New Indiana Jones Harmless, But Bad

May 26, 2008

So, it was with trepidation that I went to the theater to check out the latest incarnation of the Indiana Jones movies, wondering what cultural bungling they could possibly get away with in 2008. But I found a mostly tired movie that lost the blockbuster excitement that made the "Temple of Doom" experience so confusing as a kid. Back then, I loved the movie, even though I hated it and somehow I think that confusion is one of the things that has pushed me to become a writer or a cultural commentator. But I found the "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" to be hackneyed and the story line to be even more ridiculous than that of the Shankara stones. There was no egregious racism, just the regular disposable natives. I do think it is interesting how Mayan natives have become the "safe" indigenous people of choice lately, i.e., "Apocalypto" and "The Fountain."

Anyway, what Hollywood movie portrayals of Asians haunted your childhoods? 




i'm half okinawan and so for us it's "karate kid", especially part 2 when they supposedly go to okinawa. it didn't bother me as a kid 'cos i wasn't culturally aware yet but i screened it last year for young adult and middled aged okinawan-americans and we cringed and discussed the things good/bad about it. some people have hated it since childhood, some knew of the research that went behind it, some almost became extras, etc. a lot of things wrong with the film but it offers visibility and a starting point for conversation with those unaware of our tiny ancestral island.
Gedde Watanabe in 16 Candles, obviously.And Breakfast at Tiffany's.Karate Kid 2 is a good choice, but while I don't even like that movie on its non-racist merits, I love both of the movies I mentioned and had trouble reconciling my different feelings regarding the two.
I realize her show was groundbreaking, but "All American Girl" soured my 7th grade year. Not for any poor representation on the show, but because classmates insisted on calling me Margaret Cho (instead of, you know, calling me by my actual name) constantly. They were just astounded that they saw a Korean female on TV and one in Algebra class.And, the show just wasn't funny.
Cassandra from Wayne's World. Everyone at my tiny school started calling me Cassandra because supposedly I looked like her. Of course, I looked nothing like her, and she was hot, which is was what made it a dis.
forget childhood, people still call me lucy liu. what the hell is up with that?! i get that she has freckles, and so do i, AND SO DO A LOT OF PEOPLE. seriously, i look nothing like her. but then again, i should feel happy that no one points and calls me bai ling. when i was a kid, people don't even call me "karate kid" - they just straight out to the "watahhhh" or "heyahhh" sounds.
For me, it isn't childhood either, and it isn't even Asian American. Folks called me Pocahontas for the Disney animated film. Oh wait, she was drawn after an unnamed Filipina.
Seriously, the Hollywood portrayal of Asians that interests me the most is Francis Ford Coppola's APOCALYPSE NOW for having the Philippines stand in for Vietnam, Tagalog stand in for Vietnamese language (since dubbed over in the Redux), the Philippine indigenous group the Ifugao stand in for the Vietnamese indigenous group the Montagnard, and real Vietnamese refugees in Philippine refugee camps stand in for North Vietnamese soldiers. Coppola got it all screwed up, and deliberately so.
That's funny that you mention Tagalog in "Apocalypse Now", because I am fascinated by how George Lucas supposedly uses it in Return of the Jedi.
related and unrelated, a friend of mine has recently gotten quite a bit "you look like Suzanne Whang from HGTV's House Hunters!" My friend is 25 and Suzanne Whang is nearing 50 and has horrible bangs.Its funny and bizarre how there is an incessant demand to ALWAYS racially locate Asians to someone on television.