restricted access Jun Xing
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Jun Xing | Wong Cindy Wong College of Staten Island, CUNY Cwong@pobox.asc.upenn.edu Jun Xing Asian America Through the Lens: History, Representations & Identity. Altamira Press, Problematic Label, 1998. ($46.00) In this well-researched volume, Jun Xing covers literally all aspects of Asian American cinema—from Hollywood representations , documentaries, and experimental films—to works from similar diaspora populations. His data includes textual analysis of movies, interviews with filmmakers, and reviews on Asian American works from other sources. The study, moreover, is shaped by different theoretical positions dealing with issues ofidentity, politics, hybridity, authenticity , essentialism, and the need for positive images that link it to dialogues with studies ofother ethnic cinematic experiences in the United States. Nonetheless, it is still important to raise some questions about the ways ethnic goals intersect with the overall argument of the text. Xing identifies two areas. First, he wants to "introduce the growing ranks ofAsian American films" (15). Second, he "attempts to offer an alternative approach to the "positive image" dilemma confronting Asian Americans as viewed by and considered in the media. (16). This dilemma, he explains, refers to the ways ethnic cinemas react to Hollywood stereotypes become trapped by their own simplifications. Xing wants to counteract this problem by explaining the role ofAsians in American film history. While the study is about Asian Americans, Xing recognizes that their photoplays share many affinities with African American, Hispanic, and other non-mainstream cinemas. He also recognizes that the media community is not isolated. While theorizing how difficult it is to find any sense of Asian American identity because ofits heterogeneity, in practice , most of the works are limited to Americans of Chinese and Japanese descent and, to a lesser extent, South Asian, Vietnamese , and Cambodia ancestry. Xing asserts that a Pan-Asian identity is a "strategic, political, and rhetorical resource for empowerment" (22), but he does not question the representation ofcertain Asian American groups in this discourse, with Japanese American, and Chinese American works dominating the Asian American landscape, while South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Central Asian groups are under represented. Xing strives to understand what makes an Asian American film. Besides the ethnicity of the makers and a subject matter, he explores the possibilities of finding an aesthetic. Compared to African Americans—who have more ofa shared background of slavery—Asian Americans arrived from different countries, different times, and often from radically different cultural communities. This immigration is continuing and even changing. Since Asian American is such a problematic label, one wonders what works should be included. Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman, for example, is listed. Ang Lee is an immigrant from Taiwan, and her photodrama is set on that island. While there are definitely reasons to cite this work, a discussion of its inclusion would have highlighted the difficulties Asian American posts as a category. Having interviewed different Asian American filmmakers , Xing believes that the way to approach this subject is through consciousness. He identifies three critical elements as "an authentic Asian American point of view, a sensitive portrayal of characters and communities, and a set ofculturally specific artistic innovations." (45) However, how are we going to decide what is an authentic Asian American point ofview? Furthermore, what is a sensitive approach, could there be a sensitive and critical point ofview that questions certain aspects of some Asian American characters or communities? In the last element on artistic innovations, Xing tends to find any formal strategy that is not Classical Hollywood to be an innovation. However, many alternative strategies, like the lack ofa linear narrative, are used by different filmmakers. To view any formal technique as culturally specific treads near to the victim ofessentialism. While questioning the problem of essentialism , the book from time to time reverts to the same dilemma. One wonders why any critic has to search for Ang Lee's Chinese signature in Sense and Sensibilities. While recognizing that there are different points ofview in the Asian American representations, as in the JoyLuck Club or the argument between Frank Chin and Maxime Hong Kingston, Xing is seldom critical of the films. He seems to have been too protective to his own communities. - article continues on page 79...


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