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  • East-West Montage: Reflections on Asian Bodies in Diaspora
  • Alexander C. Y. Huang (bio)
East-West Montage: Reflections on Asian Bodies in Diaspora. By Sheng-mei Ma. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2007. 328 pp. Paper $29.00.

This is an ambitious book on a wide range of manifestations and representations of the Asian body in diaspora across the Pacific. It takes up film noir, the Asian American novel, musicals, the comic Blackhawk, the Dalai Lama in novels and films (such as Jean-Jacque Annaud's film Seven Years in Tibet), kung fu films, and Korean soap opera. It aims to be a dialectical analysis of both the failings of the montage between the Asian diaspora and the Christian West and its possibilities. It contributes to the thriving field of global circulation of iconic images inspired by or framing the Asian diaspora.

Drawing on theories of the likes of Paul Gilroy, Gloria Anzaldúa, Freud, and Homi Bhabha, Sheng-mei Ma suggests as part of the book's central thesis that "to accrue self-identity, the Asian diaspora needs to reflect on its physical and visceral feelings and think critically about its bodies . . . in diaspora" (xxii). The fourteen compact chapters of East-West Montage , which includes seven previously published articles or book chapters, are divided into seven sections, or "intercuts": "Asian Anus," "Asian Penis," "Asian Dubbing," "The Korean Wave," "Body Oriental," "Asian Magic," and "Asian Deceased." Ma maintains that these attributes are shared by a large number of people of Asian descent across geographical boundaries, East and West. Therefore, "'Asian bodies in diaspora,' by definition, masks a . . . montage between body and mind" (xvi).

The two chapters in "Asian Anus" explore Asian mores and symbols that are regarded as the most abject, such as bodily waste and the trope of the opium den, detailing how the Christian West's paranoia about "Oriental sin" feeds into its "obsession with the forbidden" (13). The "Asian Penis" section draws on Freud and Lacan to unpack the meanings of kung fu, as a genre and motif, in swordplay films. Chapter 4, for instance, analyzes, [End Page 96] among others, film directors King Hu and Ang Lee and their association with Hong Kong cinema and what Ma terms "Hongllywood" films and suggests that "the symbolic capital of an exotic Orient" leads transnational filmmakers to "further commodify and universalize culture-specific performances for a global audience" (75). Chapters 5 and 6 focus on two key issues in narrative and film pertaining to voice and body: the implications of voice-over and dubbing in Japanese anime and the separation of body and voice in fictions about Maoist China. The fourth section of the book moves on to the face. Ma explores the phenomenon of stars' fetishized faces in those Korean television dramas that became instant runaway hits across East and Southeast Asia and the Asian diasporic communities in the United States, a phenomenon he claims represents "Asia's wave of nostalgia for an essentialized tradition" (128). The last section examines the idea of aging and "the body that feels" in the lived experience of Hmong refugees and Chinese and Taiwanese retirees in the United States. The final chapter fills a lacuna in Asian American studies by including in its purview hitherto neglected immigrants' writings in the World Journal , an expatriate Chinese-language daily founded in 1976.

Ma, who dubs himself "Made in Taiwan for the U.S.A.," characterizes his book as "essentially an intangible, lyrical project of reading the elusive Asian diaspora at the montagelike intersections of East-West cultures," as a text that seeks to wed "the Enlightenment with myth, the scholarly with the poetic" (xv). To pull the diverse materials together, Ma deploys "montage" as a metaphorical resource, using it to examine how "on-screen" images of different body parts or attributes await "their birth off-screen inside the viewer's head" (xi–xii). Ma argues that while the body is trapped spatially, the mind exists temporally. However, some factual errors (renowned Chinese writer Qian Zhongshu's family name is misspelled as Qiao) and what Ma calls jump cuts in this exercise of montage sometimes disrupt an otherwise entertaining ride; he concedes...