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Portrayals of Asians in Film and Television





Panned for its cultural and racial weirdness. 2015

Blade Runner 2049
The dystopian future includes Chinese graffiti and Japanese holographic ads, but there are even fewer Asian extras than in the original, and the closest to an Asian main character is yellow-faced by a Dutch actress.

Children of Invention
A film written and directed by Tze Chun and using a predominantly Chinese American cast, this is a tale of an immigrant single working mother with two children who have to cope for themselves. 2009

Cloud Atlas
Cast members reappeared in six different story lines, so actors of various ethnicities took on roles of different ethnicities not their own. 2013

Doctor Strange
Well, let's see. Dr. Strange, a racially ambiguous charactor in the comics is very British. Tilda Swinton plays the Ancient One. formerly a stereotypically Tibetan male mystic, so that meme is avoided, but then we have Wong, who has been upgraded from valet to mentor and is not only skilled in martial arts but is a librarian. 2016

Jinling shi san chai = Flowers of War
This film, directed by Zhang Yimou, is based the novel 13 Flowers of Nanjing by Geling Yan. Yan was inspired by the diaries written by American missionary Minnie Vautrin and nurse Tsen Shui Fang. The diaries detail the atrocities that Japanese soldiers committed during their invasion of the city. The novel and the film are based on Vautrin and Tsen's December 17th, 1937 entries in which 12 women were forcibly taken from the Ginling school by Japanese soldiers to serve as "comfort women". However, in the novel and film versions, the women are prostitutes who voluntarily sacrifice themselves to protect the honor of the refugee schoolgirls.

Get Out At a garden party, the sole Asian character, Mr Tanaka (played by Yasuhiko Oyama), appears asexual, speaks broken English, and is aligned with the wealthy white villains of the film. He asks the main character Chris Washington “Is the African-American experience an advantage or disadvantage?” perhaps weighing or pitting  'model minority' status against another minority group.2017

The Green Hornet
Kato, portrayed by Jay Chou, was quite different from Bruce Lee's characterization from the TV show, and was more a conversationally witty, smart mastermind than bodyguard and servant.  2011

The Hangover (also Part II and Part III)
Not only is the Asian man a villainous gangster, he is effeminate, speaks in pidgin, and is the butt of jokes. 2009-2013

A Japanese filmmaker's attempt to alter some stereotypes in this black comedy. 2012

Kubo and the Two Strings
In this fantasy set in ancient Japan, why is Kubo voiced by an Irish actor? No Japanese or Japanese-American actors are voices of anything other than minor roles. 2016

The bad guys are a Korean drug lord and his gang, so it is ok for the supercharged woman to kill them mercilessly – as well as a Taiwanese cab driver whose only crime was an inability to speak English.

The Martian
The head of the Jet Propulsion Lab is named Ng, and it's the China National Space Administration who comes in to save the day. Is it only a coincidence that Asian countries now dominate the revenue generated by the overseas movie box office?

The Maze Runner and Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials and Maze Runner: Death Cure Minho has a leadership role, speaks proper English, and doesn't use martial arts when he fights. 2014, 2015

Men in Black 3
The controversy surrounding this 2012 sequel is that Chinese government censures edited out as many as 13 minutes of the film before it could be shown in China. Perhaps the film is improved without the scene of Mr. Wu being tortured by use of a spiked alien fish.

Norwegian Wood
It's Tokyo in the late 1960s. In this film by Anh Hùng TrânThe world is in turmoil, and so are the lives of three Japanese students.

Parental Guidance
The owner of a pan-Asian restaurant speaks in pidgin and is comically bizarre. 2012

Pitch Perfect
A college comedy that includes Asian students, but they are limited to the common Asian tropes, such as the quiet submissive girl (until she reveals her beatboxing talent).

It took until 2012 for an Asian character to enter the Alien world, and Ravel is a bit of a drudge.

Rogue One: a Star Wars Story
It only took 40 years, but at least Asian characters appear in almost starring roles. There is a blind monk who is a martial arts master, and hulking long haired, bearded he-man who wields a big gun, but does not do martial arts. 2016.

Salmon Fishing in The Yemen
Rumors abound that the reason there are Chinese hydroelectric engineers in this 2012 film is either due to Chinese government pressure or a desire to sell more tickets in Chinese theaters.

A Serious Man
In this film full of Jewish id, two minor characters, a Korean father and son, fit the non-American foreigner stereotype, speaking poor English and exhibiting socially inept behaviors. 2010.

Shanghai Calling
A reversal of roles and stereotypes as an Asian American becomes an immigrant to China and the romance involves an Asian man and a white woman. Shanghai, itself, is not the traditional and backward place American audiences expect, but modern and quite westernized.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Parallel stories of two girls who grow to women in 19th and 21st century China show how both are bound by and try to overcome patriarchal culture.

The Social Network
The Asian women have been described as little more than sexy props. 2011

Star Wars, the Force Awakens
Asian characters as gangsters. 2015

Jennifer Richards

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Jenny Richards