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asianamlitfans on Yellow Future

By Stephen Hong Sohn
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Park_Yellow coverWith Yellow Future: Oriental Style in Hollywood Cinema, Jane Chi Hyun Park has written one of the books that I’ve been waiting for, as someone who enjoys Hollywood Cinema but has had conflicted reactions to its representations of racial minorities. As Park argues “Imprinted in the national consciousness and exported to the rest of the world through media, this fantasy is based on and sustained through imagery, iconography, and modes of performance that conflate East Asia with technology in a global, multicultural context, constituting what I call oriental style” (viii). This oriental style is one that would most effectively appear in the post-Fordist, global economic era. Thus, Park’s study is roughly situated from the 1980s onward. Park further firmly grounds her study through the discourse of American Orientalism, but offers her own take on how Oriental style operates: “Oriental style does not refer to the static, abstracted representations of East Asia as radical other to the West that we find in so much popular discourse as well as in seminal critical work by Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva, and many other Western thinkers. Instead it refers to moving images on the screen, which are visceral as well as visual” (25). Her readings consistently contribute to how oriental style is complexly rendered and does not necessarily operate from the binary that pits East against the West. The first two chapters are particularly useful in that they lay out the framework for the book and give us the historical conditions which allow for certain sedimented representations to enter into the filmic imaginary. Chapter 3 begins Park’s sustained analyses, as she focuses on the Oriental city, specifically providing a reading of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The nuances of Oriental style can be seen here as Park illuminates how difficult it can be to engage a racial reading of replicants within Blade Runner, despite the fact that there are so many “orientalist” aspects of the city: “Yet even as they might allude to historical and popular representations of these nonwhite groups, all the renegade replicants are phenotypically white, and the leader of the rebellion and his partner, in particular, are stunningly Aryan, with blond hair, pale skin, and blue eyes. How, then, are we to read the replicants in terms of their racial identity, performance, and representation? Are they black? Asian? Latino/a? White? Can they be read racially at all?” (75). The issue then with something like Oriental style is that it is often encrypted, or existing intersectionally with other uses of race within representation. Park makes this clear in her fourth chapter and fifth chapters that focus respectively on Oriental buddy films and Martial arts films. The final chapter concentrates on the uses of technology on the ever evolving nature of oriental style and Park ends with a particularly fun and engaging reading of The Matrix. Given the popularity of the films that Park critiques and her trenchant analyses, this book will definitely find a large audience attuned to film, race, ethnic, and Asian American Studies.

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