Producers create Asian Jersey Shore: Good news or bad news?

November 12, 2010

The full cast of reality TV series K-Town, which will take in Koreatown. (Courtesy of Mike Le)

It’s been thirteen years since Lucy Liu’s character Ling Woo took the lawyer-comedy TV series “Ally McBeal” by storm. By flooding the courtroom backdrops with her unadulterated, hypersexual snarkiness, Woo crushed the all-too-common meek and submissive Asian typecast with her sharp stilettos. However, another harmful oversimplification rose from her toxic pool – the Dragon Lady, a stereotype that cast Asian female characters as deceitful and yet mysterious as the dark side of the moon.

Media images of Asian women depict one of two opposites: docile or domineering. Gwen Stefani exoticized her songs with four interchangeable back-up dancers called the Harajuku Girls. Tom Cruise in “The Last Samurai” film becomes aroused by Japanese village woman Taka’s quiet, helpless nature. Twins Fook Mi and Fook Yu teased Austin Powers in the “Goldmember” movie with their oh-so-clever names, tiny skirts and insatiable desire for international spies.

Adding these examples to the damning list of asexual nerds, kung-fu fighting sidekicks and Laundromat owners, it’s not surprising that Asian people feel ostracized by Hollywood. So why should they get excited about the upcoming, all-Asian, Jersey Shore-inspired reality show called “K-Town?”

According to executive producer Mike Le, who sat down for a phone interview with The Campanil, “K-Town” will demonstrate that Asians are also human with their own imperfections – that they are “not all model minorities or one-dimensional.”

The series is based in Koreatown, Los Angeles – nicknamed ‘K-Town’ – a culturally vibrant community known for its fluorescent lights, 24-hour eateries and extravagant nightlife. It is the largest Koreatown in America, spanning almost a mile long. Filled to the brim with bars, restaurants and dance clubs, K-Town’s parties last from dinnertime to dawn.

Now “K-Town” is making its way into mainstream media in the form of a reality series. In April 2010, Le teamed up with two other Asian-American producers, Eugene Choi and Eddie Kim, to create a show with a cast of Asians – not just Korean – partying and living together in Koreatown. They brought their idea to actor and singer Tyrese Gibson, who helped promote and fund the project.

Although “K-Town” is still waiting to be picked up by a major network, the show pitch has circulated throughout the media, in The New York Post and LA Weekly, Chelsea Lately’s talk show and Saturday Night Live, gaining approval and wary side-eye glances.

After a video reel was released where various “K-Town” cast members are shown getting drunk, fighting and conducting interviews on the toilet, critics accused the show of creating even worse stereotypes of Asians, especially women. Comments on various blogs like IAmKoream and Jezebel ranged from, “How can they do this to themselves?” to, “It’s like Better Luck Tomorrow gone horribly wrong.”

However, Le sees “K-Town” in a different light.

He said the show features the eight most fascinating and intelligent Asian-Americans that will ever grace television. Le attributes particular credit to the female members, describing them as the “strongest, most colorful Asian women” he’s ever met.

Promotional photo of Violet Kim. (Courtesy of Mike Le)

Of the four women, dark-haired cast member Violet Kim has received the most attention. Throughout the blogosphere, Kim has been advertised as the ‘Snooki’ of “K-Town” for being the shortest person in the group. As a single mother with a fiery personality, Kim has drawn media buzz.

Le describes her as a very complicated person “who puts everyone on blast and takes enemies down.”

Kim notes that, for many others, it’s strange to meet a single Asian mom and, more often than not, people look down on it.

“I know they’re judging me each and every week,” Kim said. “I try to be strong.”

Kim considers herself a jack of all trades, working three jobs and seeing her son on weekends.

“When you’re in my position, you have to fight for yourself. I hope to do the best I can to provide for my kid,” Kim said.

