Accentless English – A Huge Advantage for Asian Actors

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Few things are more cringe worthy than hearing a mangled accent in a movie. The audience’s ears go up like rabbits sensing danger. Warning bells go off. Trainwreck ahead!

No matter how good the actor in other respects, the memory of the accent accident remains long after the wreckage is cleared. Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Don Cheadle in Oceans 11. Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Anne Hathaway in One Day. And they are native American English speakers attempting other English accents. Fill in your favorite bad movie accent here:________________

Losing traces of their native tongue to take on English speaking roles is often an even greater challenge for many Asian actors. Only a few have mastered fluency in unaccented English – more specifically a range of British-tinged accents – a plus in Hollywood.

That ability has been a huge advantage for propelling Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians, The Gentlemen) and Dev Patal (Slumdog Millionaire and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) to international attention.

English fluency has also boosted the rise of Korean-American stars like John Cho, Stephen Yuen, Sandra Oh, and was a key in the crossover success to perhaps Asia’s top breakout actor, Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Tomorrow Never Dies, Memoirs of a Geisha, Crazy Rich Asians).

Perfect pitch fluency with idiomatic ease in English is also proving to be a key to success for Beijing-born, Vancouver-raised actor, Elsi Eng. It led to her voicing the role of Kaori, played by Lika Minamoto, opposite Michelle Yeoh in Final Recipe. And then work on a Disney produced electronic storybook created for the iPad, Disney Mandarin: Toy Story 3. That project required top-drawer storytelling skills with native level pronunciation in both English and Mandarin.

That’s just the tip of Elsi’s talent iceberg. She can do a wide range of dead-on dialects in English (British, Southern, Thai) – and Chinese (Taiwanese). The versatility extends to dance (all areas), stage combat (hand-to-hand, wooden sword, sais, MMA), sports (ice-skating, swimming, yoga, badminton, bicycling, tennis, as well as modeling (print and commercial).

Elsi Eng in martial arts short “Rise”, directed by Ryan Csaszar

The fact that Elsi was not just Disney’s first choice, but their only choice reflects how rare and valuable that dual diamond-clear English-Mandarin fluency is. It will become even more so with Hollywood’s renewed interest in Asian movies – and actors – following Parasite’s multiple Oscar wins for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film.

Be ready to hear – and see – and extraordinary talent when you see and hear Elsi Eng.

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