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Hollywood Asian

Hollywood Asian: Philip Ahn and the Politics of Cross-Ethnic Performance

Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Hollywood Asian
    Book Description:

    From silent films to television programs, Hollywood has employed actors of various ethnicities to represent "Oriental"characters, from Caucasian stars like Loretta Young made up in yellow-face to Korean American pioneer Philip Ahn, whose more than 200 screen performances included roles as sadistic Japanese military officers in World War II movies and a wronged Chinese merchant in the TV showBonanza. The first book-length study of Korean identities in American cinema and television,Hollywood Asianinvestigates the career of Ahn (1905-1978), a pioneering Asian American screen icon and son of celebrated Korean nationalist An Ch'ang-ho. In this groundbreaking scholarly study, Hye Seung Chung examines Ahn's career to suggest new theoretical paradigms for addressing cross-ethnic performance and Asian American spectatorship. Incorporating original material from a wide range of sources, including U.S. government and Hollywood screen archives, Chung's work offers a provocative and original contribution to cinema studies, cultural studies, and Asian American as well as Korean history.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-517-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: The Life and Death of a Hollywood Asian
    (pp. xi-xxii)

    Gracing the cover of this book is an image of a “Hollywood Asian” whose face may be familiar to many classic film fans but whose name may escape some of them. The performer in question is Philip Ahn (1905–1978), a prominent Korean American character actor of classical Hollywood cinema who portrayed a diverse cross-section of roles in over 200 films and television programs¹—from the first Asian American romantic hero of the sound era in Paramount’sDaughter of Shanghai(1937) to sadistic Japanese officers in World War II propaganda films; from a wronged Chinese merchant in an episode of...


    • 1 PORTRAIT OF A PATRIOT’S SON: Philip Ahn and Korean Diasporic Identities in Hollywood
      (pp. 3-32)

      Over the past decade, Korean faces have become ever more conspicuous in American mass media and popular culture. For example, veteran film comedian Pak Chunghun played Yi Il-sang, an ex-soldier of fortune in the Bosnian War in Jonathan Demme’sThe Truth about Charlie(2002).¹ Originally conceived as Japanese, this substantial supporting role was rewritten as Korean at the request of Pak, whom Demme had grown fond of after seeing him in director Yi Myŏng-se’sNowhere to Hide(Injŏng sajŏng pŏlgŏtŏpda, 1999), a stylistic police thriller that had become a Sundance Festival sleeper. Two Korean American actors, Rick Yune and...

    • 2 THE AUDIENCE WHO KNEW TOO MUCH: Oriental Masquerade and Ethnic Recognition among Asian Americans
      (pp. 33-56)

      One of the biggest challenges that I have faced in my reading of Philip Ahn’s career has been to see beyond my own cultural position and accommodate hermeneutic strategies outside the domain of Korean identity politics. As a scholar born and raised in South Korea who then immigrated to the United States in my late twenties, I am necessarily caught up in the process of developing a hyphenated, bicultural identity. Despite conscious efforts to immerse myself in America’s diverse cultural traditions and to become a “Korean American,” the educational pursuits, social values, and personal memories of my formative years in...

  6. PART II ORIENTAL GENRES, 1930s TO 1950s

    • 3 BETWEEN YELLOWPHILIA AND YELLOWPHOBIA: Asian American Romance in Oriental Detective Films
      (pp. 59-86)

      Part ii resets our critical focus by subsuming questions of performance and spectatorship within the larger contexts of Hollywood’s Oriental genres, which were popular from the 1930s to the 1950s. With the possible exception of the war film, no other genre has received more critical attention than romance in contemporary scholarship on cinematic representations of Asians and Asian Americans (as the title of Gina Marchetti’s influential book,Romance and the “Yellow Peril,” attests).

      Throughout the 1990s, media scholars writing on the topic have privileged a handful of now-canonized silent films, such asThe Cheat(1915),Madame Butterfly(1915), andBroken...

      (pp. 87-119)

      As observed in the previous chapter, among the various social, cultural, and historical determinants responsible for the rise of Hollywood’s first sound-era Asian American romantic couple in Paramount’sDaughter of Shanghai(1937) was the industry’s conservative, self-regulatory code, which prohibited racial mixing between whites and nonwhites (a provision that would be relaxed during the 1950s, an era that witnessed the rise of the “Japanese War Bride” cycle). We now turn our attention from internal to external forces of censorship that screened, modified, and disciplined studio-era motion pictures in accordance with American foreign policy.

      Despite the self-regulation principle of American motion...

    • 5 HOLLYWOOD GOES TO KOREA: War, Melodrama, and the Biopic Politics of Battle Hymn
      (pp. 120-168)

      As examined in the previous chapter, during the period bracketed by the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and the end of World War II in 1945, federal agencies, such as the State Department and the Office of War Information (OWI), carefully monitored the depiction of Asians in American motion pictures, fearing that negative portrayals would create adverse repercussions on international relations. This regulation of representational discourses attests to the degree that the cinematic portrayal of Chinese, Japanese, and even Korean characters was contingent upon political factors whose unearthing brings to light the abiding nation-state interests in two particular East...

  7. CONCLUSION: Becoming “Father,” Becoming Asian American
    (pp. 169-190)

    In february of 1926, Tosan An Ch’ang-ho bid farewell to his wife and children before leaving Los Angeles for Shanghai after a one-year visit to the United States. This was the last time that Philip Ahn, his mother, and siblings would see him. Although Tosan spent a total of thirteen years in America (1902–1906, 1911–1919, 1925), he had to leave his Californian home frequently, touring American cities, as well as Hawaii, Cuba, and Mexico, to organize the Korean community and to raise funds for the independence movement. In his final days with the family, Tosan had one last...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 191-212)
    (pp. 213-214)
    (pp. 215-224)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 225-232)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-233)