Another female cast member causing double takes is tattooed Chinese-American Scarlet Chan. During her video interview with MTV blogger Iggy, Chan unflinchingly discussed her bisexuality and jokingly recalled a time she left an expensive sex toy out in the open for her mom to see. She also runs a NSFW blog called Scarlet Harlot, dedicated “to hookers, whores and cross-dressers” on which she posts her poetry, provocative modeling photos and her honors thesis profiling sex workers.

Chan’s former job as a stripper and self-proclaimed title of ‘ethical slut feminist’ has earned her the harshest of backlashes from those fearful of furthering the Asian sexpot typecast, but criticism hasn’t stopped her from continuing with K-Town.

“Most of the time, Asian women in the media are cold and passive, always behind the man,” Chan said. “People need to see more Asian women who are fun, raw, empowered and even totally slutty.”

“K-Town,” in many ways, has become a passion project for the cast. While Kim hopes to become an actress and make a name for herself, Chan strives to use the show as a forum for her discussion of the abuse she faced in the past.

Promotional photo of Scarlet Chan. (Courtesy of Mike Le)

“I want to talk about all the violence that happened in my family. There is a pressure in the Asian community to come off as ‘perfect,’ like nothing is wrong,” Chan said. “I was the first in my family to speak up and was shunned.”

She hopes that, by opening up about such difficult subjects, “some kid going through the same thing might speak out, too.”

Chan found herself in a few verbal altercations with mostly other women who did not approve of the televised exposure of their extremely close-knit community. Although she expects the situation to get even crazier once the reality series goes on the air, Chan and the other cast members aren’t hesitating in the least.

For more information on K-Town, visit their website. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter @KTownRealityTV.

Read our other stories on K-Town:

Opinions: Cultural Misappropriation: Yep, Still Racist
Blog: NSFW: Leaked sizzle reel of K-Town reality show (aka “Asian Jersey Shore”)

Producers create Asian Jersey Shore: Good news or bad news? was published on November 12, 2010 in Features

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  • Pat

    Hotless. Can’t wait for you guys to get on air and relieve us from the madness of jersey shore.

  • Jeff Lee

    This is such a ripoff of Jersey Shore. Just trying to cash in and copycat Jersey Shore. The producers are trying to produce fake hype on the internet and have friends post positive comments on this pilot to get it picked up and make a quick buck! Nobody wants to watch superficial Asian people trying to act fake and superficial like Jersey Shore. K-Town is such an unoriginal concept, at least it is cheap to produce. This will only appeal to a small group of Asians and White people who have no taste in television. There are so many other better choices of television programming on the networks!

  • Jennifer Chan

    this shows lame. its been all talk and nothings been done so far. if this blows itll be like..nice try~ every race has a sterotype. get over it

  • Heather

    Stop hating and let the flower blossom before you truly judge. Yep every race has stereotypes and each races tries to fight them. Its the Asian communities turn. No need to hate. It will be what it is intended to be. Good luck K-town cast!

  • Peter Chang

    Nobody is “hating” just being realistic. I find it so pathetic when and realistic comments are criticized as “hating” by inarticulate people who have nothing more substantial to say.

    This show is not about dissolving stereotypes, but of promoting sex, alcohol, promiscuity, partying, superficiality. This is a blatant and obvious attempt to gather viewer ratings for this Reality show through sex and drama, in order for the producers, network, and cast to make money. Please do not confuse this so called Reality show with the genuine television programs that actually try to inform the public and break down stereotypes. Also is there even a Chinese member on the show? There are 1.5 billion Chinese and not 1 Chinese cast member. Where is this show trying to break down stereotypes for 1.5 billion Chinese?

    So are we trying to replace the Asian stereotype with one that says Asian are promiscuous, alcoholics, superficial, self centered, party animals and materialistic. The people who support this show are seem so unintelligent and not uneducated.

