| The Associated Press in a recent article said the less-than-cool image of Korean rapper Psy has helped him to hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100, adding cool-looking Asian guys like members of the Korean boy band Super Junior appeal little to Americans. People in the U.S. expect to see Asian men with a normal appearance, not those who look like actors Brad Pitt or Keanu Reeves. This view of Psy might anger critics who consider it degrading and racist, but the rapper is not the typical K-pop star.
When Westerners think of Asian men, the first thing that comes to mind is a martial arts master like Bruce Lee. Korean actors who have starred in Hollywood movies have also catered to that image. In the action movie "G.I. Joe," Lee Byung-hun played Storm Shadow, a ninja who carries out his mission without questioning whether it is good or bad. Singer Rain in "Ninja Assassin (2009)" was a human weapon trained in a secret organization. Jang Dong-gun embraced the sword in "The Warrior뭩 Way." These three swordsmen spoke few words due to their awkward English.
Korean stars appearing in K-pop videos and Korean dramas on the Web have developed images different from the stereotypical Asian men in Hollywood films. Hong Seok-gyeong, a professor at Bordeaux 3 University in France, said Korean actors are no longer macho men who only know martial arts and cannot attract women. They now boast a perfect appearance, can act and sing, and are attractive as Hollywood stars. Yet critics say Korean actors lack the aesthetic value of their Hollywood counterparts and can never top them.
Psy, however, is different. He is neither a swordsmen who can compete with Westerners nor a copycat of American pretty boys. He feels cool being himself and does not imitate a Western star. Psy is full of confidence when he does his signature horseriding dance. He is even funny when he makes jokes in English on American TV shows. An anchorwoman of the Wall Street Journal repeatedly asked a Korean correspondent why Psy was so funny, unlike other Asian stars. What makes him so popular in the Western world is unclear. Is it his plain appearance or his breaking of the glass ceiling for Asian men in the U.S.? What is true is that he is a man who breaks the Asian male stereotype in the West.
Ass`t Culture Desk Editor Lee Jin-yeong (firstname.lastname@example.org)