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Portrayals of Asians in Film and Television


Æon Flux
Proves that you can have a Japanese-American directing an adaptation of a Korean anime series and have no Asian characters.

One of the multiple stories told in the film is that of a rebellious, traumatized, and deaf Japanese teenage girl, not a typical Asian character you see in a Hollywood film. 2007

The story of an Asian-American youth's gang life in East Los Angeles, spanning nearly a decade starting in the mid 1980s. 2005

Better Luck Tomorrow
Addresses the image of Asian Americans in a story of "perfect" high-school students who lead double lives as petty criminals. 2002

Batman Begins
Let me see if I have this straight. In the comic books, Ra’s Al Ghul is an Arab. But in the film he is played by Japanese actor Ken Watanabe, or Irish actor Liam Neeson, or both? 2005

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
In the time of the Cultural Revolution, urban and rural Chinese values are contrasted. 2002

Charlotte Sometimes
A complicated love story from 2003 in which the four principal actors are Asian Americans.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon = Wo hu cang long
Director Ang Lee returned to China to make this movie. Defined by its martial arts, the female protagonist is both assertive and feminine. In Mandarin, with English sub-titles. 2001

It took until 2002 for the first Filipino-American feature film to be released theatrically nationwide

The Departed
A remake of a Hong Kong movie, the only Asian plot line remaining is a deal to sell stolen missile guidance microchips to Chinese government agents. That was evidently enough to get the film banned in China.

Do the Right Thing
From 2001, Spike Lee delves into issues of racism and intolerance, as blacks, whites, Latinas, and Koreans interact.

Gran Torino
A Korean War vet befriends a Hmong family, so they become more human, but in the end it is the white guy who serves as their savior. 2008

Heaven & Earth
Tommy Lee Jones gets top billing, but its the story of a Vietnamese village girl's hard life during and after the Vietnam war. 2004

The Host
In this 2006 film from South Korea, it is an American doctor who poisons a river and unintentionally creates a monster, who is the villain, and ordinary Koreans who are the heroes.

I'm the One that I Want
Margaret Cho's live concert performance in which she addresses her rise to fame, accompanying challenges and struggles, racism, homophobia, and cultural clashes. 2000

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
Since Rob Schneider is part Filipino, already, why did they have to have his face modified for him to portray a generic Asian minister? 2007

Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2
Subverts some traditional racial roles, but places Lucy Liu's character in the full martial arts niche of Asian portrayals. 2003-2004

Kung Fu Panda (also Kung Fu Panda II, Kung Fu Panda III)
Although a big hit in both the USA and China, criticized for diluting Chinese culture into American pabulum. Fewer than a quarter of the voice actors are Asian or Asian American. 2008 (2011, 2016)

The Last Samurai
It takes a white savior to preserve the Samurai way of life. 2003

Lost in Translation Two alienated and lonely Americans living in Japan passively observe Japanese culture. The Japanese characters mix up their R's and L's, and imitate yet misconstrue American pop culture.

A 2000 Japanese film about suicide explores the gamut of family relations.

Mean girls
The "Cool Asians" have confused ethnicity and perpetuate the stereotype that Asians are unable to properly speak English. 2004

Not Another Teen Movie
Parodies the stereotypes used in other teen movies. Without an Asian American in the cast, Karate Kid is spoofed and one student tries to be hip by dressing as Jackie Chan and talking "Asian." 2001

Ocean's Eleven (also Twelve and Thirteen)
The Amazing Yen is inscrutable, doesn't speak English, is a freak, and is not fully a part of the team. 2001-2007

Pearl Harbor
Most of the film is a love triangle, but when the film gets around to the attack, it stereotypes all Japanese as vile enemies. 2001

Return of the Dragon = Meng long guo jiang (also known as Way of the Dragon)
Bruce Lee's debut as a director, but about the only difference in this marital arts film from others is that Chuck Norris plays a villain and is defeated. 2001

Ruang rak noi nid mahasan = Last life in the universe
A obsessive-compulsive, suicidal Japanese man living in Bangkok meets a Thai woman who is everything he is not, and cultures clash. A thriller, not a comedy. 2005

The School of Rock
Several Asian stereotypes are played for laughs in the character of Lawrence, the keyboardist, who says "I can't be in the band! I'm not cool enough!" 2003

Shanghai Knights
In this martial arts comedy sequel, East and the Old West meet Victorian England. 2003.

Star Wars: Phantom Menace
There is a claim that the evil Neimoidian trader Nute Gunray was drawn from Asian villains in films George Lucas grew up with. 1999

Starship Troopers
There is a certain ethnic and racial mix in the cast, but Rico was changed from Filipino in the book to Argentinean in the movie and played by a white actor. 2008.

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
In this Wayne Wang film, a Chinese father's visit his daughter in America provides insight into multiple cultural and geographical clashes. 2007

Team America: World Police
Kim Jong-Il is brutally parodied by the creators of South Park. 2004

An Asian character finally gets a starring role in a Disney film, but he's fat and nerdy. 2009

Jennifer Richards

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Jenny Richards