Many Asian Americans grow up dreaming of seeing themselves on the big screen. Only until recently were there a handful of Asian leads in Hollywood to look up to. When Stephen Oyoung saw Keanu Reeves in The Matrix and films staring Bruce Lee and Jet Li, he saw that it was possible for an Asian to become a Holllywood action superstar.
With limited roles for Asian Americans at the time, Stephen Oyoung’s journey to the big screen doesn’t start with acting classes or a breakout stage role, but a passion for martial arts. Oyoung’s interest in acting and martial arts may have been instilled in him even before he was born. In the 70’s. after the death of Bruce Lee, Oyoung’s dad had a shot at pursuing his own big screen dreams but his traditional Asian parents insisted that he pursue a career as an engineer instead.
As a child, his father taught Stephen, Shaul Jiao and Praying Mantis Kung Fu. As a high school senior, he watched The Matrix and began to consider using his martial arts expertise to turn into an acting career.
While pursuing his college degree, Oyoung studied Wushu Kung Fu with various Chinese Kung Fu teams, becoming a master. Once Oyoung finished college, he told his parents that he wanted to pursue his dreams of acting. Expecting to have the same result as his father, it turned out that his father was naturally ok with the idea. Stephen sees it as wish fulfillment as his father was unable to pursue his own dream of being on the big screen.
Following his non-traditional route, Oyoung got his first taste of performing at Pirate’s Dinner Adventure, a live-action show, set on a replica ship where he got to perform swordplay and acrobatics while guests dined. Following Pirate’s Dinner Adventure, Oyoung became the first and only Asian Jedi at Disneyland’s Jedi Training Academy.
That opened doors for him in the film stunt industry, getting cast as a stunt actor then evolving into bigger roles like fight coordinator and fight choreographer. During this time he was still focused on his goal of becoming an actor.
Whenever they needed someone who could fight and speak Chinese, Oyoung was able to get some additional screen time. After a few opportunities he was able to build a resume of work. From there he was finally able to pursue a more traditional path of building a reel, getting a manager and an agent. “Once you have those things then its game on” he says.
When he first started his career, there weren’t too many roles for Asians nor were there many other Asians on the set. “I used to feel like the only one, it was like a mark of pride, I was the token (Asian)” now there are so many opportunities for Asian Americans. While Oyoung has landed several roles in major films, commercials, television shows and has been able to expand beyond action acting, he still dreams of headlining movies.
With Crazy Rich Asians, Tiger Tail and the increasing amount of Asian in front of the camera and behind, as show runners, directors, writers and more, right now might be the best time to be an Asian American in the entertainment industry.
For those who want to follow his footsteps, Oyoung says “it will happen. It will happen if you don’t quit. Get into some type of acting class, know other actors and start making something – that’s what people mean when they say “practice your craft. The most important thing is you cannot stop. You cannot quit. You will be discouraged. You will feel like its not fair. You will feel terrible, like it’s not gonna happen to you and if you quit, it will not happen to you. But I am living proof that it will.”
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