The Jade Mask Reviews
frankly, to me, it's more disturbing to see a chinese playing a yellow-face role than watching a campy caucasion trying to be chinese. the latter, at least, has a mischievous pleasure to cheer for its blatant artifice.
unlike the celibacy of the hard-boiled philip marlowe or straight-laced holmes, charlie chan is a family man who goes everywhere with any one of his sons and his black assistant, and he encourages people to do good, sometimes he even behaves like a matchmaker to set couples together. i suppose what bothers the oriental audience is that he's sort of de-sexualized without that sort of sexual magnetism philip marlowe or sherlock holmes projects (i'm speaking of basil rathbone's holmes). but he doesn't go around to wisecrack and purposely infuriate people like the cocky marlowe, chan just performs his job wisely even with family members and friends around. one principle in the detective novels would be the phallic detective has to remain in celibacy and un-conquered by any femme fatale so he could focus on his cases wholeheartedly.
besides, there's a misogynistic undertone in marlowe or holmes, they consider women the catalysis of evil or corruption, despite their attractions to the belle, they have to reject them or sometimes even bombard them with contempt as if turning women down is a way to demonstrate their manhood. but we don't see any that sort of conflicts in charlie chan. i don't see people discriminate him due to his race except chan's strange english is frequently a laughing topic in this franchise. what's so negative about a chinese detective who doesn't go around offending people? i think that could be considered an idealized western perception over the east: the cooperative orient, tamed and docile. but even in the orient, the culture expects such attributes from any cultured and educated gentlemen in bourgeois or artistocratic society. what's wrong with a man who accepts the constitution of marriage and obligation of family and kids? isn't what grown man's supposed to do to make the world proceed? why detective has to remain in celibacy to be a hero or solve a case?
i think the void here is a lack of a phallic figure, a reckless rebel to defy the society. and chinese, as a race not of great significance then in america, is deprived of such niche of heroic swagger. maybe i don't find charlie chan so insulting because i'm not a man. but now i could understand charlie chan's existence in its time. it's like someone tries to tell you that i admire your humility, your wisdom and your culture, so i make a figure called charlie chan as compliment. but all you could see is an emphasis of social insigficance and distorted commodification despite the compliments sound positive but you ain't so flattered. just like someone says "oh, your jewery is nice, it looks so chinese"..should you be happy? wouldn't you doubt that you're praised as an exotic spectacle or as a human being with good taste?? that sort of phobia tends to drive lots of people to de-orientalize themselves or help louis vutton to sell more bags so they could prove they're the higher-class well-to-do eastners instead of the poor farmer who suffers from famine in pearl s buck's "the great earth"...
anyway, that's a whole lot of jokes to me. charlie chan is camp and i enjoy it. the world is already absurd in every sense, why so serious?