The Typical Asian American Male
Evil Asian Men
More often than not, Asian men have always played the role of the evil and greedy gangster in popular adventure movies such as Lethal Weapon 4, Rush Hour and The Year of the Dragon. The myth that Asian American communities such as Chinatown breeding with illegal activities like drug dealing, prostitution and gangster movements all get their emphasis in movies such as the ones mentioned.
For example, in Lethal Weapon 4, Jet Li plays an Asian villain character who is in charge of smuggling illegal labor force from China, drug dealings and assigned killings, among other things. When his Chinatown-based operation is discovered by two Los Angeles police officers, played by a Caucasian and a Black actor, the chase is on to capture the villain. The end results favored the good guys, of course. Often have other movie producers used this stereotypical movie plot to increase the suspense and sensationalism of the movie. Asian men are seen as violent, inhuman, property destroyers, and kill mercilessly. This Asian-male-gangster image glorifies male aggression beyond the point of rational.
Lack of Intelligence
Another interesting observation we gathered about Asian men in the movies we saw depicted the Asian man as being less than intelligent when compared to their white counterparts in the movie. Using the example of Lethal Weapon 4 again, the Asian villains were constantly making the wrong moves in combating their enemies. Asian sidekicks were making tactical decisions that cost them their lives, making the heroes look superior and the killings of the Asian American men justified.
In another popular adventure movie, Rambo (1987), the leading actor and hero, a white male (Sylvester Stallone), single handedly defeated a villageful of Vietnamese soldiers in his quest to destroy communism. Such a feat could not be possible in reality.
Undesirable Male Partners
Asian men are depicted as men who do not have the capability of being ideal partners to women of their own racial groups. This is emphasized when movie producers start pairing Asian women off with white men instead of men of their own races. These women supposedly prefer to be with white men.
In the family-oriented movie based on Amy Tan’s book, the Joy Luck Club portrayed Asian men as undesirable male partners. Joy Luck Club was a story of the relationships of first generation Asian American mothers and their grown-up daughters. Out of the four daughters that appeared in the movie, only one married another Asian man while the rest of the daughters married white men. Even at that, the Asian man turned out to be a stingy, selfish man with little regard for his wife. On top of that, the husbands of the mothers in this story were abusive and promiscuous Asian men. In other words, Asian men were seen as irresponsible and do not value their families.
“Yellow Uncle Tom”
Asian men are portrayed as passive, old and speak broken English. The term “Yellow Uncle Tom” was coined to describe Asian men of this type. The Karate Kid (1984) was a movie we saw that depicted the Asian actor as such a man. In Karate Kid, Pat Morita plays Mr. Miyagi, an old Japanese American World War II veteran who calmly trains an enthusiastic white teenage male the Japanese martial arts of karate. Despite the fact that Mr. Miyagi was an American WWII veteran, he was still portrayed speaking English with a foreign accent (Wong).
The myth that all Asian men know some form of martial arts was also stressed in this movie when Mr. Miyagi surprises Daniel (the white male leading actor) with his karate moves after appearing passive and bashful during the first portions of the film. It reminds people to be aware of Asian men in general because passivity may not appear to be what it seems.
The Female Asian American Stereotype
In Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) starring Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh, the plot centered on James Bond, a white secret detective, who initially had an Asian female reporter interfering with his duties. Tension builds between them until they start cooperating in their operations and predictably fall in love in the end. It has been a common sight seeing a white man paired off with an Asian woman in the movie scene, but seldom do we see an Asian man paired off with a white woman. Asian women are often depicted as easily falling in love with white men, sometimes even at just first sight. This scene has been termed the “unmotivated white-Asian romance” because the woman easily falls in love with a man because he is white (MANAA).
We have also seen news broadcasts on television where the news anchors consist of an Asian female and a white male. An example of an Asian female news anchor that we observed on television paired off with a white male news partner was Juju Chang for ABC news. Anchor team for CBS news, Connie Chung and Dan Rather was also a popular pair on the news broadcast several years ago. We have yet to see an Asian man paired off with a white woman on the news. The only times we observed Asian men in news broadcasts made them appear solo, e.g., the weatherman on the Weather Channel or as Asia-based correspondents on CNN (Interracial).
The Asian woman is supposedly sexually active, exotic, overly feminine and eager to please. This character is termed “China Doll,” and appears countless times in popular movies. Examples include Return to Paradise. The movie sets itself in Malaysia where three white male Americans spend their time laying on the beach, sniffing cheap cocaine and sleeping with the local girls. Even though the Asian female actors in this movie were not Asian American and only appeared for a few minutes in the beginning portion of the movie, nevertheless it still conveyed the message that Asian women take pride in sexually serving white men because the men are white and rich. When Asians are constantly depicted as one way in movies, it predominantly effects the way people see Asian Americans.
What Hollywood may have failed to portray about these Asian women is that these Asian women are prostitutes merely trying to support their families by offering sexual services to men whom they see rich. Because they come from poor families and lack education, some Asian women earn their living by these means, and preferring to sleep with a man due to his skin color has nothing to do with it: money talks.
Another example of the China Doll character appeared in The Year of the Dragon. The leading actor, a white police chief who is deemed racist towards Chinese in this movie, tries beyond his best to eliminate violence in New York’s Chinatown. He befriends an Asian American female news anchor to get his crack-down-on-Chinatown-violence stories on TV broadcast. The police officer is depicted as arrogant and selfish man, and the Asian American woman dislikes him immensely because he makes derogatory remarks about her being Chinese. She refuses to air his story. However, when the police officer swings by the woman’s house, he coerces her into having sex with him, and she submits to him, despite giving him rejection slaps on the face prior to engaging in sexual intercourse. This movie not only showed that Asian American women were passive and indecisive, but it also stressed that Asian American women do want to have sex with white men, even if she says no initially.
“Dragon Lady” refers to an Asian woman who is perceived as seductive, desirable but at the time she is untrustworthy. Movies from the early century have been successful in portraying this stereotypical version of the Asian woman. “Daughter of Fu Manchu” is one of them. Scheming, treacherous and dangerous, the Dragon Lady is the female version of the Asian bad guy, only with a slightly different approach to defeat her enemies. She has the power to hypnotize her male rivals, gains trust by seducing them, and when they least expect it, she rids of them through sabotage or backstabbing (Espiritu).