East-West Montage

East-West Montage: Reflections on Asian Bodies in Diaspora

Sheng-mei Ma
Copyright Date: 2007
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    East-West Montage
    Book Description:

    Approximately twelve hours’ difference lies between New York and Beijing: The West and the East are, literally, night and day apart. Yet East-West Montage crosscuts the two in the manner of adjacent filmic shots to accentuate their montage-like complementarity. It examines the intersection between East and West—the Asian diaspora (or more specifically Asian bodies in diaspora) and the cultural expressions by and about people of Asian descent on both sides of the Pacific. Following the introduction "Establishing Shots," the book is divided into seven intercuts, which in turn subdivide into dialectically paired chapters focusing on specific body parts or attributes. The range of material examined is broad and rich: the iconography of the opium den in film noir, the writings of Asian American novelists, the swordplay and kung fu film, Japanese anime, the "Korean Wave" (including soap operas like Winter Sonata and the cult thriller Oldboy), Rogers and Hammerstein’s Orientalist musicals, the comic Blackhawk, the superstar status of the Dalai Lama, and the demise of Hmong refugees and Chinese retirees in the U.S. Highly original and immensely readable, East-West Montage will appeal to many working in a range of disciplines, including Asian studies, Asian American studies, cultural studies, ethnic studies, film studies, popular culture, and literary criticism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6227-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Establishing Shots
    (pp. xi-xxiv)

    Approximately twelve hours lies between Eastern Standard Time and East Asian Time, between, say, New York and Beijing. West and East are, literally, night and day apart. Yet Rudyard Kipling was dead wrong when he wrote that “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” Over and over again in this book, the “twain” are crosscut in adjacent filmic “shots.” Rather than imposing a comparative paradigm, this book insists on a montage-like complementarity of East and West, as it reads the Asian diaspora—cultural expressions in literature and film by and about people of Asian...

  5. Intercut on Asian Anus
    • 1 Anal Apocalypse: On the W/Hole of Asia and the Christian West
      (pp. 3-21)

      Of the human body, the anus is the part most shunned. By contrast, the face is the most privileged and public body part. The two are intimately entwined, of course, as the mouth is the entry point to the digestive system and the anus the exit point.¹ If either hole malfunctions, not only the other suffers but the whole body. With regard to Nature’s digestive system, the anus may well be its entry point and the mouth its exit. Far from existing alone, the human digestive system complements the ecosystem. The mouth appears more presentable as it serves multiple functions...

    • 2 Camp Scatology: A Comparative Study of Body (as) Waste in Japanese American Literature
      (pp. 22-36)

      Suspected as enemy aliens following the surprise attack against Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, 120,000 Japanese Americans and 21,000 Japanese Canadians were rounded up and incarcerated in internment camps in the western part of North America.¹ These internees were caught between West and East: their Eastern ancestry clashed with a paranoid, racist West. As memoir and fiction, internment narratives have colored a large number of Japanese American writings concerned with their ghettoization, alienation, and abjection during the war as well as after it. Historically, Japanese Americans were treated as undesirable waste to be expelled from the American body into...

  6. Intercut on Asian Penis
    • 3 Brush and Blade in East-West Cultures: Global Phallus, Colonial Acephalus
      (pp. 39-59)

      The apparently contradictory pairs in the chapter title have blood ties that go back to the nineteenth century. These cultural opposites, after the initial shock and revulsion of colonialism, begin to attract each other, driven by the urge to be one: East and West, brush and blade, the literary and the martial, head and headlessness. In the West, nineteenth- and early twentieth-century colonial loathing of the Orient gradually gives way to high-modernist and postmodernist idolization; the demonic, dehumanizing non-West metamorphoses over time into a dream-self. Whereas Conrad, Forster, Maugham, and Orwell—all implicated in colonialist ideology to various extent—project...

