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Ben Fong-Torres
The Facts on Larry Ching
May 2003

'Better Luck' This Weekend
April 2003

Old Memories, a New Museum
March 2003

'Twixt Teen and Michael Jackson
February 2003

In a Confused State of Mind
January 2003

In the Trenches with Trent, Jon Lovitz, and Johnny Rivers
December 2002

The Pioneering Performers of The Forbidden City
November 2002

A Letter to Writers, and How the Wiest was Won
October 2002

A Singing Career? I Think Not.
September 2002

Sheryl Crow: All She Wants to Do is Have Some Lunch
August 2002

Bruce Springsteen: Still the Boss
July 2002

Commencement Speech at Thurgood Marshall College
July 2002

A Senior Moment and a Reunion with a Pop Star
June 2002

We Love New York, Part 2002
May 2002

A Flick, a Rock Fantasy, and An Alternative to the Laptop
Apr 2002

March Madness, the Musical, and a Joint Effort with Willie Nelson
Mar 2002

Bringing in 4700 with a Parade of Wild Horses
Feb 2002

Taking a Q from Quincy Jones - It's His Party
Feb 2002

Asian American Males on TV: Old News is Bad News
Dec, 2001

Life's Lessons from a DJ and a Songwriter
May 2001

Gawk and Roll at the Hall of Fame
Apr 2001

Shakin' It Up at Harvard
Mar 2001

Creole Ladies and Crazy Times Down in New Orleans
Feb 23, 2001

A Parade of Dragons, Lions, Serpents -- and Strippers?
Feb 5, 2001

"Better Luck" This Weekend.
by Ben Fong-Torres
April 2003

AsianConnections is proud to present the adventures of Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broadcaster, and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine. This guy's our hero! Ben was a featured character in the movie "Almost Famous," the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning film by Cameron Crowe.

To help promote Better Luck Tomorrow, Parry Shen, who plays one of the central characters, simply went to his computer and sent out scads of e-mails, telling friends and acquaintances how crucial the opening weekend would be for the film. How this Asian-American teenage-wasteland social satire did in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco would determine how its distributor, Paramount, would treat the movie in other markets. And how BLT did might well determine whether other Asian-American-focused films would get green-lighted.

“Just see this film,” he implored. “That is your vote.”

I saw it, and am happy to report that BLT deserves the grass-roots PR blitz. It also deserves the rave reviews it’s piled up since its showings last year at various film festivals, including Sundance. With its mid-April release, the raves have become a mini-avalanche. And I am happy to say that the theater was packed at the 5:30 p.m. showing Dianne and I attended, and that a long line awaited the next screening.

I’m especially pleased for Parry, who first wrote me about three years ago, saying he was up for a role, portraying me in Almost Famous, and could he get some tips on how I spoke. We had several pleasant exchanges, and, even after he (and a couple hundred others) lost the part to Terry Chen, he kept me apprised of his career. It was mostly small parts, until Better Luck Tomorrow.

Ironically, he plays a guy named Ben, a high school brainiac who does all the right things -- scoring excellent grades, making the basketball team, joining in extracurricular and community activities -- and allows himself to drift into all the wrong things, too: money-making scams, heists, drug sales, and, ultimately, worse. It’s true, as a few critics have said, that Ben Manibag and his gang turn Asian American stereotypes not only on their heads, but are also as amoral and debased as they are driven to excellence and success. It’s a conflict with which many Americans are saddled.

I think it’s fine that these kids, model minorities on the surface, show and even flaunt their dark sides. Haven’t we had enough of the stereotypes? Isn’t there room for at least one film that takes those clichés and messes them up? Especially when it’s done as skillfully and entertainingly as director Justin Lin, his co-writers, and his cast and crew do here?

With what he’s accomplished on a reported $250,000 budget, much of it acquired with a fistful of credit cards, Lin is set for the future. I’m hoping the same holds true for other Asian American filmmakers and actors.

P.S. Dianne, my wife, thought Parry was excellent -- “but he wouldn’t have been a good Ben Fong-Torres.” I agree. Terry looked and sounded closer to me. But Parry made a great Ben Manibag, and his future looks to be full of better luck. Just keep those e-mails coming…

Random Notes

My alma mater, San Francisco State University, has seen fit to induct me into its Alumni Hall of Fame. Or, as it should be called in my case, the Hall of Almost Fame … I’m honored, and a little flabbergasted. After all, I basically got booted off campus back in ’67 or ’68, when I was editing the school paper when it was discovered that I had not officially registered for classes that semester. If, after that scandal, I can be inducted, there’s gotta be hope for Pete Rose … Had dim sum the other afternoon with quite a gang, including Amy Tan, Lizzie Spender (a writer and the wife of Barry Humphries, better known as Dame Edna), and conductor George Daugherty (he’s part of the creative team behind Sagwa, the children’s show on PBS based on one of Amy’s books). Amy, you’ll be happy to know, is wrapping up a collection of her shorter pieces, and then diving into her next novel … I got an e-mail the other day from a young man in Taiwan, asking how I felt about the producers of Almost Famous turning me into a Caucasian and having a white actor play me. What? Terry Chen is white? That’ll be news to him—and his parents. A few days later, the correspondent admitted that he’d seen only the first part of the film, and thought Philip Seymour Hoffman was portraying me, and not the legendary rock critic Lester Bangs. I have heard rumors, however, that Hoffman is actually Chinese ...

A Good Boy

Some people think it’s silly when people grieve over the death of a pet as if it were a human being. Most of us know better, especially those of us who’ve been pet owners. Dianne and I just lost Buster, and, just as it was in the early Eighties, when Puppy, our Pekingese poodle, died, we were almost unable to speak about it for several days, especially to family and friends. Unlike most family and friends, a pet dog is with you 24/7, requires your constant attention, is focused on you (even if it’s for selfish reasons).


In return, you get companionship and devotion. Buster, a long-haired Shih-Tzu, didn’t look like a “Buster” when we gave him that name 15 years ago, but he came to earn it. He was very much his own dog. But he was also our little boy. At 15 pounds, he was easy to carry, which added to the feeling I’d have of being with a baby -- one that would never grow. Near the end, we knew his time was about up, but there’s no way to prepare for the loss. Just as there’s no way not to grieve, to shed tears, to be distracted at all hours by thoughts and memories. As the song says, thanks for the memories. Thanks, Buster. Good boy.


For more insights by Ben, visit his official website at

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