Cultural Assimilation of Asian Americans

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Big Trouble in Little China
--It is more than just a film

“Big Trouble in Little China” starts with a white American character called Jack Burton, who delivers his cargo to a small town and during some free time plays card games in a Chinese market. After beating everyone at the game, he is proposed a bet by his friend Wang, and wins. Wang, not having enough cash to pay himself, convinced Jack to pick up his girlfriend Miao Yin at the airport, promising after which he would pay what he owed. Unexpectedly, a Chinatown gang called the Lords of Death abducts Miao, because of her green eyes. She becomes essential to being able to revive an ancient Chinese sorcerer Lo Pan and bring him back to the flesh. This marks the beginning of the adventure to rescue Miao and destroy Lo Pan’s plan down in Little China.[1] From the plot summary, “Bid Trouble in Little China” is an entertaining film, however, its value reaches beyond entertainment; it provides invaluable insights into cultural stereotypes, in both Chinese-American culture and mainstream American culture.

To start up, let us have an overview of Asian Americans. The Asian experience in the United States has been affected by two most important factors: race and culture. Given that Asian immigrants had a different appearance, it was not difficult to categorize, identify and stereotype them, or to treat them differently. Two assumptions by the mainstream Americans apply to this ethnic minority group. First, Asians are homogenous; in other words, all of them have a similar look, rationality and behavior. Second, there is a close connection between Asian immigrants and their home country. The way Asians are treated in America is closely tied to these two assumptions. They are assumed to be familiar with Asian ancestry, the ancestral culture and the language.[2] For pervasive social influence of film, it plays an important role representing cultural issues. As film scholars are concerned with the influence cinema has in the cultural imaginary, an immense body of scholarships was born to systematically list and analyze stereotypical images. As the study of stereotypes develops over the decades, we are able to follow the important issues especially the connection between film and culture. Wiegman mentioned that stereotypes are related to the characterization, narrative, setting, costume and cosmetics of the film. He also wrote that in film, the stereotype serves as a form to present non-white culture and characters as constant and one-dimensional.[3]

Specifically, “Big Trouble in Little China” indicates a number of typical stereotypes of Chinese-Americans, which is a vivid representation of mainstream American’s understanding of Chinese-Americans. As remarked by Ebert, “Big Trouble in Little China” is a straightforward production that emerges from Charlie Chan and Fu Manchu, with little apologies and the usual stereotypes.[4] In the film, the Lords of Death was under the control of Lo Pan, in a secret underground world in Chinatown, which was consistent with Chinatown mystery and danger. Other than that, the effeminate image of Lo Pan agreed with Fu-Manchu’s expression of masculinity and his image of a master criminal. Moreover, Chinese kung fu and supernatural power spread out the film, such as the use of magic by Thunder, Lightening and Rain, and the use of kung fu in every fighting scene. The film created an image that “the visible part of Chinatown is just the tip of the iceberg - that once you penetrate the facade of chop-suey parlors and laundries, there is a vast subterranean network of temples and dungeons, caverns and throne rooms and torture chambers”[5]

Furthermore, “China is here, Mr Burton!”[6] And the reference to China by the film characters stereotypically indicated the close tie that Chinese-Americans held to their home country. Also, the relationship between Wang and Miao connected San Francisco and Beijing, which reflected on how American-Chinese were...
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