Jimmy O. Yang As A Lead Love Interest Is Everything I Needed As A Teen

Photo: Getty Images.
Seconds into Love Hard’s trailer, I was audibly excited bopping along to the upbeat track and a glowing Nina Dobrev. Netflix Christmas movie season is upon us — a time for predictable and feel-good 90-minute happily-ever-afters. But not far into the preview, I was taken aback.
What I didn’t expect was to see an Asian guy as a potential love interest (though granted, also a catfish). On the screen was an Asian guy that looked like the boys I grew up in the same back rows of Saturday morning Chinese school with. Boys that I struggled to rote learn Mandarin poems with, boys that I played four square with in our 15-minute breaks. Josh Lin, the unlucky-in-love Chinese man at the centre of Love Hard, is almost exactly how I picture my childhood friends growing up to be like. 
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Into the frame he enters, his straight, shoulder-length black hair smooshed under a tight blue beanie. A clashing checked button-up is paired with a striped scarf and a too-tight puffer jacket; an image of practicality in the snowy town. He’s wearing a pair of rectangular black glasses and his Chinese accent is peeking through — two innocuous details that shouldn’t make an impact, but do.

But I have to ask — which type of Asian man is acceptable in Hollywood’s eyes?

In the past few years, Asian representation in cinema has made incredible strides — leaps, even. We now demand more than representation crumbs, and have started to see our favourite Asian actors deservingly enjoy their time in the limelight. Shang-Chi & The Legend Of The 10 Rings, Crazy Rich Asians and Bling Empire have had us drooling over beefcake after beefcake and so, the narrative of the emasculated Asian leading man is slowly dissipating. 
But I have to ask — which type of Asian man is acceptable in Hollywood’s eyes? The buff (and mixed-raced) likes of Henry Golding, Charles Melton, and Darren Barnet are mainstream eye candy now, but a far cry from the average Asian guy you probably went to school with. That’s why Love Hard feels somewhat groundbreaking.
What we're seeing is a 30-year-old Chinese guy in his parents’ basement. Someone who is deeply insecure, short, without mega-ripped abs, and not Hollywood-in-your-face attractive. Of course, Josh Lin is played by Jimmy O. Yang — the talented Hong Kong-American actor, stand-up comedian, and writer who’s starred in Silicon Valley, Crazy Rich Asians, The Internship, and more. But while he's been celebrated in the comedy scene, Love Hard propels him to love interest-worthy status.
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Photo: Netflix.
It’s not been an easy ride to likability either — one YouTube commenter called Lin a “nerdy needy liar” — and his character’s insecurities are exacerbated by the fact that he isn’t traditionally masculine or attractive. We see his antagonising, arrogant older brother (played by Harry Shum Jr.) championed as his parents’ pride and joy (literally, seeing as Lin is often half-disappearing out of family portraits). We see Darren Barnet (from Never Have I Ever) as Tag, the half-Japanese hottie that Lin is catfishing as, who effortlessly pulls girls and appeases Lin’s own sporty father.  
The film is filled with many hard-to-watch moments of Lin feeling inadequate and unworthy; it’s heartbreaking and painful, but even more so when you realise that this mirrors reality. In Love Hard, Lin notes that he only received three dating app matches in the year that he had his real profile up, whereas he garnered 85 matches in the first five minutes he pretended to be Tag.
Research has shown that in the US, when women were asked to state racial dating preferences, more than 90% of non-Asian women excluded Asian men. Another study found that Asian men are the race group that receives the fewest unsolicited messages from women.

East Asians don’t need to tell you how many times our ‘slitty’ eyes have been the butt of racist jokes, and that we grew up with kids pulling at the corner of their eyes, hyena howls ricocheting from their open mouths.

While muscled-up Asian men dominate the few leading male roles available, it’s refreshing to see Hollywood embrace the average Asian man. Toxic masculinity is, after all, a limiting and regressive stranglehold for everyone.
There’s a scene where Dobrev’s character turns to Lin and says, “you have very nice eyes — you’ve got to show those puppies off.” Right away, my breath caught my in my throat. East Asians don’t need to tell you how many times our ‘slitty’ eyes have been the butt of racist jokes, and that we grew up with kids pulling at the corner of their eyes, hyena howls ricocheting from their open mouths. Hearing the compliment about Lin’s dark eyes and monolids made me realise how deeply anti-Asian sentiment is entrenched in the beauty industry; this small comment serving as a reminder of how undesirable many of us felt growing up.
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Yang’s portrayal of Lin was effortlessly relatable, and that feeling of knowing someone you’ve never met came coursing through. Lin is quick-witted, self-deprecating, endlessly caring, and quietly sentimental — and there’s nothing average about that. You could’ve convinced me that he was a cousin of mine, an old schoolfriend, or someone I used to work with. It truly felt like an ode to them. Not-so-average Asian guys, your time is now.
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