Monday, February 11, 2008

The Yellow Man and the Girl

Most of the movies assigned so far I had never watched before; Broken Blossoms was no exception. There was little in the title, which implied what the film was about. Then I saw the title screen, a flickering stream of gray and white that read "The Yellow Man And The Girl." I still could not infer much about the movie, but at that moment I had an inkling that "the girl" was probably white. It is not "The Man And The Girl;" no that title would be too plain. Upon watching that screen, our eyes are transfixed to the word, "yellow." The title projects some vague sense of controversy, placing the strange label of yellow man next to the normal girl.

Initially I was not sure how the protagonist was going to be portrayed. The general idea that had always been pounded into my head was that media portrayal from the past was rarely ever kind in regards to those who weren't caucasian. So yeah, I assumed the worst. I had watched D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" back in high school. That film featured a black man lustfully chasing after a white nurse, a chase which ended with her death. What would this "yellow man" do to the woman? What sadistic and savage machinations would the writer instill in the character's mind? So imagine my surprise when watching the man solemnly standing in a Buddhist temple. This astonishment soon turned into a nagging sense of confusion; perhaps I was better off not trying to find any specific meaning in the Chinese man's character. To successfully find such meaning would require a good understand of Griffith's intention. And unfortunately, this is difficult as the silent film does not expand on much of the characters (beyond their two dimensional represenations). It instead almost entirely plays off on this "crazy" idea of a Chinese man spending time with an English woman. Many of the bloggers below touched on this platonic relationship, one that might not even constitute to any real sense of love. I wonder if Griffith intentionally did this because he didn't want to push any boundaries, or if he felt it was more in tune to the man's emasculate personality to not be able to kiss the girl. What was he trying to point out about the man's personality, especially with his use of a hangun at the end? Did he finally become a man, or instead did he let the savageness of England overwhelm him? Essentially is his use to defend himself a positive or negative?

I did not find the effect of the film to be intentionally racist. Rather most of the racist connotations it portrays to a 21st century mind seem to be a result of the film's simplicity. It oversimplifies Buddha's teachings of peace, with its brief paragraph texts. It is too simple that it depicts all Chinese foreigners are those with a love for opium. And yet, isn't that where popular culture resides? In the accessible and simple? Surely a film based solely on accurate depictions of religion, much like opera or a scientific textbook, would not be categorized as pop culture. Perhaps we could expand on our definition of popular culture. On a final note, pianist William Perry was amazing. To be able to play nothing but minor arpeggios (during those ~40 minutes depicting London and Burrow's viciousness towards his daughter) without going insane is nothing short of talented.

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