Keep on Wondering...

What are the connections between social and historical forces and the representations we see?
Why is yellowface still acceptable? When and how did yellowface turn into whitewashing?
How do these representations create and/or perpetuate stereotypes that are present in our world? What is the impact?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Looking Backwards

Warning: Somewhat incoherent and wiggly wonderings ahead. Enjoy!
As the year/semester draws to a close, I have begun thinking about all of the things I've learned, gotten mad at, felt offended or inspired by, or that have just left me speechless. 
It's daunting, actually, to scroll back through all my other posts and summarize what I've learned. It's like completing grade school and then having to go back and remember what you did on the 100th day of school in kindergarten. Daunting.
Before I went into this study/blog/craziness, I had relatively little understanding of how Asians have been represented in the media, how they have been treated in America, and how it continues to exist today. I had virtually no idea about what it means to be Asian American. 
I'm not saying that because of this blog I've had this great epiphany and I know and understand every single Asian American's experience. Instead, I have a deeper understanding of the stereotypes that still exist today and a better understanding of why I may have perceived something as racist (with historical context to boot). 
What are the connections between social and historical forces and the representations we see?
Why is yellowface still acceptable? When and how did yellowface turn into whitewashing?
How do these representations create and/or perpetuate stereotypes that are present in our world? What is the impact?
These questions have been hanging over my head all semester, and I keep wondering if I'm answering them fully. Or if I'm keeping them in mind as I type and try to analyze the movies and television shows I see. Or if my readers even stopped to read these questions. Sometimes I'm even wondering if these stereotypes matter. I know that's a blunt way of putting it, but what if nobody else sees the things I do? Is it my job to get up on my soap box blog and tell the world about these stereotypes and how damaging they are? Do people care? I care. That's kinda why I did an Independent Study in it...
I'm also wondering if yellowface is acceptable to other people, or if it's even part of society's consciousness. I've read so many comments on the IMDB listings for the movies I've watched that have yellowface, and they all say things like, "Ignore the fact that there's Caucasian actors playing Chinese people, this movie is awesome!" Or "I don't think this movie is racist. It's so funny when the white guy imitates the Oriental!" Or "LOL i luv jake gyllenhaaaaaaaaaal!!!!!!11111!!!!1!!!!!1111111111!!!!!1" These comments make me not only concerned about the state of humanity, but also whether or not yellowface is accepted and... liked? Or is it even given a second thought except for me and a few other people? 
Look at my first post ever. I've come a long way. Seriously, I have.
Be prepared for 2011. Even more analysis and soap box soliloquies to come. 
More reflections to be posted in the comments section below!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Margaret Cho and the Dilemma of Comedy

Let me start by stating that Margaret Cho is a badass. She really, truly is. She's sassy and brilliant. She has no qualms about giving the finger to society. She's a champion for Asian American and LGBTQ rights. She's fantastic! She was on Dancing With the Stars!
Comedy is an iffy arena for Asian Americans. Comedy is iffy for anybody, because you can't "make it" as a comedian unless people find you funny. But. People find Margaret Cho funny! And I can't say I blame them. 

The first 2 minutes and 8 seconds make such a nice summary of the sentiments of this blog - Asian Americans have always strived for acceptance, tried to assimilate, but based on the cultural stereotypes we have seen perpetuated in the media over the years, it's been made pretty difficult. 

These "people who don't understand the concept of being Asian American" are the ones who keep on believing in the "Perpetual Foreigner" stereotype. Cho's standup highlights that marvelously. Those questions/statements are annoying and something that Asians/-Americans must face almost every day, but the fact that they can be turned into comic material and can be accepted by the audience is something in itself.
Then, of course, there's Cho's "Mommy" material that she employs heavily in her standup. It's mostly her squinching up her face and speaking in an exaggerated "Asian/Korean Mommy" accent. In any other non-Asian comedian's hands, that could come off as racist or demeaning. On it's own, it's slightly racist and demeaning. Is it acceptable because it's Margaret Cho, because she's Asian-American? Is it okay to do because that's what her audience wants? Should she just cut that part of her act completely, because it is potentially offensive? Has anyone been offended by it? I often find myself halfheartedly laughing along with her "Mommy" impersonations, wondering whether it's okay for me to laugh or not. 
Is it possible that Margaret Cho would still be as popular if she completely cut the "Mommy" bits from her stand-up routines? I think she would, she's still very funny and witty and sassy enough to be hilarious. But would other people still enjoy her? Obviously, you can't be holding out for universal popularity as a comedian, but.... Would she still be as immensely popular as she is now if she had no "Asian accent" going on? Do people expect that an Asian comedian will employ the "Asian accent" and it'll be so funny and awesome and ohmygod they are my new favorite comedian! 

