March 17, 2006

Americanese image 2.jpg

For those of you who came to the Opening night movie last night, here's your chance to give your opinions some air time. Again, no proper review from me. Is it that I'm just lazy? Maybe. Whatever it is, I'm jumping to the fun part: the So What'd You Think?

Of course, I always hate it when after a movie someone actually comes out and asks me that first, because if I say I liked it and then it turns out my viewing partner didn't, then I feel like an idiot. But since this is my blog, *I* get to ask first. I'll share some of the comments/ questions my friends and I threw around afterwards, though, as diving boards.

-- Americanese or American Knees? For those of you who've read the book too, how do they compare to you? Some of my friends noted that the casting of Allison Sie, for one, made for a very different Aurora than we'd pictured from the book -- and I for one liked her better in the movie. This may be related to the next question, which is...

-- American Knees is a straight Asian male fantasy of the ideal Asian man and his ideal Asian female partner (Aurora as luscious young hapa beauty, Raymond as Asian man repeatedly able to sleep with white women) -- agree or disagree? Would you say the same or different about the movie? More or less texture & traction to the characters?

-- At the Q&A session after the movie, someone from the audience asked (and was never answered) about ethnic considerations in the casting. Namely, how can the AsAm community protest careless ethnic casting in Memoirs of a Geisha, when in our own films we cast Asians interchangeably? Joan Chen as a Vietnamese woman, Sab Shimono & Chris Tashima as Chinese father & son? oo, good question.

-- My favorite part of the movie was Joan Chen. A friend of mine came up to me during the party and swore that he thought she had managed to channel a Vietnamese woman on camera. Whether she gave a terrific performance as a Vietnamese woman, I don't know; I was aware of her as Joan Chen the entire time, and frankly I don't know any women of any ethnicity that remind me of Joan Chen. So I was smitten by the vividness of the character & her performance. But anyway, since she's my favorite I picked her picture. Your favorite?

-- Anything else you care to toss in the discussion mix, go for it.


erin K Ninh

contributing editor & blogger

erin Khue Ninh is a former blog editor and onetime publisher of Hyphen, who won't seem to go away. She now teaches literature in the Department of Asian American Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Aside from Hyphen, erin believes in recycling, Planned Parenthood, and Type A first-borns.



I wondered about the casting too. It did throw me off, seeing actors I knew were not really Chinese-American or Vietnamese-American playing those roles. But was it because they didn't "look" the part (which is a whole different question), or because I knew they weren't the part? But I do think it's different from "Geisha" because as Asian-Americans playing Asian-Americans, they were all speaking English and not say, fractured Chinese or Japanese with different accents.
I'm viet-am, and a major (hostile even...) hater of MEMOIRS / GEISHA for deeper underlying RESEARCHED reasons behind the book's conception / white point of view in the film / systematic hackery by the level filmmaking so typically assigned to Asian cultural depictions in hollywood. All long before the notion of American pop-cultural conceptualization trends of "equal opportunity" or "color-blind" ethos from the 1960 civil rights movement (dealing in white / black issues without eevn discussing Asian dynamics). Byler -whom I know- tells the story of CONTEMPORARY IDENTITY ISSUES shared by *all* Asian Americans on planet earth, and not some contrived orientalist New Age "pan-Asian" rich white people's projection humanity in Asian cultures. Contemporary Asian Americans are commonly in a shared experience of sexual issues driven BY WHITE SOCIETY weighing upon us. As opposed to a fictionalization by WHITE CREATORS interpreting FROM THE OUTSIDE - no less in a period era piece relating politics between CHINESE / JAPANESE history that still go on this day... So the perspective here to be accurately made pertains to an ability to RESPECT DEEPER STORY-TELLING ethics - which I know that Byler is qualified to do. Not only as a filmmaker, but as a person conscious of his arena in real life - which his filmwork pertains to. - WYN NGO
I too specialized in South Asian Studies andfound that this movie was truly a wasteof film. it seems like nothing more than anadolescent masturbatory ego fantasy.I mean come on... a white teenage girls throws herself at Raymond Ding, he makes a sexually scarred vietnamese woman incapable of orgasming - SUDDENLY ORGASM... and the entiremovie centers around a hapa chick whocan't get over him.. Can anyone think of a morepreposterous situation? While it might posethe Asian male as a sexuallly desireableobject, I found it so totallyunrelatable and uninteresting. A steamingload of crap would have held my interest longerthan constipated looks off frame. Should havespent all that money making Asian malepornstars humping white chicks.. that would havebeen both more succinct and cogent.While the last writer spoke of how this filmtells of contemporary identity issues shared by"ALL ASIAN AMERICANS ON THE PLANET EARTH",I mean who can argue with the racism presentwith cogently crafted dialogue like:"I married an Asian Woman, how can I be racist?"Truly this film merits the attention of thewidespread pandemic racism Asians experience.O.. wait its supposed to be a subtle racism?I see... I can't seem to decide between identifyingwith my TRADITIONAL ASIAN SIDE and my HICKSVILLE Tenessee side. Maybe I will justpiss in the wind, because I'd probably figureout a lot more after doing that than watchingthis film. (ya see, when you pee on yourself,you become more yellow).IN SUMMATION, PRO QUID PRO, QED...the only reason you would want to seethis film is if A). You are Hapa and like to learn nothing B). You like to see ugly asian dudes get iton with girls that look like Michael jackson.or C). You want to throw money at into ahuge void, hoping that it will promoteASIAN Cinema.. while the last part is partiallytrue.. you can only hope to receive moreof the same stuff you've been getting...
"I too specialized in South Asian Studies". But are you particpating in life through a CREATIVE PROCESS as an artists engaged in complex -often painful- courageous INTROSPECTION of yourself away from the alibi commonly offered to Asian American acamedia? Because those are not Asian watching non-Asian cinema along with these films we hope for them to see (in the history of world movie watching) seem pretty free of claiming any alibi of "Studies" for their opinions and projections read into Byler's film. Byler is not at all interested in abstract notion of political perfectionism so typically pandered by those using "studies" as an alibi for their hostility drawn from deeper INIDIVUAL PERSONALITY ISSUES hidden behind the alibi....
I applaud the efforts in delving intoa personal story and dealing with racein a non-hostile manner. I think thisis an attitude that is unfortunatelytaken up by a small but vocal Asianminority, that leaves a distastefulafterthought in the majority of Asians.Hopefully you can sense my ambivalencetoward the much NEEDED vocal AZN'sand the distaste we have for their tactics. If you think about it carefully, you will never see an AA feature length film that takes a hostile stance on race. Which is unfortunate. There's always the fear that this wouldn't sell,become tiresome and overly didactic,and is just TOO IN YOUR FACE forattention avoiding Asians.In all honesty, I'd rather film takea dramatic controversial stab and get people talking instead of delving intomindless personal indulgences of characters that are total wastebin fodder. I'd rather the film takea huge risk and fail, rather thanbe more CORRECT and fail at doing anything at all, exceptfor more on the nose one-linecommentary's on asian racial relationsthat lacks so any subtlety and revealsso much of the directors 1-dimensionalintent, that it leaves everyone notthinking at all, except how bad the film is.Film is a expensive, big medium. notsuited for bad filmmaking.The director's notion is commendable, but the film ultimately gets a consolation prize.Both in concept and excecution.It's a terrible film, and until thepopular press is willing to admitthat instead of touting this film's hornabout the supposed controversy it brings, and resting on the laurels of his past success, we are simply settling intoour old "everything is good, let's nottalk about it" Asian attitude, wherenothign ever gets fixed complacency.This isn't a medium for wimps..The afterschool special is over andit's time to go to work.
Jim, props for tearing this film a fine new asshole.I do think the movie was a huge improvement over the book, though, and that the stink you think about the movie is actually bad smells from the book that Byler didn't manage to mask. Why he chose to turn this particular book into a movie at all is the most questionable thing about his work. Since besides being an "adolescent masturbatory ego fantasy," the book is also a weird, plot-less collection of AsAm 101 debates. Efforts to remake the image of the Asian male should not be so transparent as to be pathetic, since that backfires. Much like Darryl Hamamato's attempts at Asian male porn. (shudder)
When I read the book in my 20s, I thought it was great. I guess it's because I was tired of reading stories about the first generation immigrating to America. This was the first Asian American book I read that seemed contemporary, sexy even.Now that I'm older though, I do find the book, as the reader above points out, as a collection of AsAm 101 debates and identity politics. Yawn.Also, someone asked Shawn Wong during the film's Q&A if it was hard for him as a straight Asian American man to write from the point of view of a hapa woman. He said no. I thikn that's part of the problem. It should have been hard. And it would have been better if it had been hard. The story does seem like male fantasy. And as a woman, I don't find Aurora entirely believeable.
I agree with penenlope, it's reallyjust juvenile for Asian men tore-sexualize themselves in such vulgarand objectifying ways. Does not havingany Asian male porn in American publicdistribution really do anything forthe Asian male image, does it necessarily equate to being an asexualbeing in representational discourse?Do you really want to engage in a debateabout big black cocks? Not really andI'm betting black people don't needit either. although it is pretty damnfunny.I question the intent of manyAsian males, who give "props" to oneanother for seeing Harold get witha hispanic Chick in "HAROLD AND KUMAR".the tactic in general basically reinvents a good ol' boy's club mentality at the level of non-mainstream cinemas, reinscribingpatriarchical values outside ofthe dominant discourse.I think Asian American cinema has theopportunity to explore other voicesand themes beyond sexual objectificationand domination of women. Going backto something so 1-dimensional, howevernoble the intent or radical need to change perception is a very shallow go nowhere - hey did you see/hear about that asian porn film - and becomes more of a random spectacle rather than a serious exploration or line of thoughtthat can be followed.Ang Lee makes stories that aren't simplya forum to debates, but ratherare stories that pick up the particularsand touch on these bases. They don'treally seek to judge so much as casta reflect the popular perception andhistory of significant events. Thisisn't to say that all Asian Cinema should be all like that, but actuallydo something worthwhile.
I found Americanese extremely boring. The forced and cliched Asian Am male/female dialogue, Chris Tashima's attempt at emoting but coming off at best what?--acting without acting?, the aesthetic reminders of the cheap erudition and dryness of "Charlotte Sometimes," the total disappointment in its potential to create any kind of meaningful discussion about Asian American male masculinity beyond mainstream concepts of patriarchy, and so much less made this film nearly unbearable to sit through at the Castro Theater at opening night. I remember the book being quick witted and funnier. However, I would not like to compare the film to the book since the film--and its director's interpretation of the book as he pleases--deserves criticism specific to film as a medium. That being said, I did not like the book. So why did I see the film? Because I had so much hope in it, AND an expectation (which is always dangerous) that I'd find something at least mildly interesting in the project as an adaptation. But who cares.
I find it hypocritical to argue againstmiscasting of Asians of different cultural heritages, ie Koreans playingChinese, etc etc. I mean it reallydoesn't matter since the Mongols probably inseminated every single Asian race at some point in their long and prosperous plundering of Asia.But i guess that's besides the point. It's all acting and make-up anyway. I find it too bad that Asian people will cry about their inability to suspendtheir disbelief or just get over the fact, and yet when a white guy playsa different race, we just let it go. Isn't it hypocritical to judge a person's performance on the basis of Race, Racist? I didn't hear any hispanics crying when Lou Diamond Philips played La Bamba.. in fact I think most filipino's were proud of him.. cuz one of their own had made it. I didnt hear anyone saying, HA HA we deceived those racist bastards and slipped an Asian in the mix.Maybe it all goes back to the Yellow-facing back in the golden age of cinema.At the same time, we also had James Shigeta doing real roles... Today allwe have are the Long Duck Dong Guy and John Cho... I'd rather have the two extremes than the bland median.i dunno wtf im talking about.. but screw you all.
lots of people ragging on this movie because it reverses the standard racist stereotype - asian guy as loser, girl goes for superior white guyyes there was an agenda behind the movie, but the same can be said of many other moviesif we ever get to the point where movies dont just repeat stereotypes meant to appease the egos of the mostly white producers or their butt kissers maybe then your points would be validbut while we still live in a time when hollywood wants to promote its own little apartheid why don't you just give it a rest
WTF did them folks in Austin see in this flick that compelled them to give it TWO awards? Unbelievable. This flick was humorless and sexless, which were the two saving points of the novel and the two things that ostensibly made the novel a standout in AA lit ten years ago and kept us reading. What was this director THINKING trying to turn a still-sexy forty-year old AA administrator (from the novel!) into a frumpy, clueless, BORING gen-X dufus? No chemistry between the lead actors at all. Their kiss at the end of the flick just grossed me out. Byler succeeded in reprising the streotype of the ugly, repulsive Asian Am male.Is it true that most of the money for this movie came from Allison Sie's father, and that he would only fork it over if his daughter played the lead and her ex-boyfriend (Byler) directed it? Wouldn't surprise me at all.
I dunno but those two awards soundslike consolations prizes.. come'onbest ensemble cast acting?Short Cuts, Magnolia, Boogie Nights,Crash... those are ensemble pieces..Americanese is more like michael jacksonand the jackson five...
Hey, Ebert's got a review up- seems to like it. Counting the ones I've seen on Hyphen, the reviews so far are mixed.
Is it just me.. or was readingEbert's review just a synopsis?I guess it does reveal a slighthole in my entire thought processof this film... I think for thosewho've never seen race talked aboutthis way, it's a very accessible film.For those of us who've heard thissame old shit and don't give a shit,this film is contrived as shit.(i should be a rapper).