Global cinema is full of instance in which decidedly non-Asian actors have slapped on a pair of fake eyelids and some novelty buckteeth and tried to pass themselves off as Asian. Sometimes the result of a lack of English-speaking Asian talent, often the result of racism and the feeling that an Asian lead could not carry a Western picture, these “Occidental Orientals” have become the bane of some film scholars, with many others seeing them as little more than a somewhat amusing throwback. Some of the movies are atrocious and ripe with racism and propaganda — Batman fights a goofy faux Japanese villain in a 1943 serial that begins with the narration, “After a wise nation rounded up its shifty-eyed Japs and placed them into camps;” Fu Manchu in any of his incarnations since the Sax Rohmer pulp villain original, serving as the embodiment of everything the British empire feared about China. Others are misguided but generally positive portrayals of Cauc-Asians — Charlie Chan is always smarter and more honest than any of the greedy, seedy white people around him, despite all the “ah so” and “honorable grandfather say” nonsense.
For our latest roundtable the B-Masters Cabal has decided to tackle the fantastical world of inscrutable Asians, secret Chinatown parlors, and Mongol conquerors through eyes somewhat obscured by fake eyelids. Whether looked at as political foibles, cultural ignorance, or simply ridiculous movies, there’s certainly no shortage of films for which the Western world must bow it’s head in shame and say to our Asian brothers and sisters…
|1000 MISSPENT HOURS AND COUNTING||The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu||“Of course, there’s one major problem with looking at The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu from that perspective — the first thing any slightly observant viewer will notice about this movie is that there aren’t any actual Asians in it!!!! Fu himself is played by Warner Oland, a Swede. His maid, Fai Lu, is played by Evelyn Selbie, a Caucasian bit player with a long resume of inconsequential acting gigs. And in the most baffling casting gambit of all, the henchman Li Po is played by Noble Johnson, a black character actor who spent much of his career performing in white- or yellowface! What the hell is going on here?!”|
|AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A SCIENTIST!||Mask of Fu Manchu||“As soon as Nayland Smith has mentioned Fu Manchu, we are hearing about “his wicked eyes” and “his bony, cruel hands”. So on it goes. It ultimately falls to Sheila Barton to address Fu Manchu to his face as, “You hideous yellow monster!” The difference here is that while Fu Manchu is being deliberately insulting, the others don’t seem to realise they’re doing anything wrong, either in their language or their behaviour; certainly not that others might find them offensive. Upon opening the tomb of Genghis Khan — to whom Terry has earlier referred as “the jolly old skeleton” — the archaeologists stand for just a moment, awe-struck. “You’re standing in the unplundered tomb of a king who died over seven hundred years ago!” comments Von Berg to Sheila — and promptly plunders it.”|
|BRAINEATER||Blood of Fu Manchu||“Dear readers, if any of you are upset over the implicit racism of the character of Fu Manchu, or of having a Caucasian actor playing him, you’re going to be just thrilled when you meet our new hero. His name is Karl Jensen, and he’s that universal ambassador of ethnic goodwill in the period between the World Wars… the strapping, blue-eyed, blond-haired German.”|
|COLD FUSION VIDEO REVIEWS||The Mysterious Mr. Wong||“In fact, the only person who wants to pooh-pooh the whole idea of an incipient Tong war is a reporter named Barton (Wallace Ford), who writes a newspaper column to that effect. Naturally, he’s the man that the editor assigns to the case. Remember Robert Wuhl’s character “Knox” in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), the abrasive but self-deprecating reporter who doesn’t get the girl? Same character.”|
|TELEPORT CITY||Unleash the Hordes: Being a History of the Mongol Peoples and Their Most Famous Historical Figures as Portrayed by White People in Fake Eyelids||“The Conqueror is a Western in some ways,” John Wayne unsuccessfully argued. “The way the screenplay reads, it is a cowboy picture and that is how I am going to play Genghis Khan. I see him as a gunfighter.” Which is why Wayne plays the Mongolian with his usual bowlegged swagger and Western movie drawl. I suppose, in reflection, things could have been a lot worse. It could have been an epic movie about ancient Troy or Alexander the Great where a bunch of American actors inexplicably fake British accents. Listening to Brad Pitt “British-up” his Greek character Achilles in Troy makes me miss the days when John Wayne played Genghis with all the sauntering “Well, hey, pilgrim” nonchalance for which he was known.”|