“I never thought I’d be here – I was just one of those other kids in high school,” says Henry Lau, the Chinese Canadian K-pop star.
We’re standing outside CGV Theater in Los Angeles’ Koreatown for the premiere of the 29-year old’s first American movie, “A Dog’s Journey,” the sequel to the 2017 hit film, “A Dog’s Purpose.” The sequel is based off of novelist W. Bruce Cameron’s novel, which explores the belief that dogs’ souls are reincarnated into different forms to bond with specific humans. This movie centers around a neglected girl named CJ who meets a reincarnated beagle named Molly, one who used to be her grandfather’s golden retriever, Bailey. CJ goes through her ups and downs in life with her pooch by her side. Along the way is her best friend Trent, played by Henry, who also supports her along the way.
Without giving away too much, the entire storyline is based off of the love a human shares with their best friend, the canine species, and it ends beautifully albeit in a tearjerking manner.
For Henry, playing a dog-owner was a dream, he says. “I wasn’t allowed to have a dog when I was younger, my parents didn’t let me,” he tells Very Good Light. “I did have a pet bird named Birdie who taught himself tricks, like landing on my head.” The Canadian, who travels to Los Angeles often, says that he doesn’t feel there are many cultural differences with Americans. “Except poutine,” he says. “And I used to say ‘ey’ a lot.” And for all the poutine he might be eating, it doesn’t show on his pores. The actor tells us that he doesn’t “overdo” it when it comes to skincare. “It’s good sleep, exercise and diet. A lot of people put so many products on but I think the best is a combination of taking care of yourself.” Noted.
For Henry, who was plucked from an audition over a decade ago into South Korea’s biggest music agency, SM, starring in a Stateside film is telling of how far he’s come. From his debut as a violinist in mega group Super Junior’s single, “Don’t Don” to going onto become a member of the Chinese subunit Super Junior-M, he held activities in both countries until finally setting back in Seoul. There, his agency decided to debut Henry as a solo act, where he’d spend the next few years becoming a South Korean fixture on variety shows, later becoming a household name.
Now at a new agency, Henry feels liberated and as if he’s embarking on a bigger, well, journey. It’s all about supporting and uplifting Asian voices, he tells us. “I want to take on roles that just happen to be Asian,” he explains. “I’d like to see more Asian roles that aren’t just stereotypical Kung Fu masters. He could be any person or have any characteristics but happens to have an Asian face.”
And the timing might finally be right for Asian Americans in Hollywood. Traditionally. Asian American men have been essentially emasculated, with depictions ranging from said foreign-accented martial artists to the punchline of jokes (cue “Sixteen Candles'” Long Duk Dong or even Ken Jeong’s character, Mr. Chow in “The Hangover” series). It’s one that’s been unable to showcase Asian American men in three-dimensional ways – how they, too, can be complex, flawed, even sexy.
Henry sees that, he hears that. And he wants to be that agent of change. “To my Asian Americans: I will try my best to represent our community,” he says. “After I realized the responsibility I had, I know now it’s not just about me. I have to get really hyped up on opening doors for all of us.”
Here’s to more representation – and more Henry – in Hollywood.