For a brief blip in time it seemed like it might be possible: Twenty years ago in 1993, Hollywood released what seemed like a record number of Asian or Asian American-centric films. Was this the dawning of a new era?
Uh…no. Looking back now, it seems like just a coincidental fluke—a great big cosmic hornswoggle. But let’s look back fondly anyway on the films of that year that gave Asian Americans a fleetingly hopeful moment that a change was gonna come.
Yes, it wasn’t a historically accurate bio-pic of the late martial arts legend Bruce Lee, but damn if it wasn’t a thrill to watch an Asian man kicking white boy ass, getting the girl and sticking it to that racist Breakfast at Tiffany’s flick. Relative newcomer Jason Scott Lee brought a genuine charisma to the lead role and between this and Map of the Human Heart (see below) showed that an Asian American leading man was possible.
Adapted from Amy Tan’s best seller, this was one of the year’s biggest tear-jerkers. Although the book and film
had has its detractors within the community (mostly for its less-than-nuanced portrayal of Asian men), it was the biggest (mostly) Asian American ensemble hit since 1961’s Flower Drum Song. Unfortunately, the long promised “sequel” The Kitchen God’s Wife has yet to materialize.
Scanners director David Cronenberg’s adaptation of my fellow Offender David Henry Hwang’s Tony Award-winning play M. Butterfly didn’t set the box office on fire, but the fact that Hollywood would produce a major motion picture about a white guy who has a decades long affair with a Chinese woman who turns out to be a dude and a spy says something about how popular and well-received the play was.
The second starring role for Jason Scott Lee in this year (the movie debuted in Cannes in 1992, but didn’t hit American screens until 1993), the film tells the epic love story of a Canadian Inuit man (Lee) and a Métis woman set against the backdrop of World War II. If Dragon showed Lee could kick ass, Map of the Human Heart demonstrated his more subtle, dramatic chops. Oh, and both films demonstrated how good a brotha could look with his shirt off.
Also written by M. Butterfly’s David Henry Hwang, Golden Gate technically came out in 1994, but since it was release in the early weeks of January, I’m going to lump it in with the Class of ’93. Directed by future Shakespeare in Love helmer John Madden and starring Matt Dillon as an FBI agent in the 1950s investigating Communism in San Francisco’s Chinese American community, the film shed a light on a little known part of our history and was more interesting than the “forbidden” love story angle used to market the movie.
Based on Le Ly Hayslip’s two memoirs about her experiences as a peasant Vietnamese woman during the Vietnam war and then her subsequent life as the wife of a troubled American G.I., this is the final work in Oliver Stone’s loose Vietnam War trilogy (following Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July). While it wasn’t as well-received as the previous two films, it was the first time Hollywood tackled the subject from the point-of-view of our “enemy.”
Of course 1993 wasn’t all sunshine and roses. This adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel about two American cops investigating a murder in the L.A. offices of a major Japanese corporation brought with it accusations of anti-Japanese bashing from the community. But looking back two decades later, is the film as bad as it appeared at the time? If anything, it feels even more ludicrously silly now than it did back then—the film’s version of the Japanese “take-over” of America is as dated as the notion of a fresh and original take on a buddy cop movie with a Black and White cop who just don’t get along, but most put aside their differences to come together to solve the crime at the end. Zzzzzzz…