Hollywood’s (Non-)Depiction of Asian-Male/Non-Asian Female Relationships

MM,

After the world premiere of Jackie Chan’s new movie, Sen-Hua (The Myth)(see previous post for a review), Chan’s dissatisfaction with Hollywood was brought to media attention again in the post-Gala interview. (Jackie Chan article)

As Chan has stated before, Hollywood is not ready to take him seriously. His biggest complaint is that he’s tired of doing to same old roles. Every script Hollywood sends him is “the killer from China, the killer from Hong Kong.” Chan states that he wants to do drama and fantasy and that he’s a serious actor. “Jackie is not action star. Jackie is the actor who can fight. He’s not the fighter who can act.” I see his point, does Hollywood think every Asian male is just some killer or super street fighter? In addition, Jackie Chan is well aware that an action star’s career only lasts awhile. As he is now in his early 50s, Chan is concerned with his well-being and being able to act 20 years down the road from now. As a fan of Chan’s sense of on-screen humour, I have to agree with him. He needs to cut down on the stunts (at least cut out the extremely dangerous ones), so that years later we can still enjoy his charismatic personality on the big screen.

Aside from Chan’s personal safety concerns, what is really going on with Hollywood and how do they deal with Asian male actors? One part of the problem is that Hollywood is not quite ready to depict romantic and sexual relationships between Asian males with non-Asian females much less have an Asian male play opposite a non-Asian female. In many ways, Hollywood still has its biases.

I spent some time trying to think of an Asian male playing opposite a non-Asian female. So far, the most prominent movie to come to mind is Anna and the King which starred Chow Yun-Fat and Jodie Foster. However, since the basic premise of the story IS the romance between an Asian male (he’s the King of Siam) and a Caucasian female (she was his children’s very English teacher), I wouldn’t really count this. Hollywood had no choice but to find an Asian male actor (Chow Yun-Fat was definitely a good choice as he definitely had the charm and charisma the role needed). In addition, because the movie was a romantic period piece, it was easy enough to not show the sexual relationship (if any) between the two main characters much less a kiss. Chow Yun-Fat also starred in Replacement Killers opposite Miro Sorvino, but their romance is only alluded to and Chow’s character is cool and detached enough that the characters don’t even share a good-bye kiss. (See http://www.geocities.com/amwfonline/media.htm.)

Jet Li too has had his chance at the Asian male/non-Asian female relationship on-screen. (See http://forums.yellowworld.org/showthread.php?t=4933.) In Romeo Must Die, he starred opposite Aaliyah (yes, the singer) (see http://www.aamovement.net/art_culture/filmreviews/romeomustdie.html for a review of the movie as I have not seen it) and in Kiss of the Dragon, he played opposite Bridget Fonda. As with the Chow Yun-Fat movie’s above, the romance between Fonda’s and Li’s characters was only alluded to and although in the end they were seen together (plus her daughter), the audience was left to wonder if they stayed together and had a relationship. Again, there was no kiss.

Jackie Chan’s on-screen “romances” with non-Asian females has been much the same as Jet Li’s. In The Tuxedo, an attraction to Jennifer Love Hewitt’s character is implied, but nothing was ever made of it. (Though you get the impression from watching the bloopers that Ms. Hewitt might have been slightly interested in Mr. Chan.) Though a little less prominent, if I recall correctly, Chan’s character in Shanghai Noon attracts the attention of a Native American, however, he’s not interested as his character is supposedly interested in the Asian female, a Chinese princess played by Lucy Liu. It’s not that Jackie Chan hasn’t ever done romantic roles. His movie Gorgeous is the most notable. However, of course, the love interest was an Asian female.

One can’t argue that there aren’t any willing non-Asian females either. Mallika Sherawat, who stars in Sen-Hua (The Myth) with Jackie Chan, appeared at the Film Festival and said that she was disappointed that she didn’t get to kiss Chan in the movie. In her mind, starring in a Jackie Chan film is the same as starring in a James Bond flick.

Hollywood’s reluctance to depict these kinds of inter-racial relationships has caused a stir in the past with Media Action Network for Asian Americans, an organization that monitors media depictions of Asian Americans. According to this article http://www.alternet.org/wiretap/16300, the reluctance to depict the Asian male/non-Asian female relationships could simply be a reflection of societal trends. It is so far more likely to have an Asian female dating a non-Asian male. However this doesn’t mean that the Asian male/non-Asian female relationships don’t exist or should be ignored completely. The biggest problem this bias produces is not giving Asian males a chance to act in diverse roles in Hollywood, it’s like Jackie Chan has stated, it’s always “the killer from China, the killer from Hong Kong” or as pointed out in the WireTap article above, it’s some geek or nerd role.

Am I the only one to notice this trend in Hollywood? No. Read “The Yellow Menace in American Popular Film: 1991 through 1995” by Jeffrey B. Ho for an idea of how Asian males have been depicted in Hollywood cinema to 1995. I think it’s clear Hollywood still has a long way to go.

With all this going on in Hollywood, no wonder Jackie Chan went back to China – at least there’s a chance he’ll get more interesting roles and his career will last a longer time.

BB,
Cassandrah
Your local webmistress
Brigid’s Flame

One Response to “Hollywood’s (Non-)Depiction of Asian-Male/Non-Asian Female Relationships”

  1. Ecstatic Spirituality » Blog Archive » Yellow Fever! - Video from youtube Says:

    […] Further to my commentary on Asian male/non-Asian female relationships, here’s a video about this very topic with some funny conclusions. The video had me laughing too hard, mostly because this does happen. Enjoy. (Oh, and Phillip is better looking than Andrew.) […]

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