    • 4 Kung Fu Films in Diaspora: Death of Bamboo Hero
      (pp. 60-76)

      In our global village, scholarly attention has increasingly turned to Hong Kong kung fu films, exported to the world via Tsui Hark (Xu Ke), Jackie Chan (Cheng Long), Jet Li (Li Lianjie), Yuen Wo-Ping (Yuan Heping), and others. In the past decade or so, two strains in writings on what I term “Hongllywood” films have emerged: in the first, film Orientalists see in Hong Kong cinema a cultural alternative to mainstream Western productions; in the second, film nostalgics analyze the Chinese/transnational identity being constructed on celluloid. At their worst, these writings simply degenerate into fanzine plot summaries or the fetishization...

  7. Intercut on Asian Dubbing
    • 5 De/Alienation in Diasporic Dubbing/Rubbing of Maoist China
      (pp. 79-96)

      Who hasn’t had a keen sense of estrangement when a beloved radio host with a youthful, mellifluous voice materializes into a bald, pot-bellied middle-aged man? The classic movieSingin’ in the Rain(1952) dramatizes the inverse of this disillusionment, when the beautiful silent film actress turns out to quack rather than speak in sound films. The mismatch between body and voice, visual image and soundtrack, gives a shock to the system, catching one off guard. This is perhaps why the French filmmaker Jean Renoir was so outraged by dubbing in foreign films: “If we were living in the twelfth century...

    • 6 Animeʹs Atom Dialectic: From Trauma to Manna
      (pp. 97-110)

      The infinitesimal atoms clashed midair in 1945, triggering the infinitude of the mushroom cloud over not only Hiroshima but our nuclear age. Presented as simultaneously Apocalypse and Armageddon, massive cataclysms in postwar Godzilla movies and Japanese animations—those of Katsuhiro Otomo, Mamoru Oshii, and Hayao Miyazaki—are often reflected in the pupils of a child, teen, or young protagonist: the incomprehensible balanced by the inconsequential; cornucopia by destitution; the cosmic by the comic; extreme human conditions by miniaturized bugs or critter “familiars”; a “gift” from the West by legacy of ancient Japan. Inspired by the double-entendre of “atom” for both...

  8. Intercut on the Korean Wave
    • 7 The O of Han Ju: Those Full, (Over)Painted Lips that Dare to Confess
      (pp. 113-127)

      Like wildfire since the 1990s, Han Ju or Han Chao—the Chinese name for Korean television dramas, or the Korean Wave—has swept across East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Asian diasporic communities in the United States. And I include feature-length films under the rubric of Han Ju. Through promotion by South Korean television companies and multinational contracts, many Asian countries are currently airing Han Ju as prime-time programs.¹ In the United States, Han Ju’s circulation in DVD, VCD, and video formats has reached many Asian diasporics as an alternative form of entertainment beyond the American television shows. One only needs...

    • 8 Tradition and/of Bastards in the Korean Wave
      (pp. 128-140)

      On the threshold of the twenty-first century, the Korean Wave (Han Chao or Han Liu) represents Asia’s wave of nostalgia for an essentialized tradition, as Asia plunges headlong into the ocean of modernity (aka Westernization). Global technology allows modernizing Asia to view South Korea’s films and television serials, which formulaically feature romance amidst the conservative social milieu of the Confucian, patriarchal legacy. Far more than a mere escapist fantasy, the Korean Wave’s melodramatic, repetitious plot captures the quotidian life and longings of its viewers. What William Rothman sees as a fundamentally Western medium of film is made to carry the...

  9. Intercut on Body Oriental
    • 9 Rodgers and Hammersteinʹs “Chopsticks” Musicals
      (pp. 143-156)

      Richard Rodgers writes, inMusical Stages(1975): “When I was about six, a girl named Constance Hyman, the daughter of a college friend of my father’s, taught me to play ‘Chopsticks’ with my left hand so that it would fit the melody of any song I was trying to reproduce with my right hand” (p. 9). Throughout the brilliant joint careers of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Rodgers the composer has been true to his childhood apprenticeship, with Oriental flavor liberally sprinkling his corpus. In terms of the most memorable Rodgers and Hammerstein legacy,The Sound of Music(1965)...

