Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

Bad Asians, the Sequel: Continuing Trends in Queer API Film and Video

Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

Bad Asians, the Sequel: Continuing Trends in Queer API Film and Video

Article excerpt

In a recent article entitled "Bad Asians: New Film and Video by Queer Asian American Artists," I positioned new work by emerging queer Asian American artists within a larger genealogy of Asian American media, queer film and video, and film and video by artists of color. I argued that, unlike an earlier generation of queer artists of color who, out of necessity, engaged in a more self-conscious identity politics in their work, new experimental film and video work by queer API artists addresses questions of ethnic and sexual identity in more oblique and satirical ways. These artists "find their voices through a 'perverse' identification and relationship with popular culture that uncovers, tweaks, and plays with the racialized fantasies, fears, and representations that make culture popular."1

This essay is an update on the work of queer Asian American video artists over the last five years. Many young artists continue to address the same issues of identity and popular culture, and one can still see a strong identification with popular media and celebrity. Some noticeable changes, however, include a growing preoccupation with the body-its limits and its possibilities-in a period of both rapid changes in technologies of representation as well as changes in the meaning of HIV/AIDS, gender identity, sexuality, and culture. While radically different in form, style, and voice, all the artists I discuss use their media to reimagine the representation and boundaries of the physical body in the twenty-first century.

Unlike much film and video by queer artists of color in the late 1980's and early 1990's that tended to center around a clearly articulated identity politics, this newer work posits a vision of culture, racial identity, and particularly the body as mutable and unfixed. In these pieces, bodies are continuously transformed through physical migration, temporal progression, the fantasies of culture and technology, and the projection and translation of shifts in the global body onto the local and private body. It is through the thread of these concerns that the work is situated firmly within the changing artistic, technological, biological, and cultural landscape of the new millennium.

We Got Moves You Ain't Even Heard Of (Part One) by Clover Paek, comments humorously on sexual identity, butch/femme roles, and Hollywood's Orientalism by re-casting the filmmaker as the lead in The Karate Kid and its sequels of the 1980s, and, alternately, by re-imagining teen idol Ralph Macchio as a lesbian icon. The 1999 short video substitutes Paek's sexually ambiguous body for that of the Karate Kid (Ralph Macchio) to underscore both the flexibility and mutability of his image as a sexual icon for straight and queer viewers and to expose the ways in which the appeal of the Karate Kid movies rests upon the converging spectacles of homoerotic violence and masked orientalism. Clover Paek is, in fact, the tranny boy alter ego of the video's "real" director, Erica Cho, adding another layer of visual punning and gender substitution.

The video begins with a layered scene of Daniel LaRusso (Macchio) wandering through what appear to be public restrooms at the beach while the Bananarama song, "Cruel Summer," provides a musical reference to the film's temporal setting as well as a commentary on the underlying violence associated with Daniel's sexuality. This is intercut with scenes of a Los Angeles park at night, over which is laid a track of children questioning the gender identity of an unidentified person ("Are you a boy or a girl?")2 The re-edited scene serves to "queer" the original one, refiguring Daniel's furtive searching as gay cruising. The next scene is of Daniel, this time played by Paek, on the ground on his stomach, being beaten by a group of boys, to a soundtrack of lesbian sex. Next, we see the scene in which Daniel's mother confronts him about his sunglasses, but when his mother insists on seeing his "baby browns," the reverse shot again shows Paek reluctantly removing his/her sunglasses to reveal a black eye. …

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