Comedy is about making people laugh, making your jokes accessible to everyone. But when an Asian-American employs an accent of their people in their routine... is that catering to non-Asian people's taste? Do other Asian-Americans find it funny? We afraid to speak up and say, "The accent is not funny. The accent is the perpetuation of the Foreigner stereotype." Let's dump our Model Minority umbrella, proclaim "The accent is dead!" and have a successful stand up routine with no accents! With no caricaturization of the Asian accent or Asian people! REAL representation is needed! 
More coming soon!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Terminology. That's What.

Yellowface - the practice of putting a non-Asian actor (usually white) into makeup and prosthetics that alter the actor's appearance and make them "look" Asian. The actor will also usually employ some garbled interpretation of an "Asian" accent. 
Fu Manchu - a catch-all name for the male Asian antagonists in movies that are evil and evilly Asian and Asianly evil. Sometimes will speak with an accent, sometimes without. Often portrayed as sly, manipulative, cunning, and in some cases, with an insatiable appetite for sex, usually lusting after white woman.
Charlie Chan - another catch-all phrase for the polar opposite of the Fu Manchu. A character that is a Charlie Chan or a son of Chan is subservient, "adorable," a kiss-ass to white characters, asexual (towards anyone in any race), often portrayed with a heavy accent. 
Lotus Blossom/China Doll - a subservient, demure girl with no backbone and no feelings. Often shown as an innocent, beautiful sexual toy who is corrupted by and infatuated with white men. The accent or lack thereof changes with every role. 
Dragon Lady - the female Fu Manchu. Often has a penchant for killing people or  busting out some karate chop hands. She is fierce, cunning, manipulative, powerful and a dangerously sexy gold digger. 

The Badass Mute - also known as the Bruce Lee, or, depending on the age of the character, a Mr. Miyagi. A buff and wise kung fu master who only speaks in proverbs and remains serene until it's time to kick some ass and then meditate. Sometimes a sexualized character, sometimes not. Enforces the idea that Asian people all have the innate ability to perform martial arts. 

Model Minority - referring to a minority group who is considered "successful" in a society where the majority is not. When applied to Asians, it implies that they will keep their head down, earn perfect scores on their SATs, not make a fuss when made fun of. Asians are considered hardworking and incredibly smart in math and science, or piano prodigies. The model minority stereotype foists higher expectations on people of Asian descent to do well and be naturally good at everything, except perhaps having a backbone or be socially present in white-dominated society. 
The Perpetual Foreigner - the assumption that Asians will never fully integrate into American society because of their race, and that they will always have an accent, always be loyal to their "mother country," and never be truly American. This is more of a subconscious stereotype that serves as a backdrop to the top 5 definitions listed here. 

I'll add more later, promise. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Joy Luck Club

There's no way I can claim to have a decent Asians/-Americans in the media blog without mentioning this movie. No way. 

