Ahead of Playing Bruce Lee, Mike Moh Talks Asian Stereotypes and Representation

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Jul 25, 2019

Actor Mike Moh, who plays the iconic Bruce Lee in Quentin Tarantino’s new film “Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood,” spoke candidly about martial arts, his battle against Asian stereotypes and being a first-generation immigrant growing up in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota on the latest episode of Deadline’s New Hollywood podcast, which aired Wednesday (July 24). 

In an interview with Dino-Ray Ramos, who is first-gen Filipino-American, Moh talked about what informs the way many immigrant parents define success for their children. “That’s why representation is so important, because our parents didn’t see people that were like us or that looked like us having that success,” Moh said. “So what would give them any idea that we could do it as well, if they didn’t see it? So now that all sorts of people are busting through, hopefully their parents can say, ‘Oh, Mike’s doing it, you can do it as well.’”

Moh didn’t shy away from discussing the way he’s been treated because of his race, both as a child and an adult. “Now I look back and I’m like, wow, that was kind of messed up. People [would be] like, ‘Do you know Dr. Kim?’” Moh, who is Korean-American, recalled. He admitted that facing constant stereotypes used to anger him, but things changed after he became a father. “I used to have this anger that people are making this comment towards me because I’m Asian American. I used to get angry but now I look back and with my perspective as a father…. I feel more pity towards that than I do anger.”

So how does Moh handle the pressure of playing the most famous Asian martial arts actor of all time? Moh said that just as Lee had to “cut through that noise” of sometimes being the sidekick who wore the mask, he’s doing the same. “I want to be a martial arts action guy and it's not because I want to fall into a stereotype and that’s an easy thing I can get cast in,” Moh explained. “I just happen to love martial arts. I happen to be Asian. And yes, I do get upset when people just assume I know martial arts. But if there is something to be associated with Asians, I think it’s cool that it’s something so bad ass.”

Listen to the full episode: