Tag Archives: Television

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.

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Daredevil Season 2: Upstaged – Review (Spoilers)

First of all, I want to say that yes, I am a Daredevil fan.  I am familiar with “the lore” as Sam Winchester would say.  Secondly, I watched the original movie with Ben Affleck, and I thought it was awful.  Thirdly, I then saw the director’s cut of the movie, and thought it was wonderful.  And fourthly I want to say that I did watch the first season, and for the most part, I thought it was great.  With the second season comes more to love… and then more to not love.

We’re going deep into this one, folks.  If you’re the audience that can’t take spoilers, get out now.  This is for people who have either already seen it, or for people who watch things for the experience, not for the surprise.

Matt Murdock – Shaking, But Not Stirring

murdockCharlie Cox returns as Matt Murdock, and some things became quickly apparent.

One immediate problem was that Matt’s got nothing new.  Charlie Cox is struggling to show off in this series but there’s nothing he can do; he’s blind, so facial expressions don’t really make sense.  You can’t look into his eyes.  I don’t envy the acting challenge.  Ironically, it’s when his face is covered that you see him come alive.  The physicality of his role as Daredevil is extremely demanding.  The “life” his character shows when in combat is not just the product of his choreography, you can see which fight scenes were filmed on off days and which weren’t.

The character of Matt is harder to identify with as the people around him start asking for things that he can’t give.  It’s not like Batman or Spider-Man, where you feel like the people would back off if they knew of his secret pasttime.  No, in this case his partner Foggy knows everything, and is asking for things that anybody in the position of business partner and best friend would ask for; namely reliability and the ability to count on him in times of need.  As Matt begins neglecting his day life and going out more as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, it’s hard to agree with his logic.  I began to miss the lawyer scenes.

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

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You’re a good man, Foggy Nelson.

Here is where as a character Matt becomes seriously upstaged.  Foggy Nelson is once again played by a cast-out-of-nowhere Elden Henson, who kills it in his role by being likeable, mouthy, yet unashamedly straightforward, decent, and honest.  In the old Ben Affleck movie, Foggy was a comical afterthought.  Here he is a true character.  He struggles to keep Nelson & Murdock afloat and tries his best to understand Matt’s other commitments.  He is also deeply hurt at Matt’s insistence on keeping him excluded from his activities and for never telling him about the darker part of his life, and this shows during the times when he has to tend to Matt’s injuries – from getting him hospital care to one point simply reaching out to wipe some blood from Matt’s head as they walked together in the street.  Matt takes this guy for granted, and it becomes hard to understand why as a viewer when he’s so obviously an asset, being both a fellow lawyer and a good friend.

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Deborah Ann Woll returns as Karen Page, this time with her character being a very obvious reason to explore the Punisher’s past.  Unfortunately, these parts tend to drag, as some things that are very easy to guess seem to take forever for her to figure out.  She is also the only one in many of her scenes to not know who Matt is, which becomes tiresome, especially when she and Matt begin to tentatively date.  In the end, she gets mad at him – pretty understandably, because after days of no-showing she finds him at home with Elektra in his bed… not a lot of explanations she can possibly think of in her head.  In fact, it sort of looks like Stick is her pimp in that scene.  I’ll talk about her later though, because I can’t hold back from this next guy.

Upstaging the Hero

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That’s right – it’s the Punisher.  As promised.  He is completely intact as a character, though I don’t think this version smokes.  Jon Bernthal steals the show in every scene he’s in.  In the beginning he’s believed to actually be a disgruntled army – only later is the threat revealed to be one man.  The trauma not of being at war… but being at peace and then losing his family – and then being forced to relive that trauma again and again due to his brain condition is one that makes it easy to sympathize with this murderer.  His dialogue is so unabashedly fascinating that when he’s out of the picture for a while the series slows to an unbearable crawl.  An awful crawl.  Almost a turn-off-the-TV crawl.  Then…

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Kingpin is baaack!  Oh, welcome back, man!  I was so grateful to see this guy because up until then I was ready to quit the series.  Man, was this guy scary last season.  Calm and cool… then ANGER EXPLOSION!  His scenes with Punisher are some of the most riveting.  The series picks itself back up again here, even though I’m going to talk about the things that hurt the series next, it’s worth it to give Vincent D’Onofrio his dues as the one who saved Season 2 for me.  Especially since the things that hurt Season 2 for me were quite unforgivable.

Awful Things That Make Me Worried About Season 3

Failed Femme Fatale

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Elektra looks like she’s constantly trying to seduce the director into not firing her.

Elektra is in this season, and she’s boring as anything.  She likes Matt, and she likes killing.  She’s sad about Matt not liking killing.  Then she’s sad about liking killing.  So she leaves and then after killing Angelo from Switched at Birth goes after Stick.  Then Matt decides he loves her and wants to leave the country with her.  But everyone knows Elektra dies right?  So she dies.  NOOOOOO! screams Matt.  Nobody cares.  Because the other thing we all know is that Elektra is always resurrected.  ALSO, there’s even a character from the first season, Nobu, that already has been resurrected, so it surprises nobody even so.  She’s boring and not intriguing or interesting.  She’s not exotic, she’s just boring.  Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.00, just go directly to jail.  Except jail would have Kingpin, which would make it more interesting again, so…

 

Stick

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So the old guy is back, and while he was great in the first season, he’s all over the place here.  Matt can’t seem to decide whether this guy is crazy, deserving of his help, or an awful person.  One second it’s “screw you, Stick!” then it’s “I owe him everything!”  Stick seems similarly confused, as he vacillates between sentences of admiration “You’re the toughest kid I’ve ever met.” and derogatory remarks about how Matt has supposedly “gone soft.”  The end result ended up feeling like an excuse to keep us away from Frank Castle and Kingpin stuff… Unforgiveable!

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So on a scale of 1 to 1o, I give this season a 5.  This is the best version of Kingpin and the Punisher I’ve seen so far, but a lot of this season felt like filler.  The parts with the proper villains shine through wonderfully.  Here’s to more of that next year… you know, after they’re done with all that ninja garbage nobody cares about.