Skip to Main Content

Portrayals of Asians in Film and Television

The 1990s

Anna and the King
By 1999 an Asian actor is able to portray the King of Siam. However, Chow Yun-fat is Chinese (born in Hong Kong), not Thai.

Beyond Rangoon
A thriller set during the 1988 uprising in Burma focuses on an American tourist, but the main male lead is Burmese. A memorable scene does depict Aung San Suu Kyi (played by a Japanese American) defying soldiers and rallying demonstrators. 1995

Dead or Alive = Hanzaisha and its sequel Dead or Alive 2: Tōbōsha = Dead or alive 2 : Birds
Japanese films about a gangland turf war between Japanese yakuza and immigrant Chinese gangsters. Japanese traditional values are questioned, and new identities are explored. 1999 and 2002.

Double Happiness
A Chinese-Canadian must decide between being the perfect Chinese daughter and pursuing her dreams. 1994.

Dragon: the Bruce Lee Story
A biopic of the martial arts star, criticized for its dramatic contrivance and clichéd fictionalizations. 1998

Eat Drink Man Woman = Yin shi nan nü
An early Ang Lee film set in Taipei. A chef's three unmarried daughters challenge the narrow definition of traditional Chinese culture. In Mandarin with English. 1994

Falling Down
This story of a troubled man on violent crime spree across Los Angeles gets started wth a confrontation with a Korean grocer. The Korean Grocers Association protested the film for its treatment of minorities. 1992.

Includes a small role for a deceitful effeminate Asian man who speaks poor English. 1996

The funeral = Osōshiki
A black comedy as family members struggle with the complex Buddhist funeral rituals that are far removed from their modern Japanese life. 1999

The Joy Luck Club
The 1993 film has been praised for presenting images of Asian-Americans outside the norm for Hollywood.

Kip Fulbeck Collection Vol. 1
Short films made between 1994 and 2003 explore themes of interracial dating, ethnic fetishes, race identity, Asian American male icons, cultural dynamics, sexism, and suburbia.

The Lover
Some stereotypes are reversed in this 1992 erotic tale set in 1929 Vietnam of a young French girl and a wealthy Chinese entrepreneur.

M Butterfly
Themes of this story of a French civil service officer's obsessive pursuit of a (male) enigmatic Chinese opera diva include gender and Orientalist stereotypes. 1993.

Madame Butterfly
In this production of Puccini's opera, Shanghai-born Ying Huang sings the title role. This 1995 production is the only one of five in the Ithaca College Library video collection in which an Asian soprano sings the lead role.

Menace II Society
There's yet another stereotypical Korean storekeeper. 1993.

Amid the revenge and violence, we get Lucy Liu as a masochistic prostitute. 1999

Picture Bride
A mail-order bride tale. In 1900 a Japanese woman leaves behind her unhappy past to go to Hawaii to discover pictures can be deceiving. 1995.

The Red Violin
The Shanghai chapter involves clashes during the Cultural Revolution over "decadent" Western ideas including classical music. 1998.

Rising Sun
In which a Japanese business executive is vilified. 1999.

Shanghai Noon
In this martial arts comedy hit, East meets West in the Old West, and stereotypes are unbound. 1999.

Snow Falling on Cedars
An interracial love story that spans the years before and after World War II set in the Pacific Northwest. The film has been both praised and criticized for the portrayals of Japanese-Americans. 1999.

Tomorrow Never Dies
By 1997, James Bond films had progressed(?). A Chinese colonel is the most fully developed (as a character) among Bond girls. She is 007's kick-ass peer, rather than a damsel in need of rescuing.

Wedding Banquet = Xi Yan
He is gay; she needs a green card; his parents misunderstand. Director Ang Lee was praised for getting things right. In Mandarin & English. 1993

Jennifer Richards

Profile Photo
Jenny Richards