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Midterm Paper

1307 words - 6 pages

There have been a number of themes in the history of Asian American cinema, in a plethora of films. To start, The Mask of Fu Manchu, an adventure film made in 1932, played heavily on the theme of “Yellow Peril,” or “Yellow Terror.” The “Yellow Peril” was a metaphor for Asian Americans in the early twentieth century, and portrayed East Asians as vicious, coldly calculating, and utterly bent on annihilating western society. However, Better Luck Tomorrow, a crime-drama film made in 2002, parodied almost the exact opposite, specifically the “model minority” theme. The term “model minority” referred to minority groups that were perceived as achieving high success in education, income, and general stability. Lastly, Chan is Missing, a movie made in 1982 consisting of an amalgam of different genres, such as detective and drama, explored the identity crisis that Chinese Americans faced in the United States, and also served as an example of the shifting nature of Hollywood productions. Throughout the history of Asian American films, there have been a number of themes portrayed in a diverse selection of movies.
The Mask of Fu Manchu, starring Boris Karloff in Yellowface, was an adventure film in the early twentieth century that played on the theme of the “Yellow Peril.” In the time of the World Wars, East Asians were feared for their expansion, and migration, and viewed as a threat. In an attempt to sway the western public a certain way and make them fearful of East Asians, the metaphor of the “Yellow Peril” was created. Essentially, the “Yellow Peril” refers to any East Asian as violent but intellectual, cold and calculating, and in a position to overthrow western society. “Penny-press journalism warned of the Yellow Peril, a popular term used to warn that Japanese and Chinese hordes were on the way to take over white America and destroy white civilization” (Shim 387). As a result, villains such as Fu Manchu were created to further reinforce the stereotype. On the creation of Fu Manchu, Shim argues, “In this context, the image of the Chinese as the 'unassimilable other' and as the Yellow Peril led whites to create Chinese villain characters. The story of Chinese villains in Chinatowns became a popular genre first in magazines and later in films” (Shim 388). Keeping in line with this stereotype, The Mask of Fu Manchu also physically depicted East Asians in a certain way. Fu Manchu was given a long, thin mustache, claw-like nails, and had magical, deadly powers. East Asians were depicted as physically different in many types of media, not simply movies. Shim stated, “Countless cartoons in the popular press fanned the flames of xenophobia by depicting Asians as grasshoppers attacking Uncle Sam or as subhuman-looking workers trying to take jobs from whites” (Shim 388). Fu Manchu was easily the metaphor of the Yellow Peril due to the fact that “as an incarnation of evil challenging the sanity of white civilization, Fu Manchu always miraculously reappeared in...

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