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It's OK to be Wrong and/or It's OK to be Hwang
Presentations of idiosyncratic history pageants with a sense of humor and musicality
A Creative Soul, Successful Playwright, Screenwriter and Librettist with All the Work He can Handle


In this section, we will discover the things/factors/situations/people that was part of David's creative background and how this lead him to pursue particular artistic paths. Learning how David dealt with the available choices, dealing with expectations, his selection process of selecting proteges/artists to support and his influences/inspirations will provide an invaluable insight of the factors that were strategic in his success.

US ASIANS: Could you elaborate on how your aversion/embarrassment to certain Asian American characters (i.e. Fu Manchu, soldiers in Japanese/Vietnam war movies, Charlie Chan, guy in the Calgon commercial that stated "ancient Chinese Secret," etc.) - that other Asian Pacific American advocacy organizations deem as stereotped - prompted your search for authenticity and debate of race/culture through the theater medium because they represented a lifestyle that you were unfamiliar with?

JEFF ADACHI (in his film "Slanted Screen" states: Historically, in films and television, Asian men have been portrayed alternatively as the sinister and evil Fu Man Chu who's going to take over the world (More info on Jeff Adachi's film can be found by clicking HERE
DAVID HENRY HWANG: Actually the guy in the Calgon commercial was Calvin Jung, who played "Dale" in the original Public Theatre production of "FOB" (Click HERE to read about his participation with on the Calgon commerical, opinions on what are inappropriate roles - along with his views on other strategic issues that addresses the current status of Asian Pacific American actors) Well, my aversion to certain AA (Asian American) characters in the media didn't lead directly to my search for authenticity in the theatre, since when I first encountered these images as a child, I had no idea I would ever end up in this profession! Once I a) started writing plays, and b) discovered APA (Asian Pacific American) characters in them, however, I began to experience great pleasure in being able to "strike back," as it were, at demeaning and stereotypical images of my childhood through this new medium of drama. My higher impulses were to further the debate of race/culture, but I also heard a voice in my head declaiming, "Now I'm in charge of the story! Vengeance is mine!" (followed by an evil laugh )

US ASIANS: What aspects of the Asian/Asian Pacific American communities are you drawn to?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Can't identify any particular characteristics, just whatever happens to attract and move me.

Jackie Chan, on a SNL appearance, did a parody of this
(Calgon) commercial, with Maya Rudolph (daughter of
Minnie Ripperton and Dick Rudolph)
playing Mrs. Lee.
For more info, click

US ASIANS: As a youth, how did you deal with the expectations of writing about something that you were unfamiliar with just because of your race - just the character "Ronnie" did in "Trying to Find Chinatown?" Did this experience prompted the creation of your play "Bondage" that expressed your idea that race is only a "symbol, literally skin deep" and a mask that one wears to protest oneself because it provided the ability to hide behind race/stereotype to protect one's self? What do you feel are the characteristic traits that will provide the "True courage that comes when one can look past the mask, to see and embrace the person behind?"

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I think America's inability to distinguish Asian Americans from Asian nationals has proven both a boon and a burden for APA artists. On the positive side, the work has become popular because mainstream audiences feel they're getting an "authentic" glimpse into the root cultures. This means that our popularity and acclaim, however, are to some extent based on a lie. I certainly know less about the mainland China of my day than, say, Pearl Buck did about hers. I've tried to make it clear that I'm writing from an American perspective, but mainstream critics and audiences seem unable to absorb this distinction with much commitment. So all I can do is continue to write from my own experience -- the limited arena about which I do happen to be an expert -- and let the chips fall where they may.

Unsuk Chin
Lea Salonga
US ASIANS: What special unique artistic and/or visionary qualities do you look for in artists of Asian descent that you have openly supported such as Julia Cho, Unsuk Chin and Lea Salonga?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: First of all, I would hardly claim to have "supported" Unsuk or Lea. Lea has been a star in the Philippines since childhood, and an international star since "Saigon." She supported me by agreeing to star in my "Flower Drum Song!" And Unsuk has won one of the most prestigious composer awards in the world. Julia, ok, maybe I've supported her a bit. But I think I look for the same thing in all my collaborators: someone who's work makes me sit forward in my chair, makes my heart beat a little faster.

