I’ve always thought I had it down, how to comfortably know how to make the switch between Miami-Will and Asian-Will or sometimes to great effect, mix the two. It’s a pathetic trait that I’m immensely proud of, having been able to construct these dimensions of my masculinity from scratch, while not having a same-skin role model to show me the ropes beyond that of Bruce (Lee), Jet (Li), and Rick (Goddamn Yune).
But then again, that was all before Wei Shen (voiced by Will Yun Lee) showed up on my television screen.
At first I was skeptical, thinking, “Great another Asian gangster to beat some more Triad clichés into submission” and honestly how could you not? The man is tatted up with the standard Chinatown goon fare: dragons and mandarin characters kriss-krossing every which way over his body. That’s while also rocking the heavily overplayed Asian bad guy wardrobe, the wife beater/track pants/shiny deltoids ensemble that Asian leads can’t help but sport.
My assumptions for Wei Shen were a tad pessimistic, I was convinced that there was a clipped accent, a rehashing of some Yakuza/Triad/Cartel code of honor and conduct, and oodles of karate-yellin’, Anime-lookin’, baddies to fight.
But then you play the game, you live as this man does, and you embody the barrage of vindictive and emotionally captivating cussing he spits out, and you can’t help but think, “Damn it, is this piece of shit the next great Asian American action hero?”
Case(s) in point:
1. Wei Shen has no comprehension of the term compulsive. As his ardent adherence to “keeping it real” puts him beyond what anyone would bother categorizing as excessively compulsive behavior, ever. There is no faux gangster talk and no gimmicks to any of his conversations. The man says it like it is, in the most uncomfortably profane interpretation you could put it, and utilizes stern elbow jabs to your solar plexus to take the place of commas and periods in what would be normal conversation. We owe it to the youth of this nation to have this man host an episode of Sesame Street, please.
2. He has a strut that shames every rapper, baller, and back-alley hustler north of the Mississippi. When he sidles along the streets of Hong Kong his swag levels hit heights deemed unattainable by human standards. I mean, you can’t have that much torque in your waist and nonchalance in your shoulder rock and not fall off your fly-axis, YOU JUST CAN’T.
3. Ladies Love Cool Wei. You’re unstoppable, the issue of race is no longer a hindrance to your game, chicks actually dig you for your personality. Ok, sure, I get it, its a video game, and yeah all these “romances” are predestined by the guiding hand of the games writers, but when the hell have we seen the Asian dude get the white girl in any form of widely-distributed media?
Donger don’t count. Though, Perry Shen did get with that nerd chick in that one movie. Shit, you also got James Shigeta‘s white broad romp through Hollywood in the ’60′s… aight, aight, how many Asian dudes get the video game rendition of Emma Stone?………….mm-hmm, lets keep that empowerment train chugging.
4. You just happen to be the greatest hand-to-hand combatant after a few lessons at dudes dojo when you were like, seven. Oh, and George St. Pierre had an erection for violence while consulting for the game, that might have been a factor too, who knows.
5. Maybe the most overlooked point, Wei Shen allows you to partake in the grandeur of living out your virtual life as if it were one continuous Rick Ross money jam
**Vic’s editing note: Hey you missed something there.
Will: A what?
Vic: Towards the end of that last sentence you missed some-….
Will: O you mean a lil-
With the character Wei Shen, I don’t think we’ve ever seen an Asian lead with such a cocktail of hyper-masculine and hip-hop enriched gangster stereotypes and cliches presented in such a quizzically positive way. It’s the oddest thing, because for all the ass-whoopings that are dispensed post-haste and the womanizing (along with the street races, gambling, vendetta against those that wronged your family and friends, etc.) you have this teddy bear that underneath all the vices and trappings of the thug lyfe, just wants to put on for his boys and fam (and make a lil scratch on the side too).
So when the question comes up of, is Wei Shen a palatable role model for young Asian American males, or to get even more general, is Sleeping Dogs a benefit or hindrance to the community?
Just consider if the violence, womanizing, and cock fights are too much of a distraction for you to fairly evaluate the question. I ask you then remove all of that jazz and what you’ll be surprised to find is a story of a man, trying to do what a man needs to do, to preserve his family and his own sense of personal honor. Yet while the tools he utilizes are a tad outrageous and out of the ordinary (in one mission you’ll be throwing an enemy boss headfirst into an A/C units rotor blades, then in a subsequent one you’ll need to sing a song correctly at karaoke lest you fail an important portion of one of the game’s mini-story arcs), that’s actually a concept you’d want America’s yellow youth to understand. That when push comes to shove, you need to be able to push yourself to be able to shove the God-fearing shit out of whatever the hell life’s trying to punk you with, because that’s all you can really count on when trying to navigate the ins and outs of a world you want in on, but find yourself standing a little outside of.
Wei Shen knows that and his whole point in Sleeping Dogs is to not sweat on the little things when it comes to the penultimate mission of developing and bridging our many different identities, (Wei’s being his duties and ethics as a police officer, the other being his devotion and brotherly bond with his Triad bretheren) but rather to just get a running start and drop kick it over some stair railings. Remember too, the man’s also blessed us with one of the greatest mantras to go along with the the journeys of identity that we’re all dealing with individually,
“I’m Wei Shen motherfucker, who the fuck are you?”