Queer API Film and Video in “Bad Asians”

Alyse Blachly

In “Bad Asians: The Sequel,” Eve Oishi talks about the way in which queer API artists’ work is changing. I was particularly interested in this article because it helped me make more sense of the video we watched the previous week (about JJ Chinois) and I was able to relate it to other works we’ve seen in class. First, Oishi compares later works by queer artists of color to more recent works. In the 1980s and 90s, film, video, and art mainly focused on identity politics, mostly out of necessity. Back then, this work was just emerging, and therefore engaged in a more self-conscious identity. However, now queer API artists focus on culture, racial identity, and the body. The focus on the body is the most prominent topic of the videos in Oishi’s essay. They focus on the ways in which the body can transform and be “unfixable” but also how other people’s readings of a person’s body have material consequences. Therefore, in each video limitations and possibilities of the body are expressed in various different ways to “queer” mainstream/popular culture’s presentation of gender, sexuality, race, and body.

In the JJ Chinois analysis, Oishi points out that this video was based on an actual interactive fan page in addition to images of Bruce Lee. She argues that the icons in each are more important than the actual person. For example, for the fan page which is represented by various facts about JJ Chinois, it never clearly states what he does/what makes him so popular, but rather offers a myriad of facts and trivia about him. All of these facts can make it seem like we’re getting to know him, but in reality it’s the thrill of fandom and idolization of the image of the person that makes these details feel important. Lynne Chan, the film maker, plays JJ, who changes appearances in various scenes. In many scenes however, JJ is made to look like Bruce Lee, wearing his iconic sunglasses and hairstyle. This blurs the image of masculinity of Bruce Lee and plays off the popular culture’s way of idolizing figures.

In “We got Moves You Ain’t Even Heard” of by Clover Paek, a similar technique is used, but it uses actual footage from the film it is based on. It takes the boy (Daniel) from the Karate Kid and repositions him as a lesbian icon. While scenes from the actual movie are played, voiceovers and re-enactments of the Daniel character by Paek to reposition meaning and sexuality of various scenes. For example, when the original Daniel embarrasses himself in front of his lover by getting spaghetti sauce on himself, Paek reenacts the scene making the sauce a prop in an action of sexual desire. When we watched this video in class I thought it was very clever, having seen the original Karate Kid. I liked how it not only commented on the repositioning of how body was interpreted, but also how it highlighted the masked Orientalism of the original movie.

Finally, I found the piece about the media’s representations of a queer mixed race serial killer to be very interesting. While his sexuality was immediately targeted in media messages in headings like “Gay Man Kills”, the uneasiness about the way his body looked was present throughout the compilation. They didn’t like that he could be anybody— he could both fit in anywhere but also didn’t fit into any category. Therefore, they decided to label him as white instead of Asian to make people more likely to identify him. This is also based off of the stereotype that all Asians look alike. People wouldn’t look at him and think Asian. Nor would they look at him and think he was extremely feminine or masculine. I really like the ideas brought up in this video piece because it shows an example of why mainstream culture has a history and preference to “other” people deemed unlike themselves. Do they fit into the category of “us” or “them” is the question. And this question can transform your ideas and way of feeling about someone. For example, if you identify with a criminal (not their actions, but what category you think they are in), you may be more likely to understand them vs. someone who you consider other or unlike you. In Gaffney’s other piece about HIV/AIDS he shows how this same concept is present in determining who can benefit from AIDS cocktails/medicines. Certain people can be overlooked in the age of ending AIDS. In both videos he shows how our bodies look and are interpreted can have actual consequences that can offer or limit our opportunities.


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