How a Korean American actor became a Hollywood "Oriental" star
Philip Ahn and the Politics of Cross-Ethnic Performance
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Hye Seung Chung
From silent films to television programs, Hollywood has employed actors of various ethnicities to represent "Oriental"characters, from Caucasian stars like Loretta Young made up in yellow-face to Korean American pioneer Philip Ahn, whose more than 200 screen performances included roles as sadistic Japanese military officers in World War II movies and a wronged Chinese merchant in the TV show Bonanza.
The first book-length study of Korean identities in American cinema and television, Hollywood Asian investigates the career of Ahn (1905-1978), a pioneering Asian American screen icon and son of celebrated Korean nationalist An Ch'ang-ho. In this groundbreaking scholarly study, Hye Seung Chung examines Ahn's career to suggest new theoretical paradigms for addressing cross-ethnic performance and Asian American spectatorship. Incorporating original material from a wide range of sources, including U.S. government and Hollywood screen archives, Chung's work offers a provocative and original contribution to cinema studies, cultural studies, and Asian American as well as Korean history.
"'We have ways of making you talk, G.I.' When the World War II generation of Americans heard those words, it was Philip Ahn talking. A prolific film actor, son of a famous Korean nationalist and a committed political activist in his own right, Ahn was forced to take one stereotypical role after another. But he displayed his virtuosity across the full range of Hollywood pigeonholing, from obsequious, dutiful son to sinister, evil villain. Hye Seung Chung's fascinating and deeply researched book deploys a sharp critical lens to examine Ahn's life and career, thus retrieving from a lost history one of the most interesting and important Asian American actors of the 20th century."
"You'll never again view Philip Ahn in the same light.... Hollywood Asian is meticulously researched, comprising a wealth of secondary text sources and featuring a comprehensive filmography of work by Ahn. In addition, Chung was given access by the Ahