If you have stumbled across this blog you are most likely:

  1. Really bored
  2. Researching Ken Jeong, The Hangover (1 and/or 2), or Community
  3. My professor grading my final project

Either way, I hope that this blog will:

  1. Excite and interest you
  2. Inform you about Ken Jeong’s role as an Asian American actor
  3. Show off all that I’ve learned in my Asian American Pop Culture class

So what exactly is this blog about? Well let me now give you a little introduction…drum-roll please!

Laaaadies and gentlemen. In the first corner we have Bradley Yamashita, a young Asian American actor on the rise. He’s working his way to stardom, but how much is he willing to sacrifice to get there? He claims he will not “lose his dignity” or “prostitute his soul” for the sake of landing an acting gig. How long can he hold out? Aaaaand in this corner we have Vincent Chen, an older Asian American actor who has the experience and recognition to back up his history of acting. He played many roles including racist ones because he believes that’s “the responsibility of an actor”. How much longer can he take the humiliation? Will he change his ways to overcome his younger, more racially conscious competitor?

Okay, so obviously Bradley and Vincent aren’t really boxers. They are the two main characters in Yankee Dawg You Die, a play written by Philip Kan Gotanda. The play follows the two Asian American actors’ friendship, from when they first meet to when they explicitly portray how their unique friendship has changed them in the end. The two delve into the controversial topic of stereotypical Asian American characters and how these roles foster delusions of Asian American people in general.

See, you think every time you do one of those demeaning roles, the only thing lost is your dignity. That the only person who has to pay is you. Don’t you see that every time you do that millions of people in movie theaters will see it? Believe it. Every time you do any old stereotypic role just to pay the bills, someone has to pay for it—and it ain’t you. No . It’s some Asian kid innocently walking home. “Hey, it’s a Chinaman gook!” … You ask to be understood, forgiven, but you refuse to change. You have no sense of social responsibility.” (Bradley, Act 1, scene iii) [1]

“Social responsibility” – that sure is a lot of pressure to put on one person…but Bradley is right. Every time someone sees an Asian American performing a stereotypical role in the media (movie, television show, interview, etc.) that act reinforces the long-held typecast that Asian Americans have been fighting to dispel for years.

That’s great, but what does this have to do with the blog? (I know you’re thinking it!) Surprisingly it has everything to do with this blog. If in the 80s, people were worried about how Asians and Asian Americans are portrayed through Asian American performers, are we still worried about that now? Should we be worried about that now? Whew…that’s a lot to examine at in one little blog. So in order to make this blog more succinct and defined, I will only be looking at only one stereotypical portrayal of Asian Americans. Even more specifically, this blog will analyze if and how one particular Asian American actor enables the idea of the Asian American emasculated male figure.

Do modern Asian and Asian American actors perpetuate or challenge this notion of the emasculated Asian figure in today’s pop culture?

Now think about an Asian American actor that you consider “hot” or popular right now. I bet most of you are thinking about Ken Jeong (if not simply because his name is in big bold letters at the top of the page). Jeong’s more popular roles include Senor Chang in Community and Mr. Chow in The Hangover and The Hangover Part 2. Obviously, I can’t analyze every role Jeong has ever played, but I will analyze (what I consider) his most popular roles.

Does Ken Jeong perpetuate, or does he challenge, the emasculated Asian male figure in modern pop culture?

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Since I’m not analyzing the movie, here is a brief summary:

 A group of friends go to Las Vegas for a bachelor’s party. They wake up the next morning with the groom nowhere to be found and no recollection of the entire night. In their quest to find the groom, they recall all the crazy things they did and become even closer. They find the groom. The end.

 The Hangover in 5 sentences! If you have not seen The Hangover yet, here is a link to the IMDB synopsis.

During the movie we are introduced to…well at first we don’t know who he is, but I’ll give you a hint: it’s Ken Jeong. Unfortunately this was the best quality clip I could find…so please ignore that the Youtube video is called “Asian in Trunk of Car”…

 

If your immediate response is something along the lines of, “Um…what just happened?” Then you and I had the same reaction. Let’s analyze shall we? *cue CSI theme song*

Before we even know that there’s a person in the trunk, Ken Jeong is introduced by Alan who finds a pair of black shoes in the back seat. To which Phil asks if they are “women’s shoes”. Ding ding ding! We have our first piece of evidence that Ken Jeong portrays an emasculated Asian American male in the movie, and it is less than subtle. Stu goes on to describe the shoes are size 6. What exactly is he implying by stating the shoe size? Come on people, I know you all know the myth that the size of a man’s shoe correlates to the size of a man’s penis (which, in case you didn’t know, is completely untrue). And according to the internet, the average American male’s shoe size is 10 and a half. So we already have this image of a man with a teeny-tiny penis, thus castrating Jeong before we even meet him.