Based on Amy Tan's book of the same nameJoy Luck Club (1993) is the story of four Chinese immigrant mothers and their relationships with their grown Chinese-American daughters. Su Yuan, Lindo, Ying Ying, and An-Mei were all born and raised in feudal China, and get together once a week to play mah-jong and drink tea and hope to be lucky in their lives. Their daughters, June, Waverly, Lena, and Rose, were born and raised in America. Su Yuan (Kieu Chinh) has passed away before the movie begins, and her story is told by June, her daughter. We learn about all of the seven other women in their various flashbacks to adolescence and childhood. Su Yuan was married in China to a different man and had twin baby girls. The Japanese invade China and she is forced to evacuate her village and head for Chungking with nothing but her babies. Along the way, she contracts dysentery and is worried that if she dies, it will bring bad luck on her babies and they won't be rescued. So she leaves them at the side of the road with a note asking whoever finds them to contact their father. She then winds up in America, remarries, and has her daughter June (Ming-Na), but she is forever haunted by the loss of her babies. Su Yuan has June begin to play the piano, hoping that she is gifted and will be a child star. However, June doesn't really want to do that, and she doesn't get why her mom wants her to - in fact, she doesn't get her mom at all. Lindo (Tsai Chin) was given away by her mother at age sixteen as part of an arranged marriage to a boy who was sixteen as well. Her husband had no sexual interest in her at all, and they became like brother and sister. Unfortunately, the boy's mother wants Lindo to produce a grandson for her, so she restricts Lindo to her bed until she gives birth to a baby. Lindo makes a plan to get out of her marriage which relies on her mother-in-law's belief in superstition. She escapes to America, remarries, has a daughter, Waverly, and becomes Su Yuan's best friend. The two women raise their children together, and Waverly and June grow up as rivals. Lindo makes Waverly (Tamlyn Tomita) into a chess champion, but has very high expectations of Waverly. When Waverly thinks her mom is using her champion status to draw attention to herself, Waverly quits chess and never plays again, but remains constantly afraid of her mother's criticisms. Ying-ying (France Nuyen) grew up meek and quiet and ended up marrying an abusive douchebag who sleeps around and treats her like dirt. They have a son together, but Ying-ying, wanting revenge, drowns the son. Her husband dies, and she goes to America with her new husband. They have a daughter, Lena, who grows up like her mother, quiet and unable to express herself. Lena (Lauren Tom) winds up in a marriage where her husband makes their relationship financially "equal" and therefore saps their relationship of all tenderness and caring. Lena ends up divorcing her husband and meeting someone new. An-Mei's (Lisa Lu) mother was raped by a wealthy man, and, having nowhere else to turn, she becomes his Fourth Wife and leaves An-Mei to be raised by her grandparents. Eventually, An-Mei's mother comes back for her and brings her to the house of her new husband, where she gave birth to a boy (as result of the rape) who has been adopted by Second Wife, a cruel and manipulative woman. An-Mei's mother commits suicide by eating opium before New Year's. An-Mei realizes her worth, and what has been going on in her new home, and demands that her "stepfather" treat her and her half-brother like they were his children from a First Wife. When An-Mei moves to America, she marries and has a daughter, Rose. Rose (Rosalind Chao) ends up marrying a white man who married her just to spite his racist mother. She is entirely dependent on him and he makes all of the decisions in their relationship. However, he ends up losing interest in her and having an affair. Rose and he decide to split their property and custody of their daughter, until Rose finally learns to stand up for herself and ask for her proper share of the property. All of these flashbacks are occurring during a farewell party for June, who will be going to China to meet the lost twins, who are now grown women and want to meet their mother. However, they don't know that their mother has died, so June must be the bringer of bad news. She goes to China and tells them that their mother has died, but that she came to take her mother's place. And so it ends, with an abundance of Kleenex and tears. 
Notice how the entire main cast is all Asian/-American women? There are hardly any white people in this film too - two husbands (of Waverly and Rose, respectively) and extras. Everyone else is Asian. Really Asian. No yellowface here, no sir. Remember Flower Drum Song? How it boasts an all-Asian American cast, and being the first of its kind? How it was applauded for being such a great portrayal of Chinese-Americans? Remember how it focused so much on being the first of its kind that it lost sight of the plot, dragged on too much and generally sucked? Not so with Joy Luck Club! It's a cast with talented, relatively unknown (back then) Asian-American women and it never loses sight of its plot, never has any contrived dialogue - it's solid all the way through. It tugs at your heartstrings. It's well-made, real, with no cheesy song-and-dance numbers or Monkey King ballets. There are real Asian people in both of the casts, but Flower Drum Song relies too much on its "groundbreaking" cast and forgets that there is something called plot, and it's rather important to a movie. Joy Luck Club has an all-Asian main cast, but it moves beyond that and strives to be a good movie. Sure, this movie deals with being Chinese, being Chinese American (the book even more so), but it doesn't get lost in that. It acknowledges it and moves on. The film uses the Chinese-ness as a backdrop to a compelling story about love and family and moms and daughters. I love this movie. Why did it take so long to make a movie with a primarily Asian cast that wasn't bad? Probably because we had to wait for Amy Tan to write the book, and because it wasn't a musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein. 

