Anh Hung Tran’s film, The Scent of Green Papaya, is full of slow continuous shots which move easily between indoor and outdoor settings. These shots serve to conflate the two settings, and reflect Mui’s ambivalent standing within the family. Mui is held both within the family and without, as the mother views her in her daughter’s place and the two sons strive to keep her out of the inner family. Although the movie is set at the end of French colonial power in Vietnam, and before full American involvement, very little mention is paid to these two outside powers, except that Mui’s place in the family may be read as a metaphor for the experience of a colonized people. In other words, just as Mui occupies an ill-defined, liminal space within the family, a colonized country occupies an ill-defined, liminal space in relation to itself. Such a country lay well outside the central power of the colonizers, and yet is unable to self-determine in such a way as to be a successful society. It is not until Mui escapes from the family she serves that she begins to occupy a self-determined space in the world, and even that space takes time for her to create.
One primary shortcoming of film is the reduced ability to fully convey a cultural milieu. The need to compress content to fit within the confines of a film necessitates removing many scenes, easily conveyed in novels, which are able to present the kind of cultural environment which promotes understanding across unfamiliar audiences. This reduction can be managed, but in the environment of study across textual mediums, still becomes readily apparent as evidenced in Picture Bride. Kayo Hatta’s film centers on the immigration experience of Japanese to Hawai’i’s sugar cane plantations. While many aspects of culture are exhibited in the film, they are often forced into reductionary examples rather than consistent themes.
Before you start reading, this post seems to be perpetually popular in my traffic statistics. The question this brings up for me is whether this is one of the few commentaries on these specific texts / films, or if there is another reason. I would appreciate insight, if you care to leave a comment. If not, you should probably read my statement on plagiarism. Thanks! On to the reason you’re here:
Both Who Killed Vincent Chin?and The Cheat should cause a modern audience to cringe. Because these cringes may be for two different reasons, the visceral reactions to these films deserve some investigation and explication. In the earlier movie, The Cheat, the orientalist approach to the representation of the villain and the exploitation of popular prejudices against Asian people serve to drive the narrative. Looking back on this film from 1915 offers a chance to examine the unquestioned prejudices and expectations of Asian people during early 20th century America. Who Killed Vincent Chin?, on the other hand, is a much more recent production and offers an examination of both the similarities and differences to those prejudices and expectations in late 20th century America. That the changes displayed between the two films mostly offer only superficial effect offers commentary about the distance still remaining to be traveled in treating prejudice and racism in America today.