When we finally do see Ken Jeong, he’s naked! Does he being naked makes this scene comical? Or is it the fact that when he jumps out of the trunk, his penis is in Phil’s face? Or is it because he ends up running away? It’s probably a combination of all the above, but whether we’re laughing at his nakedness, his homoerotic encounter with Phil, or the way he runs away from the fight, we’re all laughing at the same thing – the emasculation of the character.

As stated earlier, I’m not analyzing the entire movie…so let’s skip to the end!

The photo above is from Ken Jeong’s final scene in The Hangover. This is the scene we finally learn Jeong’s character’s name.

We didn’t get your name last night.” –Stu

Mr. Chow…Leslie Chow.” – Chow

Leslie? My first reaction was, “Isn’t that a girl’s name?” So being a young adult who grew up with search engines that can answer any question I may have, I googled “the name Leslie”. The first hit, http://www.thinkbabynames.com, told me that Leslie is typically a girl’s name (go ahead and try it, google “the name Leslie”).

If his name isn’t emasculating enough, let’s take a closer look at the above picture. What is Jeong wearing? He has on white pants, a glitter gold track jacket, oversized glasses, and lots of jewelry. What’s with the color scheme? The oversized glasses are reminiscent of a pair of women’s glasses, and he is wearing an excessive amount of jewelry. People are paid a lot of money to dress and accessorize actors for movies. They are not paid to dress actors in what looks good, but rather to dress them to represent the character they are portraying. Who is Ken Jeong portraying here? Apparently he’s portraying a man with feminine clothing and accessories.

Let’s look at the picture one last time? Is there anything we missed? Oh yeah, his body language and hand placement – popped hip and “soft” hands (as a ballerina would call them) – which only further perpetuate the effeminate portrayal of Mr. Chow.

 

In arguably Ken Jeong’s most famous role as an actor, Jeong portrays Mr. Chow as a feminine Asian male and thus perpetuating the emasculated Asian American figure.

Again, I’m not analyzing the movie. So here is a brief summary:

The wolfpack heads to Thailand for Stu’s wedding. Yet again they lose one of the gang with no recollection. They spend the next two days searching for him. They find him. The end.

The Hangover 2 in 5 sentences! Obviously this isn’t the full summary, so here’s the link to the IMDB synopsis.

Once again, Ken Jeong portrays Mr. Chow. And once again, we are introduced to Mr. Chow before we actually see him. This time, instead of subtly referencing Chow’s penis by using shoe size, Chow’s penis is out for everyone to see.

Is it a worm?” – Phil

And the tiny penis jokes are back. Really Hangover, did we not get enough of tiny penis jokes in the first movie? And yet again, Jeong’s been castrated before we even meet him. *sigh* Looks like the first Hangover covered all the different ways to feminize Jeong so they’ll just have to repeat them.

Does this photo remind you of one we looked at before? Perhaps the photo of Mr. Chow in the desert in the first Hangover? Let’s examine how Jeong is dressed. He’s wearing a pair of oversized, red glasses and an extremely colorful scarf. Again the character is portrayed wearing feminine clothes and accessories.

Let’s also look at his body language – tilted head – further perpetuating the effeminate portrayal of Mr. Chow. SURPRISE…but not really because we also saw this in the photo of Mr. Chow in the desert.

It seems like The Hangover ran out of ideas to make Mr. Chow even more emasculated. So instead they faced the issue head on.

Let’s be honest for a second. Before watching this scene, did you think Mr. Chow was gay? If you answered no, YOU’RE A LIAR! If you answered yes, then you thought exactly what the creators of The Hangover wanted you to think. Even the characters in the movie stifle a laugh when Chow first mentions he has a wife. The sad thing is, the creators probably thought they were making a statement about how people perceive Asians as being homosexual or very effeminate. I mean it’s nice of them to try to dispel that image, but it’s very contradicting seeing as they made Chow into the emasculated character he is. If they were really trying to challenge this idea, why didn’t they just make Chow more masculine and less feminine? Nice try Hangover, but not good enough.

If you don’t watch community, here is the premise:

A lawyer must go to community college once it is discovered that he falsified his bachelor’s degree. He goes to community college in order to practice law again.

The television show follows his experience at the community college and the people he meets. Seems simple enough right?