There are some really lovely, normal bits in this film, like all the scenes at June's farewell party before she leaves for China. Watching those scenes is like watching any party video. Everyone is acting normal, being regular human beings. If you were to cut out all of the flashbacks and just watch the party scenes, you would see normality, where (in the words of John Cho) "race is a fraction of their identity rather than the sum of their identity." We saw this a little bit in 21 Jump Street and a little more in Harold & Kumar - cool people in America doing regular people things and they just happen to be Asian. They're not smoking opium in dark corners (and there are no references to opium at all in this movie! Joy!) or something. True, there's a mah-jong game being played, but... that's still pretty normal. The people at this party are chatting, eating, drinking (not excessively), being pleasant. There are moments of tenderness (when June is telling Rose's daughter a story), short moments of happiness and gaiety (when a bottle of champagne is opened and it goes everywhere and everyone laughs), moments of chuckle-to-yourself-sweetness (when June is invited to join her mother's best friends at their mah-jong table). It's incredibly human, and that is some REAL representation. Normality! It's great! 
Empowering towards women (especially Asian women), this movie is. The plot, the characters, the relationships - all showing women in a positive light. The only women who are really portrayed as evil or corrupt are left back in China or ignored. The mother figures are shown as caring albeit misunderstood leaders who channel their inner strength in times of need. Almost all of the mothers had previous marriages and escaped them. Their daughters find their inner strength and overcome their own obstacles as well, with nothing but themselves and their mommy's anecdotes to get them through it all. Three of the daughters also end their primary marriages and pursue new ones. Almost none of the Asian stereotypes surrounding women are perpetuated here. There are no murderous, scheming, devilish Dragon Ladies. None of the women act in the manner of Suzie Wong. They don't parade around in body-hugging qipaos doing the cha-cha or seducing white men or selling themselves. The only stereotype that you see here is the one of the Lotus Blossom; however, that stereotype is overcome and pushed aside as the characters mature into stronger women. Joy Luck Club shows this transformation and rejection, not of the stereotype, of the role and oppression of their situation which causes them to act in accordance of that stereotype. The daughters might begin by subscribing to the model minority stereotype (the prodigy children, June and Waverly), but they end up quitting those roles and going on to be themselves. Strong women and the mother-daughter relationship is at the center of the entire film. So watch it with your mom and I dare you not to cry.  
I understand, however, how this film could not do so well in representing men. There's the creep who got his Fourth Wife by raping her, who doesn't end up feeling bad until she dies and her daughter (An-Mei) tells him that her mommy's ghost will come back to settle scores. There's the abusive and manipulative husband who sleeps around and isn't afraid to show it in front of his wife (Ying-Ying). There's the money-grubbing, unloving control freak (Lena's husband). Two sexual predators, one eunuch. All are misogynistic. The eunuch we can immediately classify as a Charlie Chan spin-off - uninterested in love, roly-poly, comical-looking, annoying. The two sexual predators are descendants of our favorite Fu Manchu, or maybe General Yen. Preying on women all the time, being manipulative, sly, crafty, cunning, you name it - they are portrayed as overly sexualized, threatening men. 
There's only one good portrayal of an Asian man in this film, and that is of June's father. June is about to leave to go meet her half-sisters in China. She finds her father sifting through a box of her mother's possessions to find things for the half-sisters to have, because "We have memories of Mommy in here [points to his head], and now they can have memories of Mommy." It's heartbreaking. And sweet. Because June's father loves her and loved her mommy. Reach for Kleenex, go ahead. But this character, who spends maybe all of seven minutes on the screen, is the only really positive male character we see in the film. 
Granted, neither the movie or the book are about men. It's about women, and the relationship between mother and daughter. But the men still matter. And I am unsure whether a movie like this one, with all it's groundbreaking, it's heartfelt-sobfest-ness, can be considered "real representation" if only the women get the proper portrayals. True, women have historically been the more repressed sex, but we can't call it equal representation if it's segregated by gender towards the female side. And, historically, Asian men haven't been represented in that great of a light either. This film is great for the portrayals when you ignore all the men (except June's dad) and focus solely on the women being mommies and daughters. 

