The chapter of “Identities in Motion: Asian American Film and Video” by Peter Feng, titled “Becoming Asian American” is an analysis of the 1982 film Chan is Missing, arguing that it is a pioneer in showcasing the multiplicities of Asian American identities in American cinema and therefore challenges the idea of a fixed Asian American identity. Instead of trying to spread awareness of the presence of a Asian American identity, the movie focuses on “the process of becoming.” (155) This quote means that the characters are not defining or becoming any definition for the Asian American presence in film, but are simply an example of guys who happen to be Asian in American trying to figure out their racial identity. Obviously, the movie does this through its multiple Asian American characters: Steve, Jo, etc. who all have their own personalities and the main characters of the film rather than villains, sex symbols, or comic relief. Like Rae said already, this is very similar to Flower Drum Song in this sense and is notable for this aspect in a period of film that was very much lacking this representation (let’s not debate the present fact of the matter…)
But in this chapter, Feng also articulates certain thematic elements of the film of symbolism that tackle other aspects of the Asian American identity (crisis.) Feng argues that the entire plot of the film, which is to find Steve and Jo’s friend Chan Hung. By looking for Chan, they must face the prevailing stereotypes of Asians in American media, such as Charlie Chan. “The video cassette’s “self-mocking” label seems appropriate; the characters themselves seem aware that they are trapped in a pop culture stereotype–trapped, not in the sense that they have been placed there by the dominant, but in the sense… of sense of strange kind of critique, purveying, and challenging their position.” (158)
I thought that this reading of the movie illuminates the craft of the movie in a clever light– trying to find the true meaning of “Charlie Chan” or the percieved Asian American idenity, but instead (depending on whose perspective, whether it be Steve, Chan Hung’s wife or the police officer.) seeing what they themselves percieve in him/it (and because some of these characters are Chinese American themselves, they see what they do not want to see in themselves.) So Feng is also highlighting that heterogeniety in the Asian American identity can be defined through the perspective of other Asian Americans (and this a different perspective.)
This direct confrontation of the stereotype reminded me of the Das Racist music video “Who’s that Brown” we watched in class on Tuesday. That music video featured so many stereotypes, such as the game that the rappers played which involved dodging arranged marriages, a Grand Central station filled with “yuppies (young professionals) who are gentrifying the neighborhood” and the black guy that one of the rappers has a dance battle with. This is also an example of an interaction: definitely a satire, but also a critique of not only stereotypes about South East Asians, but of other races too.
The whole plot of the movie, especially the conclusion of the movie, which is that they never find Chan Hung and the fragments/pieces of evidence that they find out about him paint an even more confusing picture of him is beautiful because it’s such a truism. The problem with defining anything in general is that you, often times, are never wholly correct and are therefore wrong; it’s the perpetual problem with history, isn’t it? You always leave something out because it would be impossible to tell the entire story/experience (but as Lowe/Feng argue, they are not asking that the ENTIRE story be told, but the important parts.) Whenever you’re writing about a group of people– theres’ a pretty good chance that you will be unable to accurately generalize them. This idea is the essence of a quote from the Philip Roth novel American Pastoral, which relates this idea we have read in an example of Asian American media, but is applicable to pretty much all media and life as well.
What’s especially interesting is that Feng (and Wang too, since it is our media for this article), draws the conclusion that these attempts to analyze/define (and therefore, understand) are more indicative of the person who is trying to do it rather than the actual subject of study. Not only is the analyzer human, but the act of analyzing opens a void in which we can view them, rather than who is being analyzed. Which is really quite ~meta~ if you think about this blog post in the context of this class.