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Understanding the Asian Appeal

Understanding the Asian Appeal

May 16, 2009
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" The conventional wisdom was that these “oriental” titles had a limited fan base. "

The die was cast more than 10 years ago, when I shot my first feature, the softcore “Asianatrix: Suffering Eternal,” in a dry-ice-filled sex club in San Francisco. An all-girl affair, it starred native Japanese porn star Suzi Suzuki, Korean-American fetish model Kumi, and an unforgettable performance artist/stripper/ sex worker named Jade-Blue Eclipse who would randomly pop up over the ensuing years in my more commercial work, lending it the cultish, colorful flair that I often strive for.

My attraction to the genre was certainly encouraged by the Asian cultural tropes woven into S.F.’s multi-culti fabric, as well as the easy availability of models, culled from strip clubs and S/M dungeons. My personal attraction to the women was not something I had planned; despite a lifetime nerd’s appreciation for anime, kung fu movies, etc., I had never fetishized the female representations therein in the infamously classic manner of the “Yellow Fever” victim.

Of course, Porn Valley somewhat changed that. When I arrived in ‘98, my erotic interests were “niche-driven,” in areas that were then either overlooked, disparaged or didn’t exist yet — fem/dom S/M, Asian women, tattoos and piercings and more.

The conventional wisdom was that these “oriental” titles had a limited fan base; when I was directing a string of ethnic features for Heatwave Entertainment, the owner told me if I wanted to do an all-Asian title, I would get less than half of the princely $12,000 budgets I was getting for the mixed shows, as the market was tiny.

At larger studios, the execs I would interview with, pitching my vision of decently mounted Asian titles that didn’t have “gook,” “yellow,” or “pacific rim” in the title, would invariably generate a “not commercial” response, after which said execs would lean forward in their chair and add conspiratorially, “but if there’s any of those cuties you can set me up with — I love Asian girls!”

While still directing mixed features, I financed and shot my own title, “Zen & The Art of Fellatio,” for next to nothing, editing it myself on the weekends. It went over well enough at Video Team that owner Christian Mann offered me a gig as a house director and allowed to me to shoot almost totally within the genre to which I’d become more and more attached.

That was the birth of the “Asia Noir” line, a series of features featuring Black men with Asian women in settings upscale and/or surreal, in sexual situations full of kink and role playing that, while drawing on obvious — and not so obvious — tropes of Asian culture, avoided sinking into the insulting yellow-face cliché, “me so horny,” ching-chong nonsense that unfortunately defines so much Valley porn.

A word on that: While various white-guy fratboy directors and producers never see the harm in the casual racism of some of the titles and scenarios they offer up, I can relate from years of visiting Asian siren fan events at strip clubs, and participating in the hardcore Asian-fan board AsianPornoHotties.com, that the core audience for this niche is not impressed by material that insults or belittles the ethnicity of its starlets. Notably, I’m approached at just about every industry event I attend by a few Asian-American porn fans who thank me, as one put it, “for not having to be ashamed or pissed off at what I have to buy to see the girls I like.”

There was a flavor-of-the-day moment for the Asian niche earlier this decade before the porn bubble burst, when every studio large and small launched an Asian line, most of them featuring the same dozen-or-so easily accessible models available through the mainstream Valley agencies at the time. Most of them have fallen by the wayside, with the exception of blockbusters like Jules Jordan’s “Invasian” line and now Jonni Darkko’s “Asian Fucking Nation.”

But on the Internet, the Asian niche remains strong worldwide, fueled by a far wider variety of models and approaches, from the light and silly to the dark and kinky. Most of my web sales, for instance, come from outside of the U.S. Proof, I’d say, that to be a successful 21st century business enterprise, porn must understand and appeal to a broader audience than ever — which also means truly understanding a niche if you want to successfully exploit it.

David Aaron Clark, besides creating the “Asia Noir,” “Azn Super Idols,” “Banana Cream Pie” and “Asian Mouth Club” lines, is also a novelist and former full-time porn journalist who served editorial positions at Genesis, Screw and Spectator magazines in the ’90s. He lives in L.A.’s Koreatown.


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