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Portrayals of Asians in Film and Television

The 1980s

Blade Runner
In a film set in futuristic Los Angeles based on a cyberpunk version of Chinatown, the only Asian characters are extras and many of them are wearing conical peasant hats. 1982.

Eat a Bowl of Tea
A romantic story of Chinese-American immigrants living in New York's Chinatown in the late 1940s. Written, directed, and acted by Chinese-American immigrants. 1989.

Full Metal Jacket
A film about Vietnam in which the only Vietnamese characters given a voice are a sex worker and the sniper, and the sex worker isn't even portrayed by an Vietnamese actor. 1989

Good Morning, Vietnam
Praised for showing the Vietnamese people as humans, but none have major roles. 1987

A Great Wall
Through the return of a Chinese American man and his family to China, we are provided with a comical insight into cultural clashes. 1986

Gung Ho
The clash of work attitudes between Japanese management and American auto workers sets up this 1986 comedy.

The Karate Kid
The heart-warming 1984 film about cross-cultural, cross-generational bonding that, unfortunately, also perpetuates of the Hollywood stereotype of the mystically wise Asian sage.

The Karate Kid II
Parodies some of the old stereotypes, but fails to rid itself of many others. 1986

The Karate Kid III
Recycled yet again, the Asian sage seems even more of a stereotype. 1989

The Killing Fields
Haing S. Ngor became the first Asian to win Best Supporting Actor for his role in this film. Some have noted that in a film set in Cambodia about Cambodian atrocities, a Cambodian only has a supporting role. 1984.

About the only Vietnamese you see in this 1986 film set in Viet Nam are desparately fleeing. Those you can't see are the savage Viet Cong.

Sixteen Candles
Long Duk Dong, or Donger, an Asian exchange student, played for comic relief, has been called the worst depiction of an Asian character by an Asian actor. 1984.

The Year of Living Dangerously
Linda Hunt, a white American woman won an Oscar for her role as a male Chinese-Australian photographer. 1982

Jennifer Richards

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Jenny Richards