Archive for October, 2012

Intro and Discussion for Chan Is Missing

The movie Chan Is Missing follows Jo, a middle-age taxi driver, and his nephew Steve’s search through San Francisco’s Chinatown for the mysterious Chan Hung. As their search continues they realize that the more they find out about Chan’s life, the less they seem to really know. Chan Is Missing is comedic but also addresses very serious concerns: identity, assimilation, linguistics, and cross-cultural misunderstanding. Wayne Wang directed Chan is Missing in 1982. Wang grew up in Hong Kong; when he was 17 he moved to America, where he became interested in film. Chan is Missing, his second film, was done in black and white using the style of cinema verite to convey truth about Asian Americans living in San Francisco. Many of the characters were played by people with no previous acting experience, this explains the nonchalant, non-scripted vibe that makes Chan is Missing seem like “a day in the life” rather than a traditional detective film. The entire cast was Asian American, which again speaks to the real representation for which the film was aiming. It was less than 20,000 dollars to produce the film. Just to give that price context, The Long Good Friday a British thriller, which came out only two years before Chan is Missing, cost £930,000 to produce. Chan is missing is one of the first feature length narratives to successfully represent Asian Americans on screen. After Chan Is Missing, Wang moved on to make bigger budget films that were shown in theaters like Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart (1985) and The Joy Luck Club (1993). Then Wang proceeded to make big studio films such as Maid in Manhattan (2002) and Last Holiday (2006) that did not deal with Asian American issues. While Wang is not a textbook version of the Asian American filmmaker, he also did not abandon this persona, and continued to move back and forth between big studio films and films dealing with Asian American issues.






Who do you think Chan Hung is?

            -He is nobody and anybody

            -Represents the San Francisco Chinatown community

            -Can be anything

            -“Too Chinese” aspect mixing with assimilation into American culture



Cross-cultural misunderstandings (the interview with the woman about the traffic accident)

            -What do you think of the scene?

            -What is happening in the scene is exactly what she is describing to them

            -Get the humor?

            -Class issue: Very academic in her speech vs. Jo and Steve two working class guys don’t know what she’s talking about 


By Izzy Michaelson and Naomi Moser

October 31, 2012 at 8:39 pm Leave a comment

The Fall of I-Hotel: Class Discussion

The Fall of I-Hotel is a poetic documentary that interweaves interviews with the manongs and government officials with a history of Filipinos in the United States, a documentation of the I-Hotel political protest itself, and the director’s own narration.  The film locates the Filipino manongs’ story within the historical trajectory of other Asian American immigration.  For example, throughout the centuries, the United States recruited Chinese, then Japanese, then Filipinos as low-wage labor.  The I-Hotel movement was a landmark event for the Asian American Movement; it was led by Asian Americans, but developed into a diverse coalition as well.
Social context:
The documentary sheds light on a demonstration that took place on Kearney Street in San Francisco during the 1970’s. The International Hotel, home to an incredibly large number of Asian Americans, mostly Filipino, was faced with the prospect of being torn down. These working-class Asian Americans were being put out by the 4 Seasons, and the 10-block area that was Manilatown was reduced to one block, the site of the I Hotel.
Curtis Choy is considered one of the seminal Asian American filmmakers.  He got his BA in Film from San Francisco State University in 1974 (six years after the 1968 strike for Ethnic Studies), and a BA in Interdisciplinary Social Studies from Westminster College in Missouri in 1975.  In addition to The Fall of I-Hotel, he has also worked on such films as The Joy Luck Club (1993) and Better Luck Tomorrow (2002).

This film was produced by Chonk Moonhunter, which was created as an antithetical space to Hollywood–a space to record Asian American history and define Asian American identity.  Chonk Moonhunter operates outside of the capitalist commercial sphere, and therefore is constantly strapped for funds.  Thus, they characterize their filmmaker as ad hoc and guerilla style.  This is a quote from their website: “The words in the name derive from “chonk”, a term created by poets Curtis Choy and George Leong in San Francisco in 1970 to self-define (in the manner of “Chicano” ) that which was ‘Chinese-American’, and to escape an imposed hyphenation/definition by the lackeys, compradors, and apologists of the power structure, and ‘Moonhunter’, a component of Iron Moonhunter, the legendary Chinaman-built railroad created from stolen Central Pacific Railroad parts that would take them home to China.”


What are the characteristics of an Asian American aesthetic?

cultural purity versus eclecticism?  diversity versus a common thread? pg. 11-12 of Moving the Image

Characteristics of Asian American Cinema aesthetic [which include: A socially committed cinema; created by a people bound by 1) race; 2) interlocking cultural and historical relations; and 3) a common experience of western domination; characterized by diversity shaped through 1) national origin; and 2) the constant flux of new immigration flowing from a westernizing East into an easternizing West.] pg. 12 of Moving the Image

Do you agree with the book’s definition of an Asian American aesthetic?

In what ways does the Fall of I-Hotel embody an Asian American aesthetic?

16mm film was used to shoot The Fall of I-Hotel

Striking Examples of Aestheticism: the scene where the camera is looking through the hallway and into the rooms of the evicted people while the disembodied voice of a policeman tells an evictee that he must leave and he must go now, and the evictee wants to stay and wants to know if he will get his stuff back.  What is the effect of these disembodied voices?

