Sunday, February 10, 2008

Broken Blossoms

The movie "Broken Blossoms" is outdated for our time. Made in the early 1900s when interracial marriages were taboo and perhaps illegal, this movie no longer stirs the controversy it once did. Instead, in the context of the present, I believe this film plays on racial stereotypes to tell a "not so" love story.

The first racial element of the movie was the choice of actor for the main character. This Chinese character, instead of being played by an Asian man, is played by a Caucasian individual. To assume the role as an Asian, they dress him in Chinese robes and he sags his eyelids to give the illusion of "small, squinty eyes". Racial slurs are utilized throughout the movie as they refer him to be the "Yellow Man" or a "chink". The film also utilizes images of the passive, gentle Asian as the main character acts meek and demure. In the beginning of the film, while still in China, the main character is beaten by a pack of white men, and he does not defend himself. Instead, he describes the instance as proof that "the great nations across the sea need the lessons of the gentle Buddha".

A foil used to complement the main character is Battling Burrows, the white man. He is the epitome of white male society. He is large and dominant, as opposed to the Asian who is small and passive, just as the stereotype for the "white man" describes. This stereotypes not only disfavor Asians, but also show injustice to whites as well, as Battling is shown as an "abysmal brute".

The movie "Broken Blossoms" can hardly be labeled as a love story. In the movie, the main character has fallen madly in love with Lucy, however, is this love ever reciprocated? Although she is thankful for his kind-nature, she never shows her actually love or even approval. At one point in the movie, he leans in for a kiss, but Lucy shrinks in terror. This is not a sign of love. This is a one-sided love story, with the possible message, "Can interracial love truly exist?"

An interesting aspect of the movie was the idea of barbarianism and foreignness. In the beginning, the main character wants to leave China to teach the ways of "gentle Buddha" to "barbarian" countries. However, in the streets of London, he meets an old man who says, "My brother leaves for China tomorrow to convert the heathen." To both, the idea of foreign is linked to barbarian. If they do not know or comply to the ways of their own country, the other is implied to be uncivilized and uncultured. It was interesting to see this idea expressed by both sides.

The themes of this movie are many: interracial love, Asian and white stereotypes, and foreignness and other. The question remains though, "How are these themes conveyed throughout the movie?" In my opening, although at one point in time this movie may have been brave and eye-opening, today the movie is out-dated for our society. It reinforces racial stereotypes and questions interracial relationships. "Broken Blossoms" is a movie for its time and does not have the same effects it did 90 years ago.

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