Jessica Sanchez as Kim a ‘wildly optimistic’ prospect?By Nestor U. Torre
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Some reports have it that “American Idol” Filipino-Mexican runner-up Jessica Sanchez has been tapped to play the coveted role of Kim in the projected film version of “Miss Saigon.” Subsequently, however, those reports were nixed and described as being too premature, speculative and “wildly optimistic.”
So, what really gives? Kim on film is a plum role that any young singer-actress would “kill” to get—but would somebody like Jessica be in the running for that star-making big break?
Here’s our hopefully informed guess on that hot but still speculative topic:
Having followed and reported on the “Miss Saigon” phenomenon since its inception—and having reviewed both its London and New York productions—we can say that the hit musical is the latest incarnation of the West’s long love affair with the East’s enigmatic but excitingly appealing women.
From “Madame Butterfly” onward, the enduring fantasy has always depicted the oriental woman as achingly beautiful and even more achingly unattainable—until a dramatic confluence of events results in a passionate but forbidden love between two races that is so verboten that it must end in the woman’s ultimate sacrifice.
This is how the opera ended, as did the Marlon Brando starrer “Sayonara” with Miyoshi Umeki and Red Buttons (with a double suicide, at that)—and “Miss Saigon” obligingly followed the same tragic template.
To vivify the tragic consequences of the west’s verboten fantasy-romance with the unattainable east, the few oriental women who have attained international stardom have been of the exceedingly lovely and inscrutable sort, virginal and sexy at the same time—as perfectly personified by the Eurasian beauty, France Nuyen. Nancy Kwan was her “modernized” counterpart, but France was unattainable fantasy in the flesh.
Then came the update on “Madame Butterfly” that was “Miss Saigon,” and its makers had a problem: They wanted to be true to the harsh realities of the Vietnam War, but they had the long tradition of the west’s fantasy-passion for the east to sustain. So, what to do?
Their female lead character, Kim, was no virgin—in fact, she was a young bar and play-for-pay girl. But they couldn’t underscore that fact, because it would spoil the fantasy with too much reality.
So, they compromised that reality by portraying Kim in a generally nonsexual light, including the decision to cast mostly petite Eurasian actress-singers in the role.
None of the early Kims—Lea Salonga, Monique Wilson, Jenine Desiderio, Jamie Rivera—were as oriental as Miyoshi Umeki, and there’s a reason for that.
Within that “traditional” context, therefore, the likelihood of Jessica Sanchez being cast as the film Kim would “stretch” the fantasy tradition a lot, perhaps even to breaking point. Her assets are her powerful voice and her youth, but her minus points include her “darker” coloring, her “unconventional” looks, and perhaps her lack of acting experience. It could still happen, but that would be tantamount to standing the whole “fantasy tradition” on its ear!
Come to think of it, that may not be a bad thing. Traditions have a way of being too fixed and impervious to change and growth. Besides, the age-old fantasy of the virginal and inscrutable east has been rendered moot and academic by current events and developments.
Perhaps, it’s time for Kim to be played by somebody as counter-tradition as Jessica—for her to really come into her own.
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