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Hollywood Asian

Philip Ahn and the Politics of Cross-Ethnic Performance

Hye Seung Chung

Publication Year: 2006

From silent films to television programs, Hollywood has employed actors of various ethnicities to represent "Oriental"characters, from Caucasian stars like Loretta Young made up in yellow-face to Korean American pioneer Philip Ahn, whose more than 200 screen performances included roles as sadistic Japanese military officers in World War II movies and a wronged Chinese merchant in the TV show Bonanza. The first book-length study of Korean identities in American cinema and television, Hollywood Asian investigates the career of Ahn (1905-1978), a pioneering Asian American screen icon and son of celebrated Korean nationalist An Ch'ang-ho. In this groundbreaking scholarly study, Hye Seung Chung examines Ahn's career to suggest new theoretical paradigms for addressing cross-ethnic performance and Asian American spectatorship. Incorporating original material from a wide range of sources, including U.S. government and Hollywood screen archives, Chung's work offers a provocative and original contribution to cinema studies, cultural studies, and Asian American as well as Korean history.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to the many professors at the Univerity of California, Los Angeles, whom I have been fortunate to know, particularly my dissertation committee members—Chon A. Noriega, Nick Browne, Peter Wollen, and Shu-mei Shih—for inspiring me with their insights and encouragement. A special debt of gratitude goes to my advisor,...

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Introduction: The Life and Death of a Hollywood Asian

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pp. xi-xxii

Gracing the cover of this book is an image of a “Hollywood Asian” whose face may be familiar to many classic film fans but whose name may escape some of them. The performer in question is Philip Ahn (1905–1978), a prominent Korean American character actor of classical Hollywood cinema who portrayed a diverse cross-section of roles in over...

PART I: Asian American Acts: Performance and Spectatorship

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1. Portrait of a Patriot’s Son: Philip Ahn and Korean Diasporic Identities in Hollywood

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pp. 3-32

Over the past decade, Korean faces have become ever more conspicuous in American mass media and popular culture. For example, veteran film comedian Pak Chunghun played Yi Il-sang, an ex-soldier of fortune in the Bosnian War in Jonathan Demme’s The Truth about Charlie (2002).¹ Originally conceived as Japanese, this substantial...

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2. The Audience Who Knew Too Much: Oriental Masquerade and Ethnic Recognition among Asian Americans

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pp. 33-56

One of the biggest challenges that I have faced in my reading of Philip Ahn’s career has been to see beyond my own cultural position and accommodate hermeneutic strategies outside the domain of Korean identity politics. As a scholar born and raised in South Korea who then immigrated to the United States in my late twenties, I am necessarily caught up in the...

PART II: Oriental Genres, 1930s to 1950s

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3. Between Yellowphilia and Yellowphobia: Asian American Romance in Oriental Detective Films

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pp. 59-86

Part II resets our critical focus by subsuming questions of performance and spectatorship within the larger contexts of Hollywood’s Oriental genres, which were popular from the 1930s to the 1950s. With the possible exception of the war film, no other genre has received more critical attention than romance in contemporary scholarship on cinematic representations of Asians and Asian...

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4. State Intervention in the Imagining of Orientals in China Films of the 1930s and 1940s

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pp. 87-119

As observed in the previous chapter, among the various social, cultural, and historical determinants responsible for the rise of Hollywood’s first sound-era Asian American romantic couple in Paramount’s Daughter of Shanghai (1937) was the industry’s conservative, self-regulatory code, which prohibited racial mixing between whites and nonwhites (a provision that would be relaxed...

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5. Hollywood Goes to Korea: War, Melodrama, and the Biopic Politics of Battle Hymn

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pp. 120-168

As examined in the previous chapter, during the period bracketed by the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and the end of World War II in 1945, federal agencies, such as the State Department and the Office of War Information (OWI), carefully monitored the depiction of Asians in American motion pictures, fearing that negative portrayals would create adverse repercussions on...

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Conclusion: Becoming “Father,” Becoming Asian American

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pp. 169-190

In February of 1926, Tosan An Ch’ang-ho bid farewell to his wife and children before leaving Los Angeles for Shanghai after a one-year visit to the United States. This was the last time that Philip Ahn, his mother, and siblings would see him. Although Tosan spent a total of thirteen years in America (1902–1906, 1911–1919, 1925), he had to leave his Californian home frequently, touring American cities, as...


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pp. 191-212


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pp. 213-214


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pp. 215-223

Index [Includes About the Author]

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pp. 225-233

E-ISBN-13: 9781592135172
Print-ISBN-13: 9781592135165

Publication Year: 2006