Fun Facts About The Film (just because):
Russell Wong, who plays Ying-ying's abusive and cheating husband, also had a lead role in the episode of "The Dragon and the Angel" on 21 Jump Street. Amy Tan has a cameo in the very first scene. She enters the party with her movie family and gives a hug to another guest. My cousin was an extra. Ming-Na, who plays June, was also the voice (talking only, not the singing voice) of Mulan in both Mulan and Mulan II. In the scene of June's piano recital, the girl who is before her is singing "I Enjoy Being a Girl" from Flower Drum Song. Nancy Kwan is not in this movie. Neither is James Shigeta. I wonder why?
Dissenting Opinions
And more!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Collagin' #13

How many has it been? Whoa!
Yes, that is the 5th Harry Potter book holding down a corner
Coming Soon:
Joy Luck Club
All-American Girl
Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sagwa: The Chinese-Siamese Cat

Confession: This used to be my favorite show as a kid. So forgive me if I'm not as critical as I should be. 
Based on the children's book by Amy Tan, this show features a family of cats who write calligraphy with their tails for their master, who is the magistrate of a Chinese province in the countryside. Sagwa, Sheegwa, Dongwa, and their friend Fu-Fu the bat go on adventures together that always end with a moral lesson. Really cute moral lessons, like "Don't turn your back on your friends," or "Don't steal." 

And listen to that music. Sounds nothing like Mr. Yunioshi's theme song. No obscenely loud gongs. The music isn't a specific/traditional Chinese song - but it's using the traditional instruments and structure as a backbone to all of the songs used in the series. It sounds like the composer for this show sat down and really studied traditional Chinese instruments and songs. And do you hear that? That's singing in Mandarin. About half of the singing in the theme song is in Mandarin. Not in English. Not in some made-up "Chinese" language. In Mandarin. Whooohoo! 
What's lovely about this show, you ask? It's cute little cats who write with their tails. Little Chinese cats who write in very accurate and traditional-looking calligraphy. Cute little Chinese cats who go on adventures with their best friend who is a bat. Cats who write with their tails and live in ancient China (social history lessons, kids!). Most of the character's names are derived from actual Chinese words/names. This is probably the most accurate and positive portrayal on a children's television show of (specifically) ancient Chinese culture, therefore instilling a respect towards China and it's history. Is that not cause for celebration? 
I have no complaints about any of the cat characters, because they are not based on any caricatures of Chinese people. They're generic kid show characters. There's the cute, cheerful, slightly ditzy little sister (Sheegwa), the whiney, slightly myopic and dramatic cool older brother (Dongwa), the curious, kind and occasionally very bossy middle sister (Sagwa), the strict yet funny dad (Baba Miao), the gentle but strict mommy (Mama Miao), and the clumsy but very smart sidekick (Fu-Fu the bat). There's also a gang of alley cats (Aristocats, anyone?), three Pekingese "sleeve" dogs, some mice, and cat grandparents. Ignore the fact that they're cats in China. This ensemble cast could be any kid's television show. They just happen to be cats and they just happen to be Chinese cats who write calligraphy with their tails. Nothing else.

Now the humans, on the other hand, that's where this show teeters on the brink of being potentially (mildly) offensive. There's the gluttonous, absent-minded Foolish Magistrate, a dumbed-down Charlie Chan character, who keeps potstickers in the sleeves of his robes and enjoys eating noodles and making up silly rules. There's his demanding wife Tai-Tai who keeps Pekingese dogs in her sleeves and is an extremely watered-down Fu Manchu/Dragon Lady combo what with her ability to manipulate her husband into doing whatever she wants. There are their three daughters, dumbed-down Lotus Blossom girls who giggle pointlessly and don't really serve a purpose except as stock characters. There's the Cook, a cheerful man who cooks for the magistrate and his family, and is subservient, rotund, and just like Charlie Chan, except he doesn't solve mysteries. He does use a lot of aphorisms. Then there's the Reader, the slapstick comic relief man who reads the rules set out by the magistrate to the rest of the village/province. He falls down a lot - he's the human manifestation of Fu-Fu the bat. Both are wise, clumsy, sometimes silly, and wear glasses. Almost all of the human characters in the TV show of Sagwa are based in strange, old, funky stereotypes, even though they are watered down considerably and aren't portrayed as caricatures or meant to be racist.

