in the Black Community and got to work with some of the greatest artist like Will Smith, Cedric the Entertainer, Michael Jai White, Pam Grier, Brandy and so many more. Sometimes I miss the diversity we used have on television.

Just growing up in LA and seeing all those guys from the movie at parties or clubs back in the day, I mean seeing Tupac by himself at a club just hanging out days before his death or knowing Suge Knight was in the club and trying to stay away from wherever he was because of fear of anything going down around him. It was just great to see this movie made and done right. Bravo to the whole crew and the director F. Gary Gray. Its a great story to see kids from around my way make it and gives me pride, that I too, like them, were one of the “Boyz In the Hood.”