The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part
The Walking Dead
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The pic might appeal to you in a cosmetic way.
There are a few things that make this film interesting. You have Lon Chaney, always compelling, dressed up as a rich Chinese man, scowling his way through the film. You have a relationship that develops between Renée Adorée and Ralph Forbes which is forbidden for a couple of reasons: it's 'mixed-race', and she's already had her husband decided by her father. You have the beautiful Anna May Wong, albeit relegated to a smaller role. And you have some pretty nice sets, with circular doors, arched bridges, beautiful furniture, and the like.
On the other hand, you have white actors playing the lead Chinese characters and not passing, with Adorée not only visually not looking the part, but acting poorly on top of it. In one of her early scenes it's as if she thinks she's a marionette. It's such a shame, because there you have the actress who should have gotten the role - Anna May Wong - standing beside her for much of the film. The film also plods along, and even in moments where we're expected to feel tension, lacks the authenticity to deliver. Lastly, it's racist in ways that are about as offensive to Asians as a blackface production from this period are to African-Americans.
There is racism in many forms in films of this time period which one becomes inured too with enough exposure, however, in this film it's especially insidious. You have the blatant forms, one of the worst of which is a Chinese servant idiotically bowing to his white employer and to a fan repeatedly after being told to shut it off. Another is that same white man refusing to have tea with "chinks", and then upon doing so, acting as though the biscuits served were horrible, saying "You Chinese eat the silliest food!" However, what makes the film particularly awful is the portrayal of Chinese customs demanding that a daughter die at the hands of her father because she's been romantically involved with a white man, and then later that the mother of the white man be forced to choose who is to die between him and his sister. Lon Chaney is sinister as Mr. Wu, but the message is undeniably one of cruelty and barbarism - and not just in this particular character, but in the Chinese race as a whole. The "Yellow Peril" is on full display here.
A much better film with suspense coming from a diabolical Chinese character played by a Caucasian is "The Mask of Fu Manchu" (1932), with Boris Karloff and Myrna Loy. That film also played to fear of Asians, but there the evil is confined to over-the-top individuals. Better yet, if you'd like to see a fantastic film with actual Asians cast as Asians and a strong, intelligent beautiful character (Anna May Wong!) getting involved in a 'mixed-race' relationship, watch "Piccadilly" (1929). That one puts 'Mr. Wu' to shame.
Naturally, all sorts of warning buzzers go off when you hear of a silent-era film with a white man portraying an Asian (even if the actor is the great Lon Chaney). And sure, there are some uncomfortable moments in "Mr. Wu." Lots of stereotypical talk about the "ancient ways" of these stuffy "Chinks," and there's one especially bad scene where a Chinese servant sees his white employer chasing a storm of papers swirling around a desk and is too dumb to understand that a nearby electric fan is the cause. Come on!
Still, "Mr. Wu" is a stylish tale of tragic romance. Wu's beloved daughter Nang Ping (yes, the actress is also white) is about to enter an arranged marriage, but these traditional plans hit a snag when she encounters a posh Western lad by chance. Soon they're secretly nuzzling in the garden, pantomiming those silly, damp-eyed conversations that silent-movie lovers always have.
When Wu hears of their scandalous courtship, he has to decide whether to punish his daughter as severely as his moral code demands.
"Mr. Wu" is well-directed, and the costumes and furnishings of the noble Wu's estate are lovely. As a bonus for Chaney fans, the actor also portrays a withered grandfather during the opening scenes.
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