Consider this quote:
My view of sexy is quite different from the mainstream. I find sexy to be revealed in the person, how they carry themselves and their characteristics, not in the looks. I think for many people, Chow Yun-Fat is sexy because he conveys confidence and a strong sense of self-esteem that most people are not used to associating with Asian men.
(Geraldine Kudaka, quoted in 'Rice is Nice', Yolk: For the Generasian Next
Form a picture of Chow Yun-Fat in your head: large dove's eyes, cute dimples, toothy grin. Perhaps the image you have is more than this, however; perhaps it is an image of him totin' guns and mowing down throngs of adversaries, as in A Better Tomorrow (1986, HK), Hard Boiled (1993, HK) and countless other Hong Kong action rides. Or maybe you are thinking of Chow wearing slick suits and carrying a large wad of cash, as in God of Gamblers (1989, HK) and God of Gamblers' Return (1995, HK). Perhaps you are even struggling with the question of why you cannot quite recall having seen Chow Yun-Fat have sex in a movie - certainly not with Cherie Cheung in An Autumn Tale (1988, HK), Jodie Foster in the Hollywood production Anna and the King (1999, USA), or Michelle Yeoh in the US-China collaboration Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, US/China), and definitely not with Danny Lee in The Killer (1989, HK) or Simon Lam in Full Contact (1992, HK). Not with anyone, ever, in fact.
You might find upon reflection that the quote requires further consideration. The fact that Geraldine Kudaka, editor of the first anthology of Asian American erotic literature ever published in the US, responds to the question 'Who do you think is the sexiest Asian
American male?' with the answer that, 'for many people' it is famed Hong Kong movie icon Chow Yun-Fat, may seem surprising, if not baffling. Simply put, given this particular actor's mega-star status in many regions of the world, it is widely known (if, crucially, not universally so) that Chow is a Chinese star, not an Asian American star. Yet it appears in this quote as if the lines are being blurred, as if no distinction is being drawn between the 'Asian American male' and non-US 'Asian men' such as Chow Yun-Fat.
Many observers may be oblivious to this rhetorical slippage, this elision of fundamental cultural distinctions between Asian America and Asia. (Herein lie the roots of a racist worldview that formulates 'Orientals' as always already the same, wherever they are from.) However, given that the interview from which the quote is taken was for Jolk, a leading Asian American style magazine, it is fair to assume that the implied reader will be aware of the complexities involved. She or he will probably recognise the need for such categorial elasticity, and so will have litde problem accepting Chow Yun-Fat as an Asian American star. (Indeed, the desire to form bonds between diverse Asian and Asian American individuals and societies is characteristic of the broader Asian American project of pan-ethnic community building and political solidarity.) According to this formulation, stars like Chow Yun-Fat are not just Chinese; they are also 'cousins' of their Asian American fans and admirers, and as such, defacto Asian Americans.
On another level, though, Kudaka's response raises a point of possible dissent. This may be taken as indicative of the potentially volatile differences that characterise Asian American communities with distinct national and ethnic identities and heritages. When looked at closely, the quote reveals how Kudaka skilfully side-steps the requirements of a personal answer. The question 'Who do you think is the sexiest Asian American male?' is answered with a speech act concerning what 'many people' and 'most people' may consider to be sexually attractive in 'Asian men'. I find two aspects of this speech act particularly interesting.
To begin with, in light of the highly particularised nature of KolKs readership, here is an unusually ambiguous and unexplained appeal to 'the mainstream'. It is not clear, for example, whether Kudaka is talking about the mass US (or non-US?) audience, or about the 'mainstream' Asian American community of Yolk readers - which she implicitly, and cryptically, sets herself against. Secondly, I also find a quiet resistance, an intriguing stubbornness and refusal, in her answer. They may find Chow Yun-Fat sexy, but my view of the sexy Asian American man is different; more than that, I am not going to explain what my view actually is! The quote seems to suggest that Asian American sexiness must retain an 'inner', virtually secret, dimension. Push the logic of these observations one step further, and Kudaka's words come to imply a number of different perspectives on the subject of Asian stars and Asian American audiences. In this quote, she could by turns be validating, criticising or rejecting Chow Yun-Fat's relevance for Asian Americans. She could be promoting some delicious - because barely formed - Asian American erotic programme or political manifesto.2 Equally, Kudaka could be offering confirmation that confidence and self-esteem, as well as 'character' and 'personhood', are indeed of crucial importance to America's favourite 'model minority'. Her quote could be read as carrying all of the above implications.
In this chapter, I want to discuss developments in the role of Asian stars in Hollywood in the 1990s. I am concerned with one key question: to what extent can and should Asian stars such as Chow Yun-Fat be deemed more significant participants in the discourse of Asian American stardom, purveyors of greater confidence and greater self-esteem, than home-grown US talents? As we pursue this subject, is there a way in which we can unscramble some of the above without falling into Orientalist traps?
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