- The Reconstruction of the Image of Chinese Female Immigrants in Full Moon in New York, Siao Yu, and Finding Mr. Right
This article explores the changing cinematic images of Chinese women immigrants in the United States, focusing on three films by directors from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, respectively, in order to demonstrate ways in which contemporary transnational Chinese cinema introduces alternatives to established stereotypes. Full Moon in New York (1989) by Stanley Kwan (關錦鵬), Siao Yu (1995) by Sylvia Chang (張艾嘉), and Finding Mr. Right (2013) by Xiaolu Xue (薛曉璐) all illustrate how the social, political, and economic changes that have taken place in China since the 1980s have inspired contemporary Chinese filmmakers to construct new images of Chinese female immigrants. The new transnational Chinese cinema develops female characters who are more complex than the stereotypical images of the Lotus Blossom or the Dragon Lady (Tajima 309), and introduces elements of Chinese culture that are less known to Western viewers. To this end, the characters may represent stronger traditional views, as in Kwan's film; may adapt multicultural traits, as in Chang's film; or may be American Dreamers, as in Xue's comedy.
In the early history of Chinese immigrants in the United States, Chinese women were stereotyped as "exotic curios, sexual slaves, drudges, or passive victims" (Yung 3). Based on these stereotypes, most Hollywood films portrayed Chinese women in a derogatory manner. In "Lotus Blossoms Don't Bleed: Images of Asian Women," Renee Tajima states that "Asian women in film are, for the most part, passive figures who exist to serve men, especially as love interests for white men (Lotus Blossoms) or as partners in crime with men of their own kind (Dragon Ladies)" (309). In light of this, the images of Asian women in American cinema could be confined to two types: "the Lotus Blossom (also known as China Doll, Geisha Girl, shy Polynesian beauty), and the Dragon Lady (Fu Manta's various female relations, prostitutes, devious madames)" (309). One prominent example of a Lotus Blossom is featured in the aptly [End Page 424] named film Lotus Blossom (1921), starring Lady Tsen Mei, while one famous example of a Dragon Lady is Anna May Wong's character in Thief of Baghdad (1924) (Tajima 309). Owing to deep-rooted prejudice, many influential forms of Western popular culture have marginalized Asian women (Uchida 167); in order to create new images of Chinese immigrants, the three directors discussed here use Self-Orientalism to deconstruct traditional Western stereotypes and then reconstruct images of Chinese women immigrants by focusing on depicting their female characters' personal frustrations and struggles while living in the United States.
Although the three directors are from different Chinese locales and depict different types of problems that Chinese immigrants in America face in different eras, they all focus on female immigrants' struggles for survival in their new milieu. They depict Chinese female immigrants as powerless, with no choice but to stay in America. In light of this, comparison of these three films reveals different facets of the images of Chinese female immigrants. Xiaolu Xue, from China, Sylvia Chang, from Taiwan, and Stanley Kwan, from Hong Kong, each bring distinct backgrounds, idiosyncratic ideas, and particular filmic techniques to the depiction of Chinese immigrants to the United States. Each film also presents the experiences of Chinese female immigrants in a different historical period: Full Moon in New York is set in the 1980s, Siao Yu was filmed in the 1990s, and Finding Mr. Right was made in the 2010s.
Stanley Kwan's Full Moon in New York tells the story of three Chinese women in New York. Zhao Hong (Siqin Gaowa) who is from mainland China, has just married Thomas, an American-born Chinese man, and is trying to adjust to her new American lifestyle. However, she is not completely content, as she longs to bring her mother to America. Li Feng Jiao (Maggie Cheung) is from Hong Kong and is burdened with managing a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, working as a real estate agent, and confronting her homosexuality. Wang Hsiung Ping (Sylvia Chang), an actress from Taiwan, attends multiple auditions for stage performances without much success. The...