There is the concern that the main characters of Sagwa (the cats) are voiced by white people, and this raises the issue of whitewashing - giving a role that could be for any actor of any race that ends up being played by a white actor just because. Look out for whitewashing in upcoming film/television posts! Was denying an Asian vocal actor the chance to play a Chinese cat wrong? Was there ever any denial of an Asian vocal actor? Was an Asian vocal actor ever considered for one of the lead roles? Is it because it's only the role of a cat that the race of the actor doesn't matter? Thankfully, a majority of the human caricatures (oops, I mean characters) are voiced by people of Asian descent, albeit relatively unknown/unrecognized actors. So is casting a white actor (rather, using a white actor's voice) to play an Asian character in a vocal role whitewashing? Or... not?

In the past, cartoons depicting Chinese people always featured prominent teeth and slanty eyes on the people. Not so here! Nobody's eyes are drawn as a diagonal line. Most of them even have whites around their irises! Everyone can see in this show! And not one of them has buck teeth. Not one. I don't think any of the characters are actually drawn with teeth, so I guess teeth are irrelevant here. 
 Effort was put into making this show accurate and a good representation, which sets it apart from shows like Juniper Lee or Jake Long. The theme song, the drawings, the usage of real Chinese words, the references to Chinese history: it all screams of effort and research on the part of the creators. How awesome is that? 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing

Just when we thought there was going to be a lot more movies with some REAL representation, this little film came along and screwed everything up. 
London, 1923. Lord Southmere (Derek Nimmo) is a Queen's messenger and he has just arrived from China with a piece of microfilm concerning the mysteeeeerious "Lotus X." A group of Chinese spies find out and try to capture him, but not before he puts the bit of microfilm on the bone of a dinosaur in the Natural History Museum. Along the way, he enlists the help of his old nanny, Hettie (Helen Hayes) and her fellow nanny Emily, to thwart the Chinese spies. They are then captured by Hnup Wan (the "inscrutable" Peter Ustinov), the head of the London division of Chinese spies, whose old nanny was friends with Hettie. However, the nannies escape and plan to help Lord Southmere escape as well. Meanwhile, Lord Southmere won't tell Hnup Wan and his right hand man, Fan Choy (Bernard Bresslaw) where the microfilm is. All they know is that it was hidden on a dinosaur in the Natural History Museum - so they decide to steal one of the dinosaurs in order to find the microfilm. The Chinese spies load the dinosaur onto a truck in the middle of the night, but before they can run away with it, the nannies steal the truck and the dinosaur, with Hnup Wan and Fan Choy following close behind. There's a long chase scene, which ends in the dinosaur and truck accidentally running onto a flat wagon of a train, and the nannies and the dinosaur are carried away. The nannies continue to look for the microfilm but are forced to conclude that it just isn't on the stolen dinosaur. Then a little boy points out that there are multiple dinosaurs in the museum, and everybody realizes that the Chinese spies and therefore the nannies stole the wrong one! Hnup Wan gets to the dinosaur first and finds the microfilm of "Lotus X," which he prepares to look at properly, until Fan Choy replaces Hnup Wan as the head of the London division of Chinese spies. The nannies have now realized that Lord Southmere is in danger, so they recruit other nannies and they fight the Chinese spies in a Chinese restaurant, and Hnup Wan saves Lord Southmere. Later, everyone gathers in Hnup Wan's office to see what "Lotus X" was. And the piece of microfilm that started this whole mess turns out to be a recipe for wonton soup. And everyone is happy. 

