- Yellow Future: Oriental Style in Hollywood Cinema
With Yellow Future: Oriental Style in Hollywood Cinema, Jane Chi Hyun Park further establishes a burgeoning area of criticism at the nexus of Asian American, cultural, and science fiction studies. The title reflects her ambitious scope; Yellow Future combines the historically xenophobic term yellow peril with the more ambiguous conditional present of Asiatic markers in film. To bridge the sociohistorical gap between the two terms, Park proposes a framework for understanding the curious phenomenon of American films rendered with Asian symbols, which she terms oriental style. In a sense, this book's true topos of study seems to be translation or transportation, for just as her study examines Hollywood incorporation of Asiatic style for American and global audiences, the implied corollary holds true—Asian film industries also reflexively produce American-style films.
The introductory chapter lays out the contours of Park's multifaceted study. The objects of her analyses are the invisible and hypervisible depictions of Asians and/or Asian American culture, signified through bodies, language, style, and technology in American films that constitute updated versions of the Asian other. Rather than drawing a direct line from The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) to Black Rain (1989), she instead argues that modern cinema renders the Asian other in ambivalent and nuanced ways, reflecting complicated politico-economic, technological, and racial tensions that determine or are determined by ethno-national relations. "How," she asks, "are the dynamics of Orientalism changing in the early twenty-first century as the cybernetic 'global village' of transnational capitalism meets the print- and nation-based 'imagined community' of industrial capitalism?" (6). In other words, a more supple framework is needed to account for the fundamental shift between old world colonialism and a modern world ruled by fluid capital. Instead of a reductive reading of these depictions as simply racist or celebratory, she instead suggests that "we look closely and carefully at how oriental style is marginal and what [End Page 174] kind of cultural work it does in and at the margins" (1).
Margins; marginal; marginalia. Part of the challenge of Park's project is bringing peripheral characters, moments, and ephemera to the fore in cultural productions. Following the historical trajectory of oriental style, the reader may observe that clumsy, cringe-worthy representations of Asian subjects have diminished significantly over the years. Instead, Park argues that the underlying anxiety responsible for such depictions re-emerges as style, functioning—to borrow from Fredric Jameson—as a "force field" of production. Over five chapters, Park dissects how this force field has come to be and its effects on the mise-en-scène. Chapter Two lays historical groundwork through a literature review of relevant criticism and connects the sociopolitical discourse of Asian and Asian American subjectivity with the film production process. Chapter Three is particularly notable for its study of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), which has long been noted as the techno-orientalist film par excellence. Park contends that Blade Runner's Asiatic tropes are not limited to set decoration, but reflect deep post-industrial uncertainties interpolated with racial anxieties. For example, she reads how the multitude of anonymous Asian faces populating the background underscores the position of the ethnic laborer—economically necessary but ultimately undesirable. In Chapter Four, Park argues that the buddy formula of Hollywood action films, which matches a white protagonist with an ethnic co-star, has always served to "secure the tenuous centrality of whiteness" (84). But she goes on to contend that the Asian co-star has had room for substance and depth in such a formula, reflecting the West's desire to understand the East as a potential partner or a counterpart. Chapter Five continues in a similar vein with Park's discussion of the cross-pollination between Asian martial arts films and Hollywood. While it might appear that American filmmakers have replaced Asian masculinity with American subjects (e.g., Uma Thurman in Kill Bill ), Park observes that they posit "an...