US ASIANS: In addition to Julia Cho, Unsuk Chin and Lea Salonga - what other artists should we be aware of?

Calvin Jung's Responses
Calvin Jung
Could you share your views on participating on the Calgon "Ancient Chinese Secret" commercial?

The audition process never made me feel that this was stereotypical. In fact, I went to the audition in my overalls, hair down to my shoulders and wearing clogs. I fooled around with the text, they loved it and hired me. I never expected to get this commercial since they had a room filled with "chinky types" sitting in the room. The producers never asked for an accent, just straight ahead dialogue.

Did you consider it a stereotypical role?

No, never even gave it a second thought. The fact that you had an Asian couple speak without accents was advanced for that time. Forget about stereotypes, just having Asians speak without accents was a major breakthrough.

How is it different than other stereotypical roles?

At that time, a commercial with no accent broke a pattern. I can name a number of actors (but won't) who volunteered accents on "copy" that was written straight ahead (no accent required or written) and got the commercial because the people thought it was funny.

Could you elaborate on the fact that it was/is the longest running commercial

The "hook line" was what captured everyone and made it one of the most popular commercials. People, to this day, still remember the spot when I tell them I was the "Ancient Chinese Secret" guy.

Since the initial "shoot" - they have re-shot the spot to upgrade/update it a number of times, while never calling me in once, just lifting my "take" and moving on.

The hook "Ancient Chinese Secret" was poking fun NOT at Asians, it was just humore. I feel if you're offended by this - you'd better learn to see what's really racist and what isn't.

The commercial ran from 1974 to 1986 and is in the TV Museum in New York City with other classic commercials such as "Speedy Alka-Seltzer," "Mother Nature," "Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing," etc.
To continue this interview, click HERE
To learn about Calvin Jung, click HERE
To discover the Calgon commerical, click HERE

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Lloyd Suh is an awesome young playwright, as is Sung Rno. Ong Keng Sen is a Singaporean director, better known in Europe than America, who is a true visionary and auteur. Ping Chong is one of this generation's masters and pioneers of avant-garde theatre. And there are so many others.

US ASIANS: What words of encouragement would you provide to the talented artists that you have taken a personal interest in?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Hardly any artist ever "breaks through" by trying to change his or her voice to suit an audience, critic, or power broker. The best way to get noticed is to create something unique to you.

US ASIANS: Could you share the type of foundation in theater history and creative illumination(s) that you acquired during your studies at the Yale School of Drama?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: By the time I went to Yale, I had already had "FOB" produced at the Public, with "Family Devotions" slated to premiere there. I went largely because I felt I hadn't had enough grounding in theatre history, and very much enjoyed the first-year drama history class taught by Jonathan Marx. During my year in the program, I wrote "The Dance and the Railroad" and "The House of Sleeping Beauties." "Railroad" then premiered at Henry Street to a rave from Frank Rich in the NY Times, and by the end of that first year, I won an Obie Award for FOB. So I was spending more time in the City than in New Haven anyway, and therefore decided to drop out of the program.

US ASIANS: Though it has been written that "The main weakness of his (your) writing is that its purpose often seems more political than literary, more attuned to social issues than to the private struggles of the human heart" - it appears that it also provided an effective outlet to continue your on-going debate various issues of race politics, religion/Christianity, prejudice, gender roles, diversity, Asian/Asian Pacific American issues - is this an accurate assessment?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Yes, for better or worse, I am one of those authors who violates a cardinal rule of playwriting: my pieces are generally born from ideas, rather than characters or plots. I accept the criticism that my writing suffers to some extent from this emphasis on purpose, but, on the other hand, when I do a non-political work, such as "Sleeping Beauties" or "Aida," critics certainly don't seem to like me any better!

US ASIANS: What about the past films (i.e. Masaki Koboyashi and Masahiro Shinoda), writing (i.e. Sam Shepard, Frank Chin, Maxine Hong Kingston, etc.) and the stories (i.e. Yasunari Kawabata and Yukio Mishima) provided inspirations for your creativity?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I think I've always been inspired and encouraged by works which cross boundaries, whether these be aesthetic, cultural, historical, or national. Though Frank and Maxine were certainly dealing with cross-cultural circumstances similar to my own, Sam also created a poetic mythology out of America's suburban West, while Tom Stoppard crossed historical erudition with music hall comedy, and Brecht wedded Marxist politics to dime-store potboilers. During my artistic coming of age in the 1970's, some of the most fresh and vital East-West fusion work was coming out of Japan, in novels, film, and fashion.

