Lao Che (1885-19??) was a Chinese crime lord, who made several attempts on the life of archaeologist Indiana Jones in the 1930s.
Lao’s nightclub, the Club Obi-Wan, was a front, and the headquarters of his criminal empire. The Manchurian government hired Lao to secure an urn holding the cremains of the first Manchu emperor, which had been stolen by thieves in 1903. Jones brought the urn to Club Obi-Wan, trading it with Lao for a huge diamond, but Lao double-crossed Jones by poisoning his drink. Thus begins a thrilling action sequence as pandemonium and balloons overtake the club, while Jones flails to recover the antidote Lao had taunted him with.
This is the boffo opening act of 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, obviously, and you probably know how it turns out. As Jones is motored from the scene by his pint-size pal “Short Round”, he grapples the antidote vial from Kate Capshaw’s cleavage, and boards a small poultry plane thanks to none other than Dan Aykroyd, with a British “accent”.
Just before take-off, Lao Che and his crew roll up on the tarmac. Indy smiles, and perfectly delivers the punchline.
“Nice try, Lao Che.”
And so, things become even worse for Dr. Jones.
Lao Che was played by the great Chinese actor Roy Chaio, born and raised in Shanghai, where the scene takes place. He was rumored to appear in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but unfortunately died of heart disease in 1999.
Let me see if I can presume some possibilities:
- You have a prejudice against Kingdom of the Crystal Skull based wholly on personal reasons, or know someone who does
- You think the portrayals of Lao Che, his sons, and Short Round are “racist stereotypes”, or know someone who does
- You luckily possess no earthly idea of what I am speaking, or know many people who don’t either
The last one can be a good or bad thing. See, I can get you for pointing that out too. Why would you tell me you don’t care?
It’s called “signaling virtue”. It has infested the world of film criticism like a death plague.
Anyone who points out that something is racist does so to elevate themselves in the eyes of their imagined peers.
If you point out that something is offensive to Chinese people, and you’re not Chinese, then you’re doing it to inflate yourself before Chinese people you have imagined. If you point out something is offensive to women and you are a man, same thing (swap out Chinese for women, obviously). No one respects anyone who talks outside their experience. It is fundamentally dishonest. It is self-hucksterism. Hucksterbation, if you will.
Here’s an idea. Watch a movie alone with your mouth shut. Keep your opinions to yourself until they’re ripe or necessary. I guarantee you’ll become a happier person. If you feel the need to become offended, seek out one of the many real injustices this life offers. Stay the fuck out of my theater.
How about this: think for yourself. Watch out for the virtue-signalers, they are the ones who keep the racist caricatures alive, by bringing them back up. “Hey, look everybody! They made that black woman look like a monkey!”
Newsflash, dude- we all look like monkeys. We’re descended from the fuckers.
Oh, that’s an argument too? See the merry-go-round? SEE???
[The following is my own opinion and is not based on any information I viewed or received from Lucasfilm, Ltd. You have been warned.]
Now known as a form of mustache, the Fu Manchu was a villain and stereotype that enjoyed its greatest popularity in the 1930s. He was created by British author Sax Rohmer, who claimed to have based him on Chinese criminals he encountered as a newspaper reporter. Peter Sellers and Christopher Lee both donned “yellowface” to portray Fu on film. Nevertheless, Fu Manchu is considered “Yellow Peril” propaganda now, and it’s tough (if not impossible) to separate him from that closetful of skeletons.
Argh. That blows! Why do we have to lose another cool character? Wait a second…
What if we could remove the hate from the stereotype? Just take out the bad parts? Keep the spooky, indefinable mood of the villain, the mise en scene that attracted us to the character in the first place? You know, like the Galactic Empire from Star Wars did with Nazis, for example? Or, in The Phantom Menace…
Do you see the brilliance of doing this for a mass audience? Call me crazy (don’t), but I feel you have to argue pretty hard that Neimoidians look like Chinese people. However, the mysterious, diabolical aspects of Fu Manchu– without the prejudice- are all intact. You’re allowed to boo and hiss at the bad guys, without guilt. That’s a cultural gift, motherfuckers.
This hat trick was nearly pulled off with 1980’s Flash Gordon, with its villain “Ming the Merciless” (Max Von Sydow!), but he was too human-looking. Plus, Ming is a Chinese name. But that’s an issue with the source material, which also hued perilously “yellow”. Points for effort in the adaptation.
Back to the Neimoidians in The Phantom Menace. I’ve long argued that the ideal age to experience that film is 9. This done, one’s point of reference for the “Fu Manchu”archetype will most likely be the Neimoidians. Not any particular ethnicity of human.
Racist stereotype obliterated.
That’s why I lash out when critics make charges of “racism” at these movies. They are crying racism based on imaginary people in their heads. Then they spread that shit like negative Nutella, and before you know it, it’s taken life, a literal computer virus of the mind. These movies endure because the people who made them wanted to make the world better, by making audiences think. Simple visual tales that open a door to a larger world of the imagination. Rod Serling’s turf. Richard Matheson. Look him up. You’ll thank me.
Social media is Manichean and binary, and that’s not the way society works.
That’s how racism works.
Ruminate on that next time before you cry wolf. Eventually that’s all anyone will expect of you.