  • Ashley Cheun

    It’s funny how you criticize another comment for having nothing substantial to say. Why? Because neither does yours. If you read the article it clearly states “Chinese-American Scarlet Chan” so there is your Chinese. And seriously, you expect the inclusion of one person of a certain ethnicity on a TV show to break down all the stereotypes surrounding a group of 1.5 billion people? Really?

    This show is for entertainment, and beyond that it seems like they want there to be a slightly more complete picture of what it means to be Asian American in the mainstream media consciousness. What’s so bad about that?

  • Peter Chang

    I said “Chinese” not “Chinese-American”. Thank you. If I wanted some white washed banana, Twinkie “Chinese-American” Scarlet Chan to represent the true Chinese. I would have said explicitly stated “Chinese-American”. This white washed, banana has very little knowledge of real Chinese language, history, tradition, or culture. She is an absolute disgrace and no way represents real Chinese people from China!

  • Huizhen

    I for one cannot wait for this show to come out! It is about time that people see Asians as something more than bookworms or mafia. So what if it is like Jersey Shore, wasn’t Jersey Shore just a more outrageous version of Real World anyway? I know plenty of international students from Asia and they are all pretty excited for this show to be picked up, and hopefully for they finish they graduate programs. The fact is no one thinks Asians do anything but study and that we are all quiet individuals that play video games. It’s about time people, especially in America see that we do know how to have a good time! We are smart and loud and rebel against our parents just like everyone else. This show is playing on an image that few people see in reality; it is simply bringing to light our nightlife and those that break the nerdy stereotype.

    There are plenty of Chinese that act the way Scarlet does. Who is to say what she knows of her heritage? Certainly not you! How a person behaves is no insight into their true mind. She speaks her mind and is comfortable with her sexuality, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. As times change a culture must change or you will be held as old fashioned with a stick up your ass forever. While we have a grand history in China there is no reason why we cannot move forward and be less close minded about things. Moving with the changing of times and culture shifts does not make you a “white washed banana” it makes you a human being.

    K-Town Fighting!!!

  • Douglas Hachiya

    Have you even met Scarlet? To call her a disgrace is way out of line!

    She’s one of the coolest people I’ve met. I’ve hung out with her on multiple occassions and can verify that she is a very intelligent and independent lady but at the same time can be a wild one when having fun.

    She was actually born in Hong Kong so her nationality is in fact Chinese.

  • Douglas Hachiya

    What separates this from Jersey Shore is the fact that this shows the “stereotype” that DOES and HAS existed within the Asian American community for years BUT is NOT known outside of the Asian community in general.

    Jersey Shore displays for our entertainment the Guido Stereotype that has been depicted for years in film, television, and other media. The tanning, working out, fist pumps, the big hair, etc. was no surprise to any of us when Jersey Shore came out. We all knew that there was going to be a lot of that. It was more the interesting “Guido-isms” and the individual personalities and stuff beyond the Guido stereotype that has made Jersey Shore a success.

    Name a movie or t.v. show that has shown the Asian Club scene or the Asian clubber stereotype OUTSIDE of the Asian American Indies? I certainly can’t. I’ve been a club promoter before and know for a fact that Asians spend more on booze than anyone else on Friday and Saturday nights. A lot of non-Asians don’t know that nor the fact that Asians can have fun too. This show, which in fact has several major network bids already, can show that this stereotype does exist to a wider and more mainstream audience. I see no shame in hiding this from the rest of America.

    These reasons are why I don’t completely see it as “coat tailing” or “ripping off” Jersey Shore.

    But at the same time, Jersey Shore coming before this has helped in creating greater interest for this show. Now there’s the fascination of “oooh, who’s going to be the Asian version of Snooki? We want to know more about this Situ-Asian, etc.”

    Also, what Social/Ethnic group based Reality Show after Jersey Shore hasn’t “banked off the success of Jersey Shore?” Jersey Shore is one of the shows that has shown that people have interest in watching various Ethnic/Social groups in a “Reality” format. Actually, Jersey Shore is not an original concept. It’s just “Real World” with one specific ethnic/social group instead of “seven different strangers”.

