Sensei – Forever Alone. Masculine, but Still Castrated :(

In his article “Looking for My Penis,” Richard Fung explains how Asian American men are nearly absent in the (mostly white-male dominated) gay pornographic film industry. He goes on about how “black people, both men and women, [have] a threatening hypersexuality, [while] Asians [men], on the other hand, are collectively seen as undersexed,” (Fung) in contrast to the hypersexualized Asian woman (Dragon-Lady) as seen in Hollywood films of the past and even today. Fung mentions how “Asian women in film are, for the most part, passive figures who exist to serve men—as love interests for white men,” and compares gay Asian American men in the porn industry as serving the same role towards the white-male actors and audience- they are only there to provide for the white-male character and audience (Fung).

In relation to Fung’s research about the desexualization of Asian American gay men in pornography, similar attributes in Asian American characters can be seen in Hollywood films such as The Karate Kid (1984) and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006). In The Karate Kid, Keisuke Miyagi (A.K.A. Mr. Miyagi) is a Japanese American, fitting into one of Fung’s categories of the desexualized Asian American male as “the kung fu master/ninja/samurai. He is sometimes dangerous, sometimes friendly, but almost always characterized by a desexualized Zen asceticism,” (Fung). Mr. Miyagi also fills the same orientalist view of Asians (which disappoints Fung) who is there solely to “serve the interests of the white man,” in which Mr. Miyagi teaches martial arts to the white-male main character so he can defend himself from his enemies at school and pursue his personal love interests.

In Tokyo Drift, the wise-sensei or master character is Han. Han is presented in the same way that Mr. Miyagi is presented in The Karate Kid; he is there to serve the interests of the main character-Sean- who again is white. In Tokyo Drift, Han supplies his student with a car to drift and teaches him how to drift in order to win the respect of the Yakuza in Tokyo who are harassing Sean’s girlfriend.

In many cases, the “images of men and male beauty are still of white men and white male beauty,” (Fung). Therefore, both Mr. Miyagi and Han are seen as “Oriental, and therefore sexless” according to Fung and as all knowing masters in their art fields, are in their movies to serve the needs of the main (white-male) character, in a similar way that Fung sees Asian American gay men in the porn industry as present only to serve the interests of the dominant white-male actors. In both movies, the white main characters are shown happily with their love interest- women characters, but Han and Mr. Miyagi end up fading into the background without experiencing any (sexual) pleasure or getting a romantic character paired with them. These powerful characters are masculine, but in the end, are still castrated or left “unavailable”.

 

3 thoughts on “Sensei – Forever Alone. Masculine, but Still Castrated :(

  1. Another example of an emasculated Asian male in Hollywood is the character portrayed by Jet Li in the movie “Kiss of the Dragon.” Next to Jackie Chan, Li is another prominent Asian actor who helped create a space for Asians in movies. With a beautiful and famous co-star by his side–the late Alliyah—Li helped Asians inch towards equal acceptance in the movie industry. Across the globe Asians watched “Kiss of the Dragon” with much anticipation only to find that in the end, Li’s character did not get the girl and with anticlimactic fashion, the movie ended with a disappointing hug (yes…a wimpy hug!). Throughout the movie, I was fully convinced that there was a love connection between the two, but this was just wishful thinking.

    I completely agree with the issue around how Asians are portrayed in films; the men are emasculated and the women play hyper-sexualized roles in mainstream movies. As nice it is may be for Asians to have roles in films, the Asian stereotypes are only enforced with the weak characterization of these Actors and Actresses.

    In media, particularly movies, the idea of racial triangulation comes up a lot. The idea of racial triangulation, a common topic in Asian American classes, states the dominant group–often White–are able to instill superiority and encode them into movies. Hence, the movies mentioned in this blog create a power relationship that is subtle enough that it does not cross the lines of racism or overtly convey racial domination. Examples of racial triangulation include the passive attitudes of Mr. Miyagi (“The Karate Kid”) and Han (“The Fast and the Furious”) and their roles as the “oriental mentor” to the Westerner, and Jet Li’s portrayal of an emasculated character unable to get the non-Asian girl in the end.

  2. Fung’s article did a great job at examining and analyzing the representation of Asian American masculinity in mainstream culture. He brings up the interesting point of how Asian American men are in a ways castrated and stripped of their masculinity. Fung goes even further, saying that the characters in those movies are “sexless,” and that their role in the movie is to serve the white man. Fung explains that Asian American men are deemed sexless because they do not get a romantic interest or “get the girl” in the end of the movie.

    While I do agree with the way Asian males are portrayed in films, I would like to bring up several other points. I do believe that Asian American males are poorly represented in mainstream culture, often being undersexualized, as Fung describes. He compares Asian American men to black men, who are oversexualized in the media. While I do agree with this observation, I would like to bring up the idea that maybe real problem in this context is not race, but rather society’s view of masculinity, and the hegemonic qualities that have become the norm in today’s culture. Yes, I do agree that the representation of sexuality in Asian American males are poorly represented. But the idea that a man has to get the girl by the end of the movie is a little ridiculous to me. Why must Mr. Miyagi have to find a girl in the movie to be properly sexualized and thus seen as a fully masculine figure? What if Mr. Miyagi was homosexual? Or asexual? While I do agree that Mr. Miyagi is undersexualized as a male, I have to question why being a sexual figure is even a standard for being a masculine man. This also goes for different races and ethnicities that are represented in the media. Let me be clear in my stance, that in comparison to white men, Asian American men are undersexualized. But if we conform to society’s standards of masculinity and sexualize these Asian American men, do Asian American men truly ‘win’? By giving into and adhering to these standards that are hegemonic in nature, I believe that we are only fooling ourselves into thinking that Asian Americans take a step for equality. Sexualizing Asian American men in films only serves to acknowledge and reinforce the standard that demasculinizes all sorts of men except white heterosexual males. I believe that under these standards, Asian American men will always have the legitimacy of their masculinity questioned no matter how the media portrays them. In reference to what Fung’s article argues, I don’t believe that society’s construction and representation of race in the media is the problem. I believe that it is the society’s construction and representation of masculinity (which I believe has race already built into it) is the problem, and until that is fixed, Asian American men won’t ever be truly seen as real masculine figures.

  3. I agree with Aaron when he says that Asian American men are underrepresented in popular culture, especially as the protagonist, but this is not the case in “Chew, Vol. 1” by John Layman and Rob Guillory. The main character’s name is Tony Chu and he turns out to be the hero by the end of the comic. Layman and Guillory said that they tried to represent Tony Chu as least as a stereotypical Asian American as possible. In fact if it weren’t for his last name, I may not have been able to tell by his pictures in the comic that he was even Asian. Even though he does not have the typical slanty eyes or Fu Man Chu mustache, he does have a smaller physique than his caucasian counterparts, which does feed into the Asian stereotype. (Sidenote: This reminds me of a time when I was talking to my ex-boyfriend’s Italian father who had recently visited China. He was telling me about how he could see over everyone’s heads in the crowded cities. I found this funny since the man is only about 5’6 or 5’7, shorter than my own Chinese father, and I had a hard time believing that this was actually the case.) Anyway, by the end of volume 1 of this comic book series, Chu’s white partner turns out to be one of the corrupt villains while Chu is able to stay a respectable figure despite his extremely abnormal powers. Although Chu does not end up winning over the white woman that he falls in love with, which is pretty standard according to Yankee Dawg You Die by Gotanda, there are a lot of aspects about his character that do make him an abnormal Asian American character.

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