Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It's all fun and games until Hollywood starts moving in on your culture

When my brother and I were kids, we used to watch Kung Fu - you know, that American tv show that starred a bald white man as a Chinese martial arts hero. It didn't bother us too much that it wasn't a Chinese actor in that part, and any historical inaccuracies went right over our naive little heads.

But when the boy and I watched The Mummy - the tomb of the Dragon Emperor, I was bothered.

It wasn't because the Chinese characters were played by non-Chinese pretenders, because - as far as I could tell - they weren't (though they may well have slipped a few Japanese, Koreans etc in there and I'd be none the wiser).

It wasn't because the story was all about a bunch of unwelcomed white folks saving the Chinese (and the rest of the world, presumably) from themselves.

It wasn't even because young Alex, the grown-up son of Rick and Evy, hooks up romantically with a mysterious young Chinese woman who will probably be utterly unmarriageable after he's dumped her (and he will - he's a young white man from the 20th Century).

It was because the film is set in a specific time and place that is frankly not a very pride-worthy piece of Anglo-Chinese history. It's after the Second World War and before the Communist takeover (okay, there's a really huge chunk of Chinese history that is not particularly pride-worthy), and China is basically owned by the English, the Americans and the French. Shanghai is beautiful and glamorous, but the nice bits are closed to the locals, who are mentioned in the same breath as dogs. Many scenes are set in a Shanghai nightclub; it's filled with foreigners and the few Chinese are probably "escorts".

Despite the lightness of the plot, the special effects and the relief that Alex's mother actually looks old enough to have a 20 year old son (Maria Bello, who took the part because Rachel Weiz knew she was - and looked - far too young), this film was not so fun for me.

I wonder what the Egyptians thought of the first Mummy movies.


Kazzer said...

Wow, Violet, this must be your first ever blog with no comments. Strangely enough we don't get taught about the bad parts of English history. We're just told that an Englishman's word was his bond and that it was all very glamorous being an Englishman abroad. Ha, yeah right.

Violet said...

not at all, Kazzer. Not long ago I had 3 comment-less in a row. It was enough to make me wonder if I'd taken a sudden drop in interesting-ness.

Nigel Patel said...

I just didn't know what to add, not being Chinese, Egyptian or British.

Violet said...

Fair enough, Nige. Not everything that is posted can be easily commented on, eh? Like, posts about politics (so now you know).

Nigel Patel said...

I'm thinking about new idioms.