Saturday, November 07, 2009

My Top Five Asian American Action Figures

Originally posted at PopCultureShock.


When Jon recently asked me to join the PCS team, he said I could blog about anything I wanted. Because of my affiliation with Secret Identities, I figured I could talk about where Asian Americans and pop culture intersect. And while I love comics, movies and TV as much as the next pop culture junkie, I have to admit that collecting action figures is my biggest weak spot. So I figured I'd pop my PCS cherry with a piece that I actually pitched to ToyFare a couple years back: the best Asian American action figures on the market!

Granted, this isn't the most original idea. In fact, the inspiration came from an old website (I mean, it's so old, it's still hosted on geocities!) by a guy named Paul Chen who chronicled the web's best Asian action figures. Unfortunately, homeboy's site hasn't been updated in a decade, and action figures have gotten way better (and more Asian American, natch!) in the years since.

So rather than just listing each and every action figure of an Asian character that's sitting at your local Toys 'R' Us, I gave myself some criteria. First off, either the character or the actor portraying that character immortalized in plastic has to be Asian American. That means Ken Watanabe as Asian R'as Al Ghul from Hasbro's Batman Begins or McFarlane Toys' Yao Ming don't count. Sorry guys.

The other criteria I look for in an action figure are sculpting, likeness accuracy, and points of articulation.

So without further ado, let's start with #5, which is actually a tie!

#5. Sulu from Diamond Select Toys/Sulu from Playmates

takei sulu
How could we talk about Asian American action figures without talking about the granddaddy of Asian American sci-fi: Mr. Sulu? There have been several Sulu action figures from various companies over the years, but for the sake of this blog post, I'll stick with this 6-inch fig from DST's Star Trek Classics line. When it comes to Trek action figures, I think Diamond and Art Asylum are unrivaled. I love the scale and detail in all their figures, and the sculpt on this Sulu in his classic uni is the spitting image of George Takei!

cho sulu
Back in the late '80s/early '90s, my brother and I used to collect the 4-inch Next Generation figures from Playmates. The detail and articulation on those toys weren't the greatest (which is likely the case for most toys of that period), but there is definitely a sense of nostalgia that kicks in when thinking back to those figures. So I was (sort of) excited to learn Playmates was returning to the world of Star Trek to do figs for the reboot that came out last May. And to be honest, these weren't the greatest toys. The 3 3/4-inchers left a lot to be desired and the detail on the 6-inch scale was not as impressive as their DST analogs. Still, we were treated to our very first John Cho action figure. Now, if only they'd make action figures for the rest of the Better Luck Tomorrow crew and my collection will be complete!

#4. Athena and Boomer 2-Pack from Diamond Select Toys

Wow, another DST figure? Trust me, this has nothing to do with the fact that I used to work at Diamond! Anyway, I'm putting Boomer and Athena here even though I don't watch Battlestar Galactica. What's that? How can I make that claim and still be allowed on a site like PopCultureShock without having my geek credit card cut up into a million pieces? And where do I get off recommending an action figure of a character from a show I don't even watch? Good questions, all. First off, I've always meant to watch BSG, but just never got around to it. So it isn't like I've purposefully shied away from it like I did with, say, everything in the Whedonverse (blasphemy!) As for the second question: my justification for putting this Grace Park 2-pack on my list is, well, because it's a Grace Park action figure. Duh! Plus, there are two of them.

#3. Data from Mezco Toys/Short Round from Hasbro
data mezco
That's right. Number 3 on my list is Jonathan Ke Quan, baby! Now, while it could be argued that his two most iconic portrayals--Short Round from Temple of Doom and Data from Goonies --are essentially Long Duk Dong for the tweens of the '80s generation, I have to disagree. First off, Data was the man in The Goonies. And secondly, Short Round is the heart and soul of Temple and is the best sidekick Indy's ever had. That's right, Shia! I said it.

Anyway, even though Quan hasn't worked in several years, the last couple have been good for him, at least from an action figure point of view. First off, Mezco released a series of Goonies figures and didn't skimp on the accessories! I mean, he comes with the Pinchers of Peril for chrissakes! As for Short Round, I've been wanting 3 3/4 scale Indy figures since I was a little kid (hell, I actually remember Kenner's short-lived Raiders figures) for no other reason than to have Indy and Han Solo standing next to each other on my desk. So, when they expanded the line that came out in '08 to include Short Round, I was so there. But, what was even cooler was the Short Round Mighty Mugg that was exclusive to Entertainment Earth. Seriously. How dope is this?
short round mighty mugg

#2. Tunnel Rat (1987) from Hasbro
I think it's safe to say G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero was the be-all-end-all action figure/comic/cartoon franchise of my childhood. I mean, I loved He-Man and the Super Powers and the Real Ghostbusters and Thundercats... Okay, I loved every toyline in the '80s, but there was something special about Joe vs. Cobra (so the fact that I've gotten to know and hang out with Larry Hama in the last few years is, like, mind-blowing). I knew that a Joe had to figure on this list somehow. I could have gone with easy ones like Storm Shadow or Quick Kick. And I was this close to putting Snake Eyes here. But in the end, I had to go with Chinese-Trinidadian Tunnel Rat. And not the "Resolute" one that came out this year. I'm talking old school. The one with the "Win a Fridge Action Figure" sticker on the card! Not only was Tunnel Rat's likeness based on Hama himself (though the bio on the filecard, like most of the one's in the collection, was based on a friend of Larry's), but the dude's got the coolest specialty: explosives! Not the resident martial artist or ninja. Nicky Lee was the dude who blew sh*t up! And you don't get more Asian American than that.

#1. Bruce Lee series from Enterbay
bruce lee fist of fury
Tops on the list have to go to the coolest sixth-scale action figures I've ever seen. And ironically, my favorite Asian American action figure is one I don't (and will probably never) own: Enterbay's Bruce Lee series of figures. Unless, you had $200-$300 you wanted to give me, that is. Still, I've seen these bad boys up close and personal, and they are worth every dollar that I don't have to spare.

Enterbay has done several Bruce Lee figures now. There are two from Enter the Dragon, one from Game of Death, one from Way of the Dragon, and a Kato from Green Hornet. But my personal favorite is the one modeled on Bruce as Chen Zhen from Fist of Fury.

Not only are these the best, most intricate sixth-scale bodies, like most 12-inch figures, each one comes with a plethora of accessories and outfits. To wit, the FoF Bruce comes with two different head sculpts and three(!) different hair sculpts (seriously), two different tailored, cloth outfits, five sets of hands, a pair of nunchucks, a premium wooden diorama, and the infamous "Sick Man of Asia" wooden sign that Bruce so famously cracks in two!

And the best part? Enterbay's exclusive 360 Eyeball system, which allows you to pose his eyes! I know I'm a sucker for articulation, but that's just crazy!

Keith is the Editor-at-Large of the groundbreaking graphic novel anthology SECRET IDENTITIES and Outreach Director for SIUniverse Media. Visit the official Secret Identities blog to keep up with Keith and the rest of the SI team

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