Wonton soup???? Are you serious? All that plot for wonton soup? Not only is that just stupid... it implies that Chinese people only really care about food! It shows us as greedy gluttons who desire only to keep our precious wonton soup recipes to ourselves! Disgusting!
One of the most racist portrayals I have seen so far is from a children's movie. Horrifying.
Remember how I kept saying in previous yellowface portrayals that the accents weren't all that noticeable or prominent? How they were really only slowing down their speech or using an ambiguous accent that wasn't really specifically Asian? This is the first film I have watched that has that stereotypical, over exaggerated accent. One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing is just the most God-awful representation of someone of Chinese descent that I have seen yet. Every "r" gets mixed up with every "l." The speaking characters add the suffix "-ah" to every other word and butcher the English language shamelessly. Ustinov and Bresslaw employ a funky gutteral "nnnnnnnnnnnnn" noise after every sentence. When Ustinov reads "Chinese" out loud it sounds like this: "foy toy mee shee loo mah tung ah..." 
Then there's the yellowface. It consists of some crazy taping of the eyelids, some blue (blue?) eyeshadow, and some Charlie Chan-esque facial hair. It doesn't sound like much, but man oh man... It's terrifying. It's blue, sparkly eyeshadow! What about smearing blue sparkly eyeshadow across an actor's eyelid makes them Chinese? Absolutely nothing! Interestingly, there was no darkening of the actor's skin or prosthetic buck teeth. Not a single Asian person was seen in this movie either. All of the extras were white men as well, unlike Good Earth or Bitter Tea of General Yen, which at least had the good sense to at least include extras... Combine this level of scary yellowface with the heavily exaggerated and ugly ugly accents and you have got some scary Chinamen.
Hnup Wan is a bad Charlie Chan and a friendly Fu Manchu. He is roly-poly and bumbling like Charlie Chan, and is mysterious, manipulative and sly like Fu Manchu. He dresses in Western clothes and sometimes employs stupid aphorisms like Charlie Chan. He has crazy henchmen like Fu Manchu. Hnup Wan has the Charlie Chan facial hair and the Fu Manchu super-slanty eyes. He is asexual like Charlie Chan and employs funky-strange torture methods like Fu Manchu. And this character was in a children's movie (Ironically, he was played by Peter Ustinov, who then portrayed Hercule Poirot, which is most definitely a Charlie Chan parallel). 

The big fight scene between the nannies and Hnup Wan's henchmen is awful as well. It shows little old nannies beating up kung fu masters. Painful! But that's not all! The "masters"aren't even doing kung fu, or any martial art I know of. They're jumping in the air, doing a pirouette, then landing with a high kick and a hair-raising "HOOOAAAAAAAIIIEE!" Cue karate chop hands. Dear me. Two years after Enter the Dragon and you can't even hire proper martial artists? Shameful. 
Even more terrifying is that this was a Disney film. A children's movie. Hnup Wan and Fan Choy (Heavens to Betsy, those names!) are in the movie for comic relief and as the antagonists. On the one hand, this presents the Asian (male? There are no Asian women in this film at all) as a bumbling, slightly stupid and funny person that is really only good for making fun of. On the other hand, it shows the Asian as one who is sly, manipulative, cunning, dastardly clever and mysteeeeeeeeerious. These contrasting (conflicting?) portrayals end up sending only one message: Make fun of Asians because you can and because it's funny. One reviewer on IMDB wrote about how seeing this movie in theatres led him to do Hnup Wan impersonations. Is that a good thing? Absolutely not. That's like asking the Asian kids on the playground to do Long Duk Dong impersonations despite the obviously painful connections. In fact, Hnup Wan, Fan Choy, Mr. Yunioshi, and Long Duk Dong all belong in a new, separate category - Stereotypes That Exist Solely For Comic Relief and Playground Taunts.

Not cute at all. Listen to that soundtrack. It's got a stupid little xylophone. And the stupid little flutes and zithers and CRAP? It's racist! It sounds like the Mr. Yunioshi theme, only... mysterious. Gross. Makes me wanna cry. This stuff makes Flower Drum Song sound good. 
Children's movies relying on caricatures and stereotypes for comic relief? Shameful. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Collagin' #12

Rotate? Crap...
Coming Soon!
One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing
Joy Luck Club