Just when you think the daytime soap world looks like Rehash City--with shows copying the successful elements of one another and regurgitated plots spewing from soap to soap--a ray of hope is apt to surface.

The latest example of creative innovation in soap land comes from an old hand in the renewal department, "General Hospital." ABC's No. 1-rated serial recently introduced several Asian characters as part of a story involving an Oriental organized crime ring.

With news of drug busts in the Chinese communities of such major cities as New York, Houston and Los Angeles, and with the publicity surrounding the current film "The Year of the Dragon," the new "General Hospital" plot couldn't be more timely.

Whether the show's audience will become enthralled with the intrigue remains to be seen. But in one respect--the large-scale casting of a minority group--"General Hospital" should be lauded.

To provide a balanced view of good and evil elements in the Chinese community of Port Charles, two new core families have been introduced on the show.

One is headed by a patriarch known as the Ancient One, who's being portrayed by Keye Luke, a veteran actor who's had an active career since the 1930s and '40s, when he appeared in the "Dr. Gillespie" and "Charlie Chan" movies. TV viewers may recognize Luke as Master Po in ABC's "Kung Fu" series.

The Ancient One's grandson, Yank, played by Patrick Francis Bishop, has joined the medical staff of General Hospital.

On the villainous side is crime lord Mr. Wu, played by another veteran actor, Aki Aleong. His grandson, Kim, is played by Steven Leigh, and his granddaughter, Jade, is portrayed by Tia Carrere.

There are at least a dozen other Asian actors who'll be playing short-term secondary roles.

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