Sleeping Dogs is a dream come true

by doorhalfopen

I’ve read more than a few people recalling why they watched so many Hong Kong action movies in the 80s and 90s. As bad as Asian American representation in the media is today, it was many times worse a decade or two ago. The only way to see a protagonist that looked like us was to catch a foreign film on TV or rent it from an Asian video store.

Hong Kong was peaking as a second Hollywood in the 90s, so there was a steady stream of new movies to watch. Of course these movies were primarily in Cantonese. Come to think of it, by relating more to these films than Hollywood movies, I was probably subconsciously deciding that I was more Chinese than American (I went through a phase like that in middle school). That’s a topic for another day. What’s more important is that I, as many other Asian Americans, never had a true hero in movies. We either saw American protagonists (Tom Cruise) or Asian protagonists (Jackie Chan). Trini from Power Rangers (RIP) was probably one role model for girls, but as a boy I couldn’t relate at all. Then again, I also don’t think I knew I needed someone like that to idolize. Looking back, it’s clear that this would’ve helped me growing up.

I’m no longer the gamer I used to be, but I recently finished playing Sleeping Dogs from Square Enix. I bought it precisely because it seemed like a great way to live out the triad/undercover storylines that I’m now so familiar with (remember Infernal Affairs?). It had some good reviews and I made an impulse purchase, not knowing exactly what to expect. With the entire game set in Hong Kong, I figured it probably could at least avoid being racist. It ended up filling the gap from my childhood; it was kind of a dream come true.

Wei Shen in Sleeping Dogs

Wei Shen in Sleeping Dogs

The main character, Wei Shen, moved from Hong Kong to San Francisco at age 10, which is a familiar story for a lot of us in California. He grew up in San Francisco and joined the police force. He was highly skilled, though he often demonstrated violent tendencies. This, combined with a grudge against triads due to his sister’s tragic involvement, made him the perfect candidate to go undercover for the triads in Hong Kong. You can read more on the character’s background here.

I won’t go much deeper into the story or character to avoid spoilers, but basically Wei Shen is a badass. He is aggressive but smart. He’s loyal. He gets the job done. And guess what? He’s also not bad with the ladies. If this sounds familiar, it’s because I just described a standard action movie hero. Except, this time he’s Chinese-American and from California, and I can actually find myself relating to the character.

The game in itself is pretty good, as you can see from the reviews. For me, this marks the first time there’s a big budget production where dominant Asian American male is the main character. The killing and lawbreaking aside, he’s what we need more in American media. The game sold decently well, though it wasn’t quite the number 1 title. I never really thought of video games as a medium that Asian Americans should have more presence in, but I think it can develop into an important way to improve the mainstream perception of us. After all, you are forced to relate to your character in video games, and good games do so successfully. When Asian Americans cease to be foreign to a significant portion of our country, things will get better.

Sleeping Dogs was a dream come true.