US ASIANS: Observing your past usage of the modes of television situation comedies (i.e. Family Devotion), does television and movies still have an important part of your creative process?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Though I don't have time to watch as much television nowadays as I would like (for instance, I completely missed "The Sopranos"), I think it's very difficult to grow up in this culture and not be influenced by film in terms of storytelling pace and flow. Certainly contemporary Broadway musicals have embraced film techniques, such as crossfades and montages, in a way that was not technically possible before the 1970's.

Tristan Project and Wagner
The "Tristan Project" is a collaborative effort between stage director Sellars, Philharmonic music director Esa-Pekka Salonen and video artist Bill Viola - with Wagner. It's an attempt to acknowledge that opera is among the most intensely erotic expressions in all art. In Wagner, we find that love operates unconditionally in sexual ecstasy.
For more details, click
US ASIANS: Have other forms of theater (i.e. Wagner's Theater of the Future/"Tristan") played a role in the shaping of your recent works?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Er, to be honest, I'm not at all familiar with Wagner's "Theatre of the Future." I do think each of the different genres in which I work influences my pieces in the others. Many of my works have been influenced by opera, both Chinese and Western, as well as dance.

US ASIANS: With your strong interest in producing works for films, what aspects of this medium attracts you the most as a communicator of written words, conflicting emotions, long embattled issues and snapshots of people's souls?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: For the past 15 years or so, I've largely made my living in film. I have to say, though, that the big studio process has grown increasingly unattractive to me. I'd like to make the transition to smaller, independent movies, where I think interesting issues can still be explored and artistic experiments pursued.

US ASIANS: If the 1980s were about having a career; the 1990s about having a life - what do you want to accomplish in the 21st century?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: In the coming years, I will be interested in doing less commercial work, and pursuing more personal projects, as I did in the 1980's. Thematically, I am interested in exploring the transition from multiculturalism to internationalism -- personally, I am starting to feel less Asian American than Chinese, and am eager to pursue projects with Chinese artists, in China itself, and dealing with the developing relationship between the US and China.

Continue our journey of discovering David's creative process by clicking HERE.

Discover David's Viewpoints on the Wide Spectrum of Subjects by Clicking on the Below-Listed Links

Authenticity vs. Stereotypes
Frank Chin Battles
Stereotypes - David's Views

1000 Airplanes on the Roof
Chinese Railroad Workers
Dance and the Railroad
Family & Christianity
Family Devotion
Golden Child & Christianity
Origins of Interest
Rich Relations
Sound of a Voice
Steve Allen's Meeting of Minds
Trying to Find Chinatown



Critical Thinking
Cultural Symbol
Debating Issues
Ethnic Isolationism
Its Issues

2nd Marriage & Its Joys
David on Ismail Merchant
Henry Hwang (Father)
Kathryn Hwang (Wife)
Parents & Relatives
Parting Words
Personal Facts

Needed from APA Artists
From Our Communities



Days of Education & Learning
Dealing with Expectations
Failure's Particular Lessons
Inappropriate Characters
Influences & Inspirations
"Lost Empire" Experience
Pressures with Success
Role Models
Working with Lucia Hwong
Working with Philip Glass
Working with Unsuk Chin

Chinese Mafia-type Films
Desired Projects
Hello Suckers
Inspiration of China
Status of Past Projects
Texas Guinan
The Fly
Yellow Face


APA Theater Organizations
Calvin Jung
Current Status
Daring Films w/Asian Males
Definition of an APA
Ethnic Theater
Life as a Librettist (Ainadamar)
Life as a Role Model
Ms. Saigon Protest
Proteges & Artists
Recognizing APA Artists
State of Asian Women Writers
Welly Yang Learning History

Across the Nightingale Floor
Experience with Hollywood
Golden Gate & M.Butterfly
Interculturalism & Objective Truth
NBC's Lost Empire
Neal Labute's "Possession"


Its Importance
Today's APA Communities
Working with Prince

Anna May Wong
Arabella Hong-Young
Background Research
C.Y. Lee
Creative Choices
Its Importance
Original Version
Remembering Our History

Yellow Face



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