Stereotypes (part 2)

Middle-aged Joe summarizes this struggle to define self. To Steve, he states, “It’s hard enough for guys like me who’ve been here so long to find an identity. I can imagine Chan Hung’s problem, somebody from China coming over here and trying to find himself”. Steve protests. “That’s a bunch of [nonsense] man! That identity [means nothing]. That’s old news. Man that happened ten years ago”. Joe retorts, “Its still going on” (Wang, Chan Is Missing).

The second stereotype that is defied by the film is that all Asian-Americans are poor and spend their whole lives earning a minimum wage. Wang takes one away from this bias by concentrating on the real problems (emotional and political, rather than purely economic) faced by the Asian in the United States. Asian-Americans must take a stand on the American experience that is either Pro-Taiwan and implies full assimilation, or anti-American and pro-People’s Republic of China. But this politicized identity is also challenged. Every character in the film has been deeply touched by the San Francisco version of the Asian-American experience of the 83-year-old Asian male who murders his 79-year-old Asian neighbor over which flag should be carried in the Chinese New Year’s Parade.

As Joe and Steve go looking for Chan, no two individuals describe him the same way. To his wife he is a man who never properly assimilated to the American way of life. To his daughter he is an honest and trustworthy man. Fresco, the manager of the Manilla Senior Citizen’s Center calls Mr Chan “Hi Ho” and thinks he is an eccentric. George (who is marketing a version of Chinese apple pie), thinks Mr Chan is too Chinese. Amy thinks he is a hotheaded political activist. Frankie thinks he returned to the mainland. Mr Fong thinks Chan is a genius because he invented a Chinese word-processing system. And an old man in Chan’s hotel says Chan is a paranoid.

The deep and sad irony is represented in the following words, “They call it Grant Avenue, San Francisco, California, USA. Look for Chinatown. You travel there in a trolley, up you climb, dong-dong, you’re in Hong Kong, having yourself a time” (Wang, Chan Is Missing). The viewer’s ears are flooded with the sounds of these American Chinatown stereotypes, which are challenged by Wang’s old men and women staring into the camera.

The third stereotype that is challenged by the film is that all Chinese Americans want to become part of the greater US System. The film suggests that Chinatown has enough problems of its own. It does not need to be part of the larger society which demands conformity to America’s version of the Asian other. Racism is right here, at home, with Asians who hurt each other (two-faced schizophrenic Chinaman, jade-faced rich old men, FOBS). No heroes or heroines here. No stars, no cultural models, for every model is a stereotype, and every stereotype itself a stereotype. Here in Chinatown there are no perfect western others who would stand as a measure of the Asian self. This identity has become so thoroughly westernized, no otherness is any longer possible. That is why Chan Is Missing.

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