    On a final note, I have actually hung out with all of the cast members. I knew some of them before the show and met the rest after the pilot was shot and can verify that what you see in the teaser video is what you’re going to see when meeting them in person. I think the video does a great job in capturing their personalities.

  • immo

    …isn’t this show aimed at an American audience? And it’s about the Asian-American identity, so… unless this show is called “Discovering China: the hard-working Asian”, I don’t see anything wrong with showcasing Asian-Americans in all their horrible glory.

    What do you want Scarlet to do? Play the violin on TV? Talk about how she loves rice and how she honours her ancestors every morning while doing tai chi? Represent Team China in the Olympics and win a gold medal in synchronized swimming? …wait. Scarlet, DO IT. Go win a medal! lol

    What is the Asian identity you speak of or are you perpetuating the stereotype of the studious little Asian accountant? Who are these “REAL” Chinese people you speak of because the ones I met in China were wonderful people from different walks of life. A whole spectrum of personalities from meek to bold, introvert to extrovert, the super-charismatic divas to the socially-inept.

    This show, though not representing the quiet Asian, represents a not oft seen view of Asians on television. How many people out in America immediately think we’re good at math? We’re A+ students? Unrealistic expectations, man. This is the American-Asian identity we are looking at and this show showcases a couple of individuals who blast those quiet-goodgirl/boy stereotypes out of the water.

    How about the people who don’t meet these expectations you have? For those Asians out there who can’t or don’t want to fit that mold? Shouldn’t we celebrate our differences on television for the world to see? Explore the many facets that make up our identity or have influenced us?

    So this show is riding the coat-tails of Jersey shore and selling drama and sex. So what? Why does everybody else get to do it and us Asians don’t and we’re put into the category of sexless and boring? AND WHERE THE HELL DID WE GET THESE STEREOTYPES?! I’ve partied in almost every part of Asia, we’re awesome at drinking people under the table. Japan parties like a rockstar, Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong doesn’t shut down til the last dog is hung, Beijing has the gaudiest, most ridiculous clubs, Koreans knock it back in Seoul; Asians all over the world are different. Every Asian culture has a wonderful mix of people both ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

    Why are we disappointed and why are we disgraced? There are real people out there like the cast of K-town.

    And this show is saying we’re all human. Good or bad, I wanna see more Asians on mainstream television. I’m pretty sure the cast have had Asian identity issues, pressure and criticism from family (What with Peter Le full-frontal all over the internet and Scarlet’s ethical slut feminist label) and are aware of people’s different views. Wonder if they’ll explore that on the show…

    I didn’t jump onto the Jersey Shore wagon, so I actually won’t be able to compare. Holding out judgement til I actually SEE an episode. Right now I’m all for seeing it. That might change. hahaha. Entertain me, K-town cast! ENTERTAIN!

    The voyeur in me is interested. 😀

  • Peter Nguyen

    I see most females like this show and can’t wait to watch it. Maybe because of peter lol. Most dudes think its stupid and is a disgrace because they see the girls being sluty and all. If u want to see a show about traditional Asian girls you’ll need to go somewhere else. This show is about Asians who live in America who shared or experienced similar lifestyle and are very interesting people. No one wanna watch a reality show with no drink, no partying, no getting girls. That’s boring. My opinion is the more Asians on TV the better. If you think this is wrong go cry to your mama. This show is about Asians in America not asians who live in Asia. You want someone to represent China well u should watch the Olympic lol. Ignorance people. But bottom line is peter will beast in the show. Lol and Jennifer is hot.

