L.A. Asian Pacific Film Fest: ‘The Ugly Model’

LOS ANGELES—If a tall, handsome and externally hot model takes of his shirt in public and shows off his perfectly sculpted washboard abs and bulging biceps but no one sees it, is he truly a model? This was the question toyed with at the beginning of The Ugly Model, a documentary about a Korean adoptee growing up in Philadelphia and experiencing the world as an awkward Asian kid turned model, fitness coach and public speaker.

The Ugly Model made its world premiere at the 35th L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival on May 4. The film's central character and protagonist - Kevin Kreider - was featured on AH1's Storytellers in Action (Season 3, Episode 8) just a few days earlier. Kreider, on the podcast, provided various snippets of the themese presented in The Ugly Model, which was produced by Bianca Guijper and directed by Doris Yeung.

What, exactly, are the themes presented in The Ugly Model? Let's borrow from the film's synopsis, which is posted on The Ugly Model's website.

"The Ugly Model examines the paradox of a handsome male model who feels ashamed, ugly and emasculated because of his Asian ethnicity in America."

Before going forward with our examination of this synopsis, let's address what The Ugly Model isn't: the documentary is NOT Kreider's journey to find his birth parents. (Kreider was born in South Korea and eventually put up for adoption at age 3. He was soon adopted by a white family in Philadelphia.)

The journey Kreider DOES embark on, based on the 92-minute documentary, is one of transformation - specifically the transition away from an insecure, self-hating Asian American. (As for what he transforms into, well you'll just have to watch the film.)

Along the way The Ugly Model asks pertinent and relevant questions about identity, stereotypes and unfounded perceptions. Are Asian men at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of physical attraction? Do white male models get all the prime gigs, at the expense of Asian male models (even in situations where the latter might be significantly more qualified than the former)? Is Kreider making a mountain out of a molehill and automatically believing his Asian background will always be the reason he fails, regardless of what actually happens?

Kreider (and his surrogates) tackle these questions throughout The Ugly Model - and the perspectives offered are certainly conversation starters. Yeung ultimately uses Kreider as a vehicle to both tell a story of one man's struggle with identity and bring several hidden (unspoken) issues to the forefront. Through it all the audience truly connects with Kreider, as the film evolves from its tongue-in-cheek opening, heavy-hearted second act and catharctic climax. (And along the way we meet some interesting people, such as Kreider's white parents, his best friend, a few models and NBA star Jeremy Lin.)

Keep up with the film's website to find out how and where you could watch The Ugly Model. Hopefully you'll be able to answer the question, "Can Asian men be sexy?".