Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Under Construction

"JJ Chinois" explores the notion of identity as something we construct—both consciously and unconsciously. Both films derive their shock value, I think, by confronting the audience with characters’ whose identities violate or challenge the categories with which we are most comfortable or have been lead to believe are most “normal.” We not only construct our own sense of self but we project identities upon others. For example, we might fit people into categories based on notions of race, gender, or class; or we might project our fantasies onto others we barely know by imagining what their lives and personalities must be like.

In the film, Lynne Chan explores the process of constructing an identity for herself that frees her from gender norms but at the same time is based on appropriation of an iconic identity, the screen performances of Bruce Lee. JJ Chinois is, perhaps, the ultimate identity in that he is completely a fabrication. We try to “know” him by piecing together the visual clues Chan gives us and the factoids that she supplies both in the film and one the Web site, but in the end, anything we learn is less about JJ Chinois and more about who we are and what sort of preconceptions we hold about Asians, gender, stardom, queer identities, etc. I think both film makers want to underscore the fact that individuals, such as gays and Asians in the US, who don’t fit into the rigid categories imposed by the dominant society have the challenge of trying an identity that feels authentic while knowing that their very existence will be perceived by others as a challenge or violation of “norms.”

This brings me back to my thoughts about “Better Luck Tomorrow” in which each character is struggling to create a sense of self that feels authentic.

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