One of the book's strongest, most believable points is that one of the reasons that the MIT students were able to escape notice for so long is *because* they were Asian (p. 116). The casinos didn't look twice at someone Asian making big bets, and it took the casinos a while to get over their assumption that card counters were only going to be middle-aged white guys with glasses -- "We can use one stereotype to trump another," it's said.
See page 116 via Google Books.
So making the lead character white not only flies in the face of the characters portrayed in the book, it flies in the face of reality. Author Ben Mezrich seems to have had no great "agenda" in portraying the core group as Asian--they just *were*. And so if the story of these Asian/Asian-American individuals is the story that was told and was therefore the story that was purchased for adaptation, why isn't this the story that has shown up on the screen--?
The story told in the book has been perverted in all sorts of ways for the screen. Making the lead male character white is THE Number One Problem with the film, the one which brought about all the other problems.
The book's "Kevin Lewis"/Jeff Ma was a brilliant, capable Asian American young man who deliberately chooses to use his vast intelligence to help himself win at gambling--despite the shame he knows it would bring upon his father, a man from Hong Kong, if he knew. Arguably, it is dueling Asian and American values that drive him yet divide him against himself. That sounds like a guy I would like to know more about--and is who readers of the book came to know. That is the man that I was hoping to see on the screen--the *Asian American man* I was hoping to see on the screen.
That's not what I get with this movie--and it is a lost opportunity.
Arguably, because the lead male character is made white, it is *his* values and experiences that are shown. An Asian American man chooses to involve himself in such an enterprise for so many reasons--but this white American man in the film is *forced* into it. He needs money fast so he joins the blackjack team. He plans to pay off his debt and then leave, but he is seduced, both by his success and by the "Jill" character. As the story progresses and the casinos begin figuring it out and fighting back, he becomes a victim of his own success. Can he find his way back to the simple life he knew pre-blackjack???
And that's the real problem, ultimately. The white American lead in the film is indeed a victim, whipped to and fro by life and its circumstances. "Kevin Lewis"/Jeff Ma is many things--but he was never a victim, per se, of being on the team. He chose it and pursued it. Better yet, he freely decided when to come in and he freely decided--more or less--when to leave.
I think Jeff Ma has made a truly Faustian bargain in being involved in promoting the film--saying he doesn't have a problem with the casting ensures the studio will promote him along with the film, which then somewhat spotlights his actual role in all this.
And in that, maybe it's just as well he's inaccurately portrayed--because he was *never* the guy in this movie anyway.
Like I said, it's a lost opportunity all the way around.