    • 10 The Nine Lives of Blackhawkʹs Oriental: Chop Chop, Wu Cheng, and Weng Chan
      (pp. 157-186)

      What is the point of dredging up from the lees of low-brow culture some “frivolous,” “childish” comics? How can a comic possibly enlighten, or even inform us, especially a comic likeBlackhawk—fifty-odd pages, crudely produced, selling for ten cents at its inception in 1941, seventy-five cents in 1984, and marked up to about three dollars at the end of its run in 1990? Even in its heyday, the hodgepodge, consumerist, somewhat expendable look ofBlackhawkinspired, by traditional scholarly standards, minimal interest. Each number usually consisted of a cover page; one or two pages of advertisements for guns, ukuleles,...

  10. Intercut on Asian Magic
    • 11 Asian Immigrants with “Magical” Disabilities: Oriental Tongues and Bound Feet
      (pp. 189-201)

      Marrying into the multiethnic, yet English-language-only American family, Asian immigrants have nominally abandoned their names/selves in favor of the Anglicized renditions/shadows. In spite of their linguistic and cultural self-disowning, Asian immigrants often find themselves the “odd man out” at the family table, bumped by their look-alike, U.S.-born and -educated Asian Americans, who feel threatened by the allegedly Johnny-come-latelies. This “sibling rivalry” can be traced back to the first collection of Asian American writings,Aiiieeeee!(1974), edited by Frank Chin et al., who in the Preface champions the “Asian American sensibility” shared by U.S.-born writers. In her groundbreaking Asian American fiction...

    • 12 Dalai Lama Superstar: Mystery and Politics in Western Films and Narratives on Tibet
      (pp. 202-214)

      When I was a graduate student at Indiana University (IU) in the 1980s, long before Tibetan Buddhism came into fashion in this New Age era, the first ever Tibetan stupa in the United States was being established at the outskirts of Bloomington, Indiana. The stupa was the brainchild of Thubten Norbu, professor in the Uralic-Altaic Department at IU and older brother to the Dalai Lama. My wife made and fired some of the terracottatsa tsa—Buddha statues and relief images—stored inside the stupa. The Dalai Lama eventually graced Bloomington to preside over and bless the opening ceremony. We...

  11. Intercut on Asian Deceased
    • 13 Hmong Refugeeʹs Death Fugue
      (pp. 217-237)

      Paul Celanʹs Holocaust poem suffocates in the black smoke rising from the crematoriums’ chimneys, shrouding inmates as well as survivors’ consciousness, including daily rituals as simple as drinking milk. A disturbing parallel exists between Celan’s death fugue and the Hmong’s, one which mourns their loss in the Southeast Asian conflict since the 1970s. Similar to Celan’s fugue, the Hmong’s collective story is filled with refrains, thematic variations of demise. “I come to this foreign land,/without young brothers, without old brothers,/and the others eat, while I watch like a dog waiting for scraps” (Vang and Lewis,Grandmother’s Path, Grandfather’s Way1990,...

    • 14 The Fad(k)ing of the 0.5 Generation: On Taiwanese and Chinese Retirees in the United States
      (pp. 238-254)

      W. B. Yeats wrote in 1927, when he was sixty-two years old:

      An aged man is but a paltry thing,

      A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

      Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

      For every tatter in its mortal dress, …

      (“Sailing to Byzantium”)

      As the elderly lose the “appearance” of humanity, they appear to lose its core as well, becoming this “thing-ness” invisible behind “a tattered coat” and “a stick.” The sense of alienation deepens with the repetition of the article “a” in the first couplet. While the article “a” could mean a universal condition, the...

  12. Finis
    (pp. 255-256)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 257-274)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 275-294)
  15. Index
    (pp. 295-302)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 303-304)