One of the characters he meets is Señor Chang, or later known as Ben Chang, played by (you guessed it) Ken Jeong. The series begins with Chang appearing to challenge the stereotypical roles of an Asian. But as the series progressed, he becomes more and more like the effeminate Asian male. His wife divorces him and he loses his job, rendering him homeless. Instead of teaching at the community college he becomes a student where he desperately wants to be part of the “cool kids”. Chang became the typical emasculated Asian male figure.

 

What?! Did Ken Jeong’s character just do something to challenge and dispel an Asian stereotype? Could he have possibly just done some good for the Asian American image? Wait…let’s check…who is Peggy Fleming?

He did! Jeong just tackled the issue of subconscious racism. Subconsciously we automatically associate racist thought with different races. This “accidental racism” is facilitated through pop culture media such as movie characters. GOOD JOB JEO…wait a second. What’s the purpose of this blog again?

Does Ken Jeong perpetuate, or does he challenge, the emasculated Asian male figure in modern pop culture?

The emasculated Asian male figure…emasculated…oh there it is. Jeong is dressed as a woman. What is more emasculating than dressing a man like a woman? And here we thought Jeong was making a point about subconscious racism, when really he portrays a much deeper “accidental racism” – the emasculated Asian male figure.

So now what?

Ono and Pham claim that we use “yellow peril discourse requiring emasculation as a way to cover over anxiety over power relations” and that “Asian and Asian American men as desexualized, hence as less powerful than and inferior to all other men” [1]. This idea is evident in Ken Jeong’s performance as Mr. Chow in The Hangover and Hangover 2. In both movies Jeong is the one in power and control over the “wolfpack”. In The Hangover, Chow allegedly has Doug (the friend that the wolfpack is looking for). In The Hangover 2, Chow has the codes they need to get back Teddy (again the friend that the wolfpack is looking for). Yet he appears weaker and less important because of his emasculation. Why? Just because he’s asian?! Additionally, Mr. Chow is in power as an “international criminal” (what he calls himself in the second movie). He portrays Feng’s Fu Manchu figure, or the evil mastermind [2]. He’s always one step ahead of the people he’s dealing with. Although this evil mastermind figure is from a long time ago, it has persisted and will continue to persist as Feng predicts [2]. Although Mr. Chow is obviously a man of power, his power is weakened by his effeminate and emasculated character.

Furthermore, the feminization of Asian and Asian American males “limit and constrain representations” of Asian American male subjectivity [3]. Ken Jeong epitomizes Eng’s argument when he dresses like a woman for Halloween. Even Bradley from Yankee Dawg You Die understands the oppression created by playing effeminate roles.

“They fucking cut off our balls and make us all houseboys on the evening soaps. “Get your very own, neutered, oriental houseboy!” (Bradley, Act 1, scene iii) [4]

So what does Ken Jeong think about this? It’s actually kind of contradictory.

In an interview with Marissa Lee, Jeong states:

 “I’m very proud to be an Asian American working in this business, and very proud of the Asian community. I am very honored to be working, as an Asian actor.” [5]

He infers that he is aware of the impact his roles as an Asian American actor have on the Asian community. This is similar to Bradley’s position on Asian American actors.

However, Jeong state in a different interview with Jen Yamato:

“People look for role models in minorities where role models don’t exist. I remember an interview on NPR with Denzel Washington…where Terry Gross had asked Denzel Washington, ‘Do you look for roles that are role models for the community?’ And he said, and this is Denzel Washington talking, the icon, ‘No! If I’m following what other people want me to do, I wouldn’t be doing my job as an artist, as an actor. That would be so boring.’ I’m very inspired by that.” [6]

Thus he says that he does the role he’s given regardless of how it portrays him and the Asian American community. Interestingly, this stance is similar to Vincent’s opinion on Asian American actors.

So which is right? We’ve just seen how Ken Jeong’s performances in film and television perpetuate the emasculated Asian and Asian American male figure. This is particularly seen in his portrayal of Mr. Leslie Chow in The Hangover and Hangover 2 and Senor Chang in Community. Asian American actors, such as Jeong, need to face this stereotype head on by choosing less feminine roles and begin choosing roles that produce a masculine and “normal” representation of Asians.

“I turned it down. I just could not do it. Not this time. It feels … it feels good. Almost. I turned it down to be in Emily Sakoda’s new film… And my role, it’s wonderful… I mean, it’s so damn exciting, Bradley. I had forgotten what it feels like. What it is supposed to feel like. Do you know what I mean?” (Vincent, Act 2, scene iv) [5]

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