Category Archives: Movies

Not Unnoticed: Asians in Pop Culture

I’m a pretty chill guy.  Not critical at all.

No, that’s a lie, I’m pretty darn critical.  That being said, most of the things I like to argue about and criticize are hypothetical, and not something that I feel passionately about.  Usually, it’s because I’m discovering whether I care or not as I discuss – usually by the end of the argument, I care very much.

So it is with the Asian presence in pop culture.

Something is off…

When I first encountered this issue, it was (as it was for a lot of people) upon viewing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  Short Round was just… offensive.  I was a child, so I couldn’t really put my finger on it.

Then I watched Big Trouble in Little China in elementary school during afternoon day care.  I was surprised when a character in the middle of the movie started fighting everybody with clear, practiced moves, as I had assumed the character to be a helpless bystander.

“He can fight?!”

Brandon, the aide watching my class during afternoon day care, said “He’s Chinese, so in this movie, of course, he knows kung fu.”  Then he and the students around me laughed; his laughter was because the movie was making fun of pop culture by enabling it, and the students’ was because that logic just made sense to them.

I just didn’t get it.  I assumed it was a plothole.

I grew older.  I grew up on Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Yuen Biao – and absolutely anything by Tsui Hark, Corey Yuen, or Yuen Woo-Ping.

I found out that Jackie Chan was going to be in a movie with Jet Li.  It would be called “The Forbidden Kingdom.”  This is the poster:

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It would get a western theatrical release!  How exciting!  Choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping?!  Yes, yes, yes!

So imagine my surprise when the movie was in English.  Okay.  Interesting, considering almost nobody in the movie speaks it as a first language.  Then I saw the most offensive part.

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Who the flying Funk & Wagnalls is this, you ask?  It’s the star of the movie.

What, was there not enough star power with Jet Li and Jackie Chan?  These are international powerhouses.  The marketing alone shows that they were aware of how Li and Chan would draw people in.

I was reading The Joy Luck Club with my class, and I decided to watch the movie.  I didn’t end up showing it to my class because a lot of the movie has a mother talking to her daughter about her life at home in China – all in a thick, Vietnamese accent.

I got mad about it.  I read Yellowface in college and got mad some more. Then I decided that the world needed to take a chill pill.  It’s not worth being mad about, I thought.  The world will learn, people will see.

Nobody sees.

Warning: the following image may cause intense physical pain to the viewer if they are in any way appreciative of the manga/anime Dragon Ball.

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I can’t even talk about that one without seething for the rest of the day, (no matter who apologized) so I’m going to discuss one that all Americans have a chance of understanding.

Bones is one of those rare shows that both my wife and I enjoy.  In it, a forensic anthropologist named Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan works with her FBI partner Seeley Booth to solve crimes by looking at the clues found in murder victims’ human remains.  The show is entertaining because it has action, mystery, romance, and even elements of science fiction (the multi-million dollar Angelatron named for the Bachelor of the Arts grad that can hack into anything and create facial reconstructions from remains – no matter how grotesque of a condition they may be in.  Once, the victim was already cremated.)

I was binge-watching the series with my wife on Netflix today when we got to an episode of Season 10 called “The Lost Love in a Foreign Land.”  In this episode, Bones and Booth discover an underground human trafficking ring in which women were being trafficked out of Yianbian, China.

The murder victim looked pretty Korean to me, but that’s okay, I reasoned.  [Further research explains this, as Yanbian is on the border between Korea and China.  I didn’t know this, but before you start forgiving people, keep reading.]

Then it got insulting.

The Angelatron used facial recognition (or some other garbage tech) and pulled out a list of suspects.  This led them to their suspect, Sung Dae Park.

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I’m just so thoroughly disturbed by how Vietnamese his accent was.  At this point, I realized that the story they wanted me to buy was that this Vietnamese guy had a Korean name and lived in a village in China.  Maybe you can’t hear it, but his accent might as well have been Australian, and his name Igor Boris Natasha – that’s how noticeable these things are to an Asian audience.

I understand that the Korean thing can be explained by the bordering Korea thing, but you can bet that if it was a white person speaking Spanish, they would bother to explain why he knows the language.  They just threw us Chinese people with Korean names… then had them played by Vietnamese people.  Even if you excuse that, the accent!  The ACCENT!  Worse, the accent was a choice – by either the director, the producers… or Scott Ly, the actor himself.    How do I know that?  Look, Ma, no accent!

(“Ly” is a Vietnamese name, in case you’re doubting me.)

Maybe they couldn’t find anyone to play this character more authentically, you think.  Well, Bones was filmed in Los Angeles.

 

enough

 

This was just like the lady in The Joy Luck Club.  If Jackie Chan can play a Vietnamese guy in his upcoming movie The Foreigner, then surely this is to be expected, right?

Wrong.  I know I can’t effect change all by myself, but I’m putting them on blast.  You thought surely nobody would notice?

We all notice.  Be ashamed.  Do better work.

That being said, I’m torn – because The Foreigner looks awesome.

The Rock is Terrifying – Review

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Central Intelligence definitely has all the appearances of a mass-market, mainstream product of the Hollywood movie factory.  After all, you have Kevin Hart – who has been blowing up with his new stand-up movie, 2 Ride-Alongs and 2 Think Like a Mans… and Dwayne Johnson, who has been subtly trying to get my attention in comedy movies for some time now.  Why not just the adrenaline-charged serious action movies, Dwayne?