  • SH Paik

    I just find it interesting how everyone feels the need to justify the launch of this program. Like it’s only okay if we’re 100% convicted of its moral acceptability. It seems that most people who are against this show are taking it too seriously, when it’s not really meant to be – it’s entertainment! Of course it’s going to promote a skewed stereotype of Asian-Americans. But doesn’t every representation of Asian-Americans in the media reinforce one stereotype or another? I think it is unrealistic to expect the media to debunk stereotypes, anyways. In my experience, stereotypes are shattered not by movies or tv shows, but through real human connection, interaction, and understanding. And while I hope that that can be achieved, I am totally excited for this show.

    Another thing I’d like to point out is that everyone is so focused on negative representation of Asians in American media. But what about the fact that we’re underrepresented? Any publicity is good publicity. And I think it’s about damn time Asians joined the ranks of reality stardom.

  • David Lee

    The people commenting on this article sound like a bunch of SHILLS for the K-town reality show trying increase internet hype to this show. They all reply with the same answer. Probably the same points in their presentation to the networks. This is such a fake forum!

    1. It will be good for Asian in the “main stream media”, repeatedly.
    2. It is just entertainment.
    3. Give it a chance.
    4. Will show a breakdown racial sterotypes.

  • Liz Draisy

    And this is why we can’t have a healthy debate in this country. Those with negative feelings towards the show are called “haters” while those who support the show are called “shills”. Somewhere in the middle is an intelligent and reasonable debate, please meet me there. Until then, the skeptics should check our this piece by Mike Le, the producer of the “K-Town” show. It’s an honest and thought-provoking account of his experiences of his family escaping the Vietnam war, growing up Asian-American and wrestling with identity, and how it all brought him to produce the show:

  • Jeff

    Heres another site with JERSEY SHORE BASHING

  • Mike J

    I for once hope this show will never happen because there’s no substance and it’s simply a disfavor, disgrace, and a travesti for all the Asian/Asian-American communities in the U.S. If that’s the portrait of the overall Asian/Asian-American society in the society in this country, we would have a lot more pressing concerns to pre-occupy our minds instead of watching a bogus, and overly-artificial show.

  • DolSot

    @Peter Chang – You sound pretty white washed yourself…. what color is your banana? Where exactly does it say what this show is about? YOU say that this show is not about dissolving stereotypes, but of promoting sex, alcohol, promiscuity, partying, superficiality… Really? How do you know this? I think this is your POV not a fact. I could say that this show is about good looking asians and how they interact with eachother. Am I right? Are you right? See what I’m getting at! You don’t have all the facts to make such statements of fact, as a result, you just sound dumb.

  • immo


    Debates aren’t won by belittling people and calling names. I’m glad the so-called ‘haters’ are on this forum; shows that they’re interested in the show and I bet they’ll tune into at least one episode to see what it’s about hahaha.

    Thank you, Liz, for pointing out the hypocrisy of the ‘haters’. Watch the show or don’t. It’s up to you.

    Also for the sake of argument, lets just say we are shills or whatever.

    So what? Do we make a good point? Are you just not listening and feel that you’re right so you just close down? Again… why is this a travesty? Have you SEEN what’s in popular media in Asia nowadays?

    So it’s okay for us to see ourselves all sexified and dirty over there across the pond cuz these people who ARE Asian and DO exist and ARE part of our society should remain our dirty little secret in Asia? And we should present American society with only the image of the overachiever?

    Isn’t that… kinda boring?

    But I gotta agree on one point, there are more pressing concerns out there for people to occupy their time with. Lets all go out and do our little bit to help, kids! But ya know, after a day of fighting crime and super-villains, I like to kick back and watch some brain-rotting television.

    What I’m saying is I’m bored, this show looks interesting, I wanna watch it.

    … by the way, my paranoia forces me to say: RIGHT BACK AT YOU! How do I know the people hating on this forum aren’t ‘shills’ and are just playing the role of the proverbial straw man to drum up interest in this show and debate?!

  • Han Kim

    Well, the show will help dispel that model minority myth, but I am thinking of not renewing my Fios TV this year just because.