''Bad'' Western Attitudes towards Asian Films
''Bad'' Western Attitudes towards Asian Films
  • reported by Woo Mi Seong(Special Researcher at the
  • 승인 2002.02.07 00:00
  • 수정 2013-07-12 16:27
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What worries me is that deep within the westerner's favorable view of Asian Films may lie an anachronistic Orientalism that indulges in exotic spectacles and regards the East as an object of sexual fantasies.


Surrogate Woman
Surrogate Woman
It was during my time in the US studying for a Masters in drama. A Caucasian classmate asked me in 1993 if it was true that Asian men have more homosexual inclinations and feminine natures than Western men. Before I could ask where my friend had gotten such ideas, I recalled that the few Asian movies showing at that time all portrayed the homosexual emotions of Asian men.

By a weird coincidence, in that year alone, Chinese director Chen Kaige's <Farewell My Concubine> swept the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival and the Best Foreign Language Film from the Golden Globes, Taiwanese director Ang Lee's <The Wedding Banquet> was screening on campus, and Chinese American David Henry Hwang's play turned movie <M. Butterfly> was screening in a cinema downtown.

Although movies are not by nature an accurate reenactment of reality, these movies, with Asian characters or settings were a window on Asian culture to my curious friend who had never been to Asia before.

Awareness of minority rights and interest in foreign cultures, which started spreading in the US and Europe from the 1980s, influenced the cultural sector as well. Consequently, a few Third World or Asian films won awards in international film festivals in the 1990s. These days, some countries even have Korean film directors' reviews.


Unlike Hollywood blockbusters that never fail to reek of money or European movies that seem to have aged, low-budget Asian movies seem like a breath of fresh air, an art of "un-expression." These movies have undoubtedly shown European and American critics a new possibility in aesthetics. 

What worries me is that deep within the westerner's favorable view of Asian Films may lie an anachronistic Orientalism that indulges in exotic spectacles and regards the East as an object of sexual fantasies.

This post-modernistic Orientalism, which regards Asian movies with benignity and curiosity just because they are Asian, may seem to originate from a deep understanding and interest in Asian culture. But sometimes it is nothing more than western intellectuals' sophisticated fetish for things Asian. Amidst the globalization of the film industry, there are some Asian filmmakers who go as far as to make artistic movies that appeal to the palate of Westerners. 

Director Chen Kaige once confessed that while making <Farewell to My Concubine,> he was constantly wondering how the movie would look in the eyes of foreigners. Perhaps that is why Asian movies that have drawn the attention of the West have a few set commonalities despite their distinct artistic styles.


Bad Guy
Bad Guy
Asian movies are usually set in historic times of war or internal turmoil. If not, they portray religious ideas not found in the West, or describe distorted, chauvinistic gender roles or sadistic or masochistic sexual relationships bound to invite criticism in Western societies for being politically incorrect. 

In other words, Asian movies enjoying western critical acclaim are stuck in a pre-modern limbo that anyone with reasonable, rational 'western' logic would never understand. To add insult to injury, the sacrificial lamb chosen to literally embody the irrational but therefore 'lyrical and beautiful' chaos of Asia is none other than Asian women.

Some may complain that I am yet again picking at the worn-out issue of Orientalism in the face of simple, friendly interest, but still, foreign interest in Korean movies sometimes calls for suspicious scrutiny.

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