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Hollywood Chinese

The Real (Hollywood) Chinese

I am not wherever I am the plaything of my; I think of what I am where I do not think to think.–Lacan

Hollywood Chinese, a documentary about the Chinese in American feature films, is pretty good. It’s well-done, caringly done, and has something smart to say, and is maybe, for white-Chinese people, revelatory. A lot of the ideas in this film originate in the premise that the purpose of story-telling is to make the character(s) less strange to an audience, to offer a sense of The Real Thing, in this case, The Real Chinese. The point of the film is a sort of dual quest for the Real Chinese in Hollywood and The Real Chinese.

Interestingly, filmmaker Arthur Dong has very obviously implemented/inherited an American filmmaking tradition in Hollywood Chinese, and he integrates with it wholeheartedly, creating in Hollywood Chinese an important take on the evolving role of the Chinese in American feature films. In some ways, this integration blurs with other aspects of the documentary’s subject: the film comes off as role-playing The Film. But, as is apparent from the commentary of the actors (who all play Chinese scholars in the documentary) the tradition of the Chinese Persona in Hollywood is as much a product of inheritance as audience, and the evolution of “American Chinese” as an identity rooted in/against perpetuation of this Hollywood persona, in which the feminization of the East has had lasting impact.

These hyperboles of Chinese persona are perpetuated out of pragmatism, as Joan Chen suggests in Hollywood Chinese, when she says she role-played the stereotype of a demure China Doll in order to get roles. Nice. The theory of Perceptual Set kept coming to mind when I watched this last week, the idea that cognition or understanding is “selective” and that “selection” is based upon “expectation.” Am I being inscrutable? Could you tell if I was?

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