The use of narration is interesting in this film.  Choy’s narrative becomes almost poetic at points.  For example, look at the scene before the protest, in which the camera meanders through empty hallways and Choy quotes Al Robles’ poem to the manongs (see pg. 18 in Moving the Image).  What do you think was the function of this scene? (show this scene in class)

What is Curtis Choy’s investment in this topic?

talk about Pan-Asian identity

How does this film connect with the topic from Tuesday in which we spoke about memory and how does this represent a collective memory either of Asian Americans or of Filipino Americans?

Discuss gender in the film.  How are the manongs represented?

Look at their occupation in the navy and the fact that there aren’t many Filipino women. “Women were excluded from immigrating to the U.S. till 1965.  This prevented family life for an entire generation.” – quoted in the film

Talk about the history of bachelor’s society and its significance.

Through this film we see various intersections of race, class, law and order, and even gender.  What are some examples of these intersections?

What, if anything, surprised you about this film?

-Evyn Espiritu and Cassandra Martinez

October 22, 2012 at 10:02 pm Leave a comment

Flower Drum Song – a class discussion

Flower Drum Song was based on the 1957 novel, The Flower Drum Song, by Chinese-American author C. Y. Lee. It was the eighth stage musical by the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. The piece opened in 1958 on Broadway and was subsequently made into a 1961 musical film. The team hired Gene Kelly (famous for Singin’ in the Rain) to make his debut as a stage director with the musical and scoured the country for their cast. With the exception of Juanita Hall (who also starred in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific), the main cast is mostly Asian. Anna May Wong was actually set to return to Hollywood with the role of Auntie Liang in Flower Drum Song, but died of a heart attack following liver disease on Feb. 3, 1961. And for historical context, this movie was produced in 1961, four years before the Hart-Cellar Act, which lifted the national quota on Asian immigrants.

Portrayals of Femininity: What Exactly Does “Being a Girl” Entail?

In the film Flower Drum Song (1961), Rodgers and Hammerstein provide two female characters in stereotypical orientalized Asian American roles–the Dragon Lady in the form of Linda Low, and the Butterfly as Mei Li.  These two characters exhibit textbook qualities of their respective archetypes. Linda is hypersexualized, manipulative, and dominating, whereas Mei Li appears virginal, sincere, and submissive. The consistent juxtaposition of these two characters throughout the film force the audience to question which female is more desirable.

The differences between these two characters extends beyond these traits to the performance of the actors in these roles. The vocal parts assigned to each character is significant in that they reflect the stereotypes at play, what with the soprano ingenue and alto seductress. But, there is an added layer of complexity when examining these stock characters in terms of race. Mei Li, the Butterfly, comes directly from China, and her appearance and vocal patterns reflect that racialization. Linda, on the other hand, is from San Francisco, has a Western name, and is more European in appearance. This dichotomy reinforces the orientalist notion of the West as male and the East as the female.

But, despite these differences, they both share a crucial value: preserving the patriarchal system, even if it results in their own commodification. When analyzed in the barest of terms, both of these women want to get married, and their actions steer them towards that objective. Incidentally, in striving toward that goal, they become things, not people. Mei Li allows herself to be inspected like an animal or manufactured product, and Linda’s song “I Enjoy Being a Girl” places the utmost importance on her appearance, not her personality or intellect.

Questions for discussion: Where does Helen fit in? What about Madam Liang? How does the representation of these female characters compare to the previous representations we have seen?

Race Representation and the Generation Gap

One way that representation of race manifests itself in Flower Drum Song is through a generation gap: the older versus newer generation. If we compare Ta to his father, there is a clear distinction in both their dress and their speech. Ta wears american suits and ties while Master Wang wears stereotypical Chinese garb. He even “accidentally” burns his suit when he is forced to wear one. Wang also holds on to a more traditional way of doing things. He is hesitant to put his money in the bank, and when his sister in-law finally convinces him to do so, he is unaware of how to behave in such a contemporary western setting and sets off the alarm, momentarily creating a frenzy. His scenes with his younger son are especially comedic because they highlight a boy who has completely adopted the “American” way of life and an older man who is still holding on to the values he grew up with–presumably in China.

Perhaps a secondary dichotomy stemming from this generation gap is one between the Chinese versus Chinese-Americans. This differentiation is most evident at the beginning of the film, when Mei Li and her father land up in the middle of San Francisco. Their “traditional” garb and pigeon English serve as a stark contrast to the rest of the people in the street, who speak and dress in the “american” away. Certain characters make little jabs at the pair and at the idea of holding on to this culture. When Mei Li goes up to a man with her slip of paper to ask for directions he responds with, “Sorry sister, I can’t read Chinese.” The police officer she talks to offers a more apologetic, “I guess I should’ve taken lessons in Chinese.” Linda Low gives us the most ignorant response of all, when she mistakes the greek letters of Ta’s fraternity to be Chinese symbols. It is clear that characters such as these–most certainly Linda Low–have acclimatized themselves to an American way of life.

Questions for Discussion: Does American culture appear to have a negative or positive impact on characters in the film? How do you feel like the generational gap was portrayed? Do you think it was done in a truthful light or exploited for comedic purposes?

By Kayla Dalsfoist, Priscilla Hsu, and Aliza Lalji

October 2, 2012 at 9:14 pm Leave a comment


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