- A View from the Bottom: Asian American Masculinity and Sexual Representation by Tan Hoang Nguyen
Tan Hoang Nguyen, a self-proclaimed “bossy bottom” (xi), provides an exceptional framework for the relationship between Asian masculinity, film studies, and queer worldmaking in his monograph, A View from the Bottom. As a scholar, activist, and film director, Nguyen theorizes bottomhood, which he defines not simply as a submissive, penetrated position in anal sex, but as an assertive, political role that “rewrites abject masculinity without writing off femininity and the feminine, thus enabling a new mode of social recognition” (19). Nguyen follows David Eng and Richard Fung, who navigate the intersections of Asian masculinity and queer studies with contemporary and historical accounts of gendered, racial discrimination against Asian men in the United States. In this trajectory, Nguyen reveals how both national and transnational heteronormative and queer communities discriminate against Asian men of all genders, sexualities, and locations through how they represent them as bottoms literally in pornography and metaphorically in mainstream cinema. From this, Nguyen finds that the current critical literacies for film narrow bottomhood to submissive reception, and do not encapsulate its political potential. Thus, across an introduction, four unique chapters on Asian male representations in films done by directors of various backgrounds, and a conclusion on gay hookup sites, Nguyen rejects that Asian men portrayed effeminately in film jeopardizes their masculinity. Rather, A View from the Bottom demonstrates feminized Asian men lay a foundation to understand masculine performances outside the bounds of hetero- and homonormativity.
Because Nguyen provides a cutting edge conceptual lens for Asian masculinity in film, A View from the Bottom will be of interest to academics, media professionals, and those who study race, gender, sexuality, and visual culture. With his performative outlook and style, Nguyen accessibly deciphers how Asian actors revolutionize the perception of masculinity through gay porn star Brandon Lee’s career, and films such as Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Lover, Iron Pussy III, [End Page 189] and We Got Moves You Ain’t Heard Of. Alongside how Nguyen unpacks topics that include, but are not limited to, modes of film direction and production, typecasts of gender and race, and queer potentials across sexual identities and tastes in distinct Asian cultures, he shows that these films collectively divulge, challenge, and transform the ways in which film relegates Asian men to feminine roles. Through these cases, Nguyen claims that Asian men retain their masculinity, even when feminized, by exemplifying how masculinity resists hypermasculinized, whitewashed situations prevalent in today’s media industries.
Throughout each chapter, Nguyen furthers the reluctant conversation on how masculinity both reckons with and embraces its relationship with femininity. In chapter 2, Nguyen’s read of Reflections in a Golden Eye shows that the film portrays the supporting character, Anacleto, as an overtly effeminate, inept man due to his physical stature, glamorous wardrobe, and occupation as a houseboy in the home of Morris Langdon, one of the primary, masculine figures of the story. However, because Anacleto embodies bottomhood, he successfully develops an intimate relationship with Morris’s depressed and self-mutilating wife, Alison. Despite that Anacleto does not occupy a traditional site of masculinity, his ability to nevertheless court and connect with fellow outcast, Alison, undermines Morris and “forges alliances that privilege marginalized feminine values in the place of legitimated masculine ideals” (73). That Anacleto simultaneously does not perform masculinity in a heteronormative manner, and engages Alison on a level that Langdon cannot, demonstrates that Asian masculinity disavows its own negative, domineering tendencies and revels in a collaborative, feminized role. Therefore, Anacleto puts bottomhood into motion as political efficacy by establishing a queer undercurrent in the performances of Asian masculinity in film.
In chapter 3, Nguyen explores how the The Lover exhibits bottomhood through a heterosexual affair between two international subjects in Vietnam, known as the “young girl,” a mid-20s French woman, and the “Chinese man,” an accomplished business executive. From The Lover, Nguyen contributes that...