Thursday, April 3, 2008

Comments on the two films of the week

While the films watched this week portrayed Asian Americans with varying degrees of intelligence, different types of parental relations, and lives in complete opposite socioeconomic tiers of society, they remain linked through other elements. Both the characters in Monkey Dance and Better Luck Tomorrow displayed forms of resistance to expectation. All the high school students in the suburban parts of California seen in BLT believed their lives had been mapped out for them. By acknowledging this fact and encountering feelings that highlight a lack of choice over their future, they are submitting to the standard expectations held by many Asian American teenagers and their families. The lack of parental figures throughout the entire movie is often equated with freedom and none of the stereotypical slave driving attitudes brought on by Asian American parents. However, the film does an elegant job of illustrating the gang of Asian American boys in a two way fight against a universal feeling of expectation and everyday struggles of high school students being locked into a specific spot on the social hierarchy. No matter what they try to do, they are unable to escape their life of excelling in academics, studying for the SATs, attending Ivy League schools, and then trying to become successful doctors, lawyers, or businessmen. At the same time, they make efforts to assimilate into more mainstream high school activities (i.e. athletics) only to be laughed at and realize they have only enforced their stereotypical profiles. Derek is seen as the stereotypical Asian tennis player who is only playing the sport because he wants to come off as an athlete but is not able to play one of the big three in baseball, basketball, or football. Meanwhile, Ben is blatantly characterized as the ‘token Asian’ of the team whose only skill is shooting free throws (because they are uncontested and anyone can eventually become skilled at that aspect of the game through practice), despite extremely ugly shooting form.

In Monkey Dance, the three main teens are depicted as being more respectful and mindful of their parents. Clearly the parents play a much more present role in this film, as there is an entire section in the beginning devoted to their past. However, their children still display numerous examples of resistance. Linda insists that she has to be on AIM and the phone in order to have a social life. She bluntly comments how this goes against ‘Asian’ values but is necessary. Also, during her time working at the store, she describes her reckless driving on the highway and her thrill of street racing with her friend who ultimately dies in a car crash. Sochenda believes going out until midnight or 1 am is more important than heeding the wishes of his mother. He comments on how making everyday of high school into a fashion show carried more weight than earning good grades.

I think one of the major questions we should all ask ourselves is how can we properly separate the themes brought up in the separate movies as either uniquely Asian American or simply the result of being a teenager in high school. In class it was argued Linda’s attitude toward driving on the highway was a form of rebelliousness against her values as seen in BTL. While I agree this can be paralleled to some of the behavior in BTL, this issue I think would belong in the category of being an adolescent. This would be like the shoplifting scheme by Ben and company. In my opinion, these are both examples of the thrill seeking attitude of teenagers and their wanting to push the limits to see how much they can ultimately get away with.

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