- Beyond The Chinese Connection: Contemporary Afro-Asian Cultural Production by Crystal S. Anderson
How can readers understand the Afro-Asian relationships and encounters that appear in so many works of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries? Crystal S. Anderson provides an intriguing and compelling answer in her book, Beyond The Chinese Connection: Contemporary Afro-Asian Cultural Production, through the figure and films of Bruce Lee. Anderson explores Lee’s iconic status in the United States and parts of China, particularly within African American, Asian, and Asian American communities. She argues that Lee’s most notable films—Enter the Dragon (1973), The Chinese Connection (1972), and The Big Boss (1971)—provide a kind of grammar for parsing the politics of Afro-Asian relationships in a variety of literary, filmic, and popular texts.
Chapter One historicizes Lee’s emergence as a central figure in African American, Asian American, and Chinese communities in the early 1970s, delving into how Lee’s films “resonate differently for different groups” (20). This chapter also examines other late twentieth-century representations of Asian or Asian American masculinity on the silver screen: figures such as Oddjob from Goldfinger (1964) or the Japanese businessmen that populate the movie Rising Sun (1993). Each body chapter then sets up a Lee film as a “generator of themes” (39) for a pair of Afro-Asian texts. Chapter Two uses Enter the Dragon to examine interracial male friendships in Frank Chin’s novel Gunga Din Highway (1994) and the films Rush Hour 2 (2001) and Unleashed (2005). Chapter Three reads Ishmael Reed’s Japanese by Spring (1993) and the Japanese anime series Samurai Champloo (2004–05) through the lens of Japanese imperialism, which is an important plot component of Lee’s 1972 film The Chinese Connection. Finally, Chapter Four examines how interethnic conflict and coalitions are depicted in Lee’s film The Big Boss and then play out in Paul Beatty’s novel The White Boy Shuffle (1996) and The Matrix film trilogy (1999 (2003). [End Page 205]
Anderson organizes these seemingly idiosyncratic textual pairings according to how each work constructs the Afro-Asian relationship. At one end of this inter-cultural continuum is what Anderson calls “cultural emulsion,” in which cultures “come together but do not mix”; this concept relies on Homi K. Bhabha’s notion of hybridity for its theoretical underpinning. At the other end of the spectrum is “cultural translation,” in which “one ethnic culture is used to interpret another” (3). Whereas the former “results in cultural distance” and “recognizes that cultures interact but ultimately remain distinct” (34), the latter “recognizes more complex combinations of cultures” in which factors such as “national association” also play a role (35). These critical concepts are crucial to understanding Afro-Asian cultural productions of the post-1965 era because they “reveal how contemporary Afro-Asian cultural production combines ethnic and national associations in ways that both challenge and reinforce homogenizing stereotypes within a global context” (33). At times, this critical framework of emulsion and translation seems reductive and amorphous in its attempts to categorize the texts, a tendency that is exacerbated by each chapter’s organizational structure. For example, Anderson reads the interracial friendship in Rush Hour 2 as reinscribing the primacy of national identity, which “reinforces the distance between the African American and Chinese,” whereas Unleashed counteracts “national overtones, which results in cultural exchange” (45). But Anderson does not address how or why these two films—both of which were produced by major Hollywood film studios for mainstream audiences and feature popular actors—land on opposite ends of the interracial and political continuum.
Lee—as a historical figure and cultural phenomenon—is at the heart of this project, and Anderson’s analysis is at its most compelling when Lee and his films are in the critical foreground. The book does a masterful job of theorizing why Lee became such a pivotal figure in multiple ethnic and racial communities as well as explicating his cross-racial and cross-ethnic appeal, even thirty years...