Below is an excerpt from an article on Guanxi Master, one of  my favorite blogs about Chinese culture and the relationship between East and West, about a recent reproduction of the classic film Around the World in Eighty Days, in which Jackie Chan plays the role of the wise and capable assistant to his bumbling Western “master.”

Past and Present Hollywood Stereotypes and Archetypes of China

Posted by Frank Reichart | 17 May, 2010

The entire movie gets its comic moments from the clueless arrogance and stupidity of the Western character as he is being resourcefully used by the intelligent, swashbuckling Eastern character. While in China, Chan’s character engages in setting right an ancient wrong, something which his English “master” cannot understand or fathom as he sulks at perceived betrayal.

What is striking in the latest film as a cultural symptom is that this is exactly the kind of image China wishes to project upon its current relations with the West. The West is clueless, and its quixotic talk of moral integrity and “global focus” falls easily into the hands of a more capable and realist East. ( Read the rest of the article here.)

While Reichart proves an interesting point by using this recent reproduction as an example of an Asian stereotype, in my opinion he fails to recognize some of the most prominent stereotypes that Asians must endure in film and television today.

You wouldn’t call the newest Around the World in Eighty Days a blockbuster by any means.  But let’s take a movie like The Hangover for instance, in which four friends go out on the town in Vegas for a bachelor party, only to wake up the next morning to find the groom missing.  The three remaining partyers go through a slew of adventures to find the missing groom, including an altogether wacky (and hilarious) scene in which one of them opens the trunk of a car expecting to find their lost buddy, only to have a short, naked Asian man pop out, wrap his legs around one of the guys, and proceed to beat him with series of hua’s!  and heeyah’s!

Here’s another for you…in the most recent season of The Office, perhaps the most popular television in America right now, a new character named Hiday is introduced.  Hiday appears in the last thirty seconds of an episode, relating to the camera his former life as heart surgeon in Japan, his “accidental” murder of the Yakuza gang boss, and his subsequent fleeing to the United States.  Hiday speaks with a thick Japanese accent riddled with stereotypical grammatical errors, even going as far to say “When in Japan, heart surgeon, number one.”

Now I’m no kill joy, and admittedly am a fan of both the The Hangover and The Office, but while watching these scenes I couldn’t help but think about the fact that the Western audience seems like they just don’t take Asians seriously.  While hearing a French or Latino person speak English might suggest a kind of exoticism, an Asian person speaking English is downright goofy.

While on the outside this racial stereotype might not seem as malicious as some of the ones that Hollywood and broadcast television are guilty of, it nonetheless signifies a serious lack of respect for our Eastern counterparts,  something that Western culture cannot afford to hang on to if we wish to have a seat at the table that is a world dominated by Eastern policies.

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