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Johnson has been walking that typecast line for a while.  With knockout roles in GI Joe, The Fast & Furious series, and remakes like Walking Tall, Escape From Witch Mountain, and the upcoming Jumanji, he has more or less played the same character, with varying degrees of charisma depending on the movie’s requirements.  With his intelligence varying from doofus Pain & Gain levels to the cunning Hobbs introduced in Fast Five, I have yet to see him in a role that required more from him than an angry, determined look and a muscle flex.

Kevin Hart, similarly, has been in the same role for much of his movies: the insecure, self-absorbed goofball that always tries to talk his way out of situations.  I actually began to tire of this character after the second Ride-Along movie, and I was prepared to groan at his resurgence with this new venture.

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Surprise, surprise, Kevin Hart is the straight man in this movie.  His character, nicknamed in high school as “The Golden Jet,” is not only a normal person, but he’s faced with very real passions, problems, and insecurities.  He’s worried that he peaked in high school, and that he is less of a man because of it.  This insecurity leaks into his relationships.

Meanwhile, The Rock has been thrust into the comedic role.  The movie not only calls his sanity into question throughout the entire running time, but also uses close-ups to show… emotion?  On The Rock?  It’s like they gave him one of those charts with the different feelings and what they look like.

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Central Intelligence is hilariously fun.  Kevin Hart is satisfyingly fresh and comical as the straight man because that’s what makes his stand-up funny; he’s a relatable, insecure guy with real concerns.  Seeing that man flustered is too funny.

The Rock is hilarious because he’s honestly terrifying.  Not in his usual way – in a deranged way.  If one of my friends began acting like he does in this movie, I would have run far, far away within the first five or six minutes.  Most of the laughter at Johnson’s antics starts with nervous laughter.  The action is fun, over-the-top, but not 21-Jump Street insane.

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That’s not to say that this is a perfect movie.  No way.  The beginning of this movie reminds me of 17 Again in all of the wrong ways, and features some of the most horrendous CGI of the decade.  The Golden Jet’s love interest is vapid and cardboard, convinced that they need counseling with little to no evidence of any real problem between the two.  Yet somehow, I know that when this title goes on sale I’ll be there to swoop it up.  Definitely worth a Red Box night with the lady.

On a scale of Doom to Fast Five, I give this movie a Get Smart.  It’s funny, full of action, and has some excellent scenes, but has little to actually remember.

About This Here Power Rangers Reboot…

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Whoa whoa whoa, slow down, America!  We’re really doing this?  We’re going to make a reboot movie of a show which literally took action footage from another show and inserted white people to make a completely new show with roughly the same storylines and battle scenes?

Okay, I’m down.  But we all know this is going to be bad, right?  Even the best parts of the original show are bad.  Awesome?  Sure, but nobody thinks that this is going to be good, right?  Like am I going to be mad because Saban’s Power Rangers was overlooked by the Academy?  Every year, I keep expecting the acting for the latest Power Rangers franchise to get better because, hey, it’s 2016, maybe they figured it out by now.  No such luck.  The movie will not be better.  CG doesn’t make everything better.

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This is the armor Saban made for the very first movie.  Besides removing the lump that was the Yellow Ranger’s package (he was a man in Japan, you see) and making everyone shiny with little coin logos, there wasn’t much modification done.  Now we have alien cyber-suits, possibly some kind of bio-engineered thing.  But of course those aliens made sure the girls got boob cups and high heels.

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And let’s not forget our classy villain played by Academy Award Winner wait no sorry Elizabeth Banks.  She’ll be wearing an equally practical suit for ruling the world.  Is that part of her gauntlet doubling as shoulder armor for an otherwise bare shoulder?  She looks like a stand-in for Poison Ivy from Batman and Robin.

Ooh.  Just got a chill.  Must be a freeze coming.

The only way I’m really on board with this is if it really embraces what it is and doesn’t even try to be serious.  This is not going to be Chris Nolan material – heck I’ll be glad if it’s even Chris Rock material.

Half of the success of the Power Rangers is the amount of camp in it.  No camp = no Power Rangers.  If they try to get dark and gritty, or worse, go the way of CG = Everything.  If that happens, I wouldn’t be surprised if we got an apology to the fans a decade later.

I could swear I’ve seen something like this, where an alien suit gets dropped down and some kid finds it and uses it to fight the alien chasing after the suit… I could never find that movie.  I guess I won’t have that problem anymore after this.  Just…

(UPDATE 5/7/16: Because the Internet is mighty, I found it.  The movie is called Star Kid.  Don’t watch it.  Just rest knowing that it was found.  Curiosity satisfied.  Case closed.  Keep moving.  Don’t IMDB it.)

Are we sure we want millions spent on this?  Don’t we have a struggling education system that could use the money more?  What if they just made a new series with our own CG and solid acting and just aired it after Arrow on the CW until people realizes it won’t work, or it backfires and goes on for 10 more seasons and makes a lot of people famous?

Update 5/07/2016

I can’t believe I didn’t see this before: WHERE’S FREAKIN’ TOMMY?!

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I mean, yes, they’re probably doing the whole evil to good arc considering that’s the only story arc worth anything from Mighty Morphin’, but still… how dare they cause us to doubt his presence.  Obviously if they can’t get JDF in there they should at least have the character.