....Are They Bad?
The 8Asians blog has an article posted recently in which the post author, Edward Hong, asks the question; "Why Are Asian-American Films Bad?" That, I think, is a very good and valid question, and one which when posed, will most often elicit some response of defensiveness or even attack on behalf of those being criticized (which is probably understandable). Hong's post suggests that pervasive and beyond-tired "Asian-American" themes of identity crises and inter-cultural confusions may be so self-limiting that the end product can only be repetitively mediocre at best.
I would have to agree with Hong - sadly, the Asian-American themed movies that I have seen have been mostly dull or unengaging. As I explained here, what seems to be lacking in Asian-American film is a worldview, or point of view that acts as a foundation upon which to derive meaningful ideas - a film without ideas is a poor film. Maybe it is because of this that there isn't much that I have ever taken away from an Asian-American movie that has made me think, or challenged my beliefs in any way - which to me is the difference between a great movie experience and a pointless one.
Why this state of affairs exists is difficult to say. I do maintain that there is a lack of autonomy in Asian-American creative endeavours in the sense that there seems to be an underlying axiom that the product of an Asian artist's work only has value if it is appreciated by mainstream (yes, that means white) audiences. What this translates to, perhaps, is that Asian-American films are deliberately non-threatening or non-provocative for the sake of mainstream audiences, so maybe there is some degree of self-censorship that debilitates the Asian-American film-making process. This, of course, is sad because I believe that the Asian experience in the modern world (both within the US and outside of it) is hugely significant both historically and for the future.
I have come to believe that the basis for culture - and perhaps the basis of creative honesty - are to a great degree derived form the individual and communal experience of historical circumstances. I maintain that the Asian-American voice is fundamentally out of step with this history, and is instead informed by the biased version of our historical experiences as propagated by mainstream America. This is my the biggest issue with Asian-American film - its uncritical acceptance of the mainstream historical perspective which, effectively, stifles an autonomous viewpoint or opinion. Asian history of the past couple of centuries and our experience of racism necessarily places our stories into an oppositional stance to mainstream American culture, yet this doesn't manifest in Asian-American films.
Maybe this is why Asian-American films just seem not to be saying anything and why they seemingly lack the strong point of view that I look for in movies that might make me think or perhaps even challenge my view of the world.