LOS ANGELES -- While teaching a course on Asian American history at San Francisco State University last fall, Antonio De Castro was troubled by the comments of Asian women in his class that they were not sexually attracted to Asian men -- and, in fact, preferred to date and marry whites.

Part of the reason, De Castro surmised after talking with students, was a dearth of positive media images of Asian men. In Hollywood and in real life, Asian men have been stereotyped as menacing villains, computer nerds, obedient sidekicks or a mix-and-match combination of caricatures.

After asking his class to write a paper on the topic, De Castro, a Filipino American, decided to do something himself: He gathered a group of six Asian American men, oiled them down and photographed each -- in black and white -- flexing muscle and posing in a loincloth or swimming trunks.

And voila: the Asian Pacific Islander Men 1991 Calendar, a publication that aims to break stereotypes as it raises eyebrows.

"The calendar is making a very directed statement that the Asian male does have a physical aspect, a sexual aspect, and does have virility," said De Castro, 38, who is also a commercial photographer.

To distinguish his product from any other "beefcake" calendar, De Castro photographed the men fully as well as scantily clothed, and included short profiles of each alongside his picture. Some people warned that the calendar might be too modest that way.

"But that's a real important part of the calendar. It's a whole person I'm portraying," De Castro said.

Indeed, media images of Asian men (and other minority groups) have fallen far short of portraying real people.

In the late 1920s, there was the sinister, green-eyed Dr. Fu Manchu. There also was Charlie Chan, the fortune-cookie-proverb-spouting detective, and even such recent characters as Long Duk Dong, a sex-starved, drunken Chinese exchange student in the 1984 movie "Sixteen Candles."

Frank Kwan, executive producer of KNBC-TV's "News Conference" -- a weekly political affairs show for the NBC affiliate here -- has been openly critical of the media's portrayal of Asians.

"Charlie Chan never was portrayed by an Asian. It was always a Caucasian in 'yellow face.' All the Chan movies were like that," said Kwan, who accuses Hollywood of stripping Asian men of their sexuality and dignity -- in essence, their acceptance as normal, mainstream Americans.

Times are changing: Producers now are looking for an Asian actor to play the Chinese detective.

"We've taken two steps forward and 1 1/2 steps backward," said Dennis Dun, a Chinese American actor who plays a radio talk show engineer named Billy Po on the NBC television series "Midnight Caller." Currently, Dun is the only Asian male regular on prime-time television.

Dun said his character is "witty, intelligent, American and hip" -- qualities that persuaded him to audition for the part. But several years ago, while rehearsing on the set of his first major motion picture, "Year of the Dragon," Dun said he noticed that the lines for his character then -- an undercover cop -- were injected with blatant stereotypes.

"I looked at the script and thought, 'Oh my God.' They had the character speaking horrible pidgin English," Dun said. "I thought if he was talking this way how could he be a cop? I started rewriting my part... . I corrected the grammar so he spoke proper English. And I got away with it."

Unfortunately, such negative stereotypes are a reflection of how Asian men are sometimes viewed in the real world as well.

"Society sends a negative message to Asian American men taking on ... nontraditional roles, specifically if the roles call upon the person to be articulate, assertive, verbal," said Diane Yen-Mei Wong, executive director of the Asian American Journalists Association -- and wife of one of the calendar men, Dale Minami, a prominent San Francisco lawyer who pressed for reparations for Japanese Americans interned during World War II.

Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo, the city's first Asian American council member, agreed. "The people who are making the decisions think Asian males are not attractive, not appealing," he said.

Although Woo said that being Asian and male were never an impediment to his getting elected in 1985, constituents, Asian and non-Asian, have told him that at times he comes across as inscrutable, cerebral and unemotional -- in other words, "too Asian."

"People told me they wish I would act more like Jesse Jackson," Woo said. "However, I resist the idea of remaking myself to satisfy someone else's idea of what a politician should be."

The image of the Asian American man is a touchy subject, especially in the wake of an article in Image, the San Francisco Examiner's Sunday magazine. The Dec. 2 article, "Asian Women, Caucasian Men: The New Demographics of Love," drew criticism from some Asian Americans who said the piece portrayed Asian males as sexist, unattractive and hung up on "losing" Asian women to white men.

"{The} article made it look like it is Asian men's fault that many Asian women are now dating and marrying Caucasians ... because Asian men placed them in a submissive role," wrote George Wang, of Los Molinos, Calif., in a letter printed in a Jan. 6 issue.

Bill Wong, an associate editor and columnist for the Oakland Tribune, said the article, which quotes a white sorority member saying that white women don't date Asians, implies it is impossible for white women and Asian men to become romantically involved. Wong said he was offended by the article, especially because he is married to a white.

Certainly, a collection of snapshots of bare-chested Asian men cannot be expected to work miracles. But by forcing discussion of the issues it addresses, the calendar is starting to have an impact.

Dojoon Bahk, 30, a Korean American who appears in the calendar as Mr. January and Mr. February, said a female co-worker never thought of him as attractive until she saw his photograph on a television news program. "That made me think what the media can do to a person," said Bahk, a social worker who is training to be a firefighter.

Said Wong: "It's a sad thing there has to be something like this to reinforce what should be accepted in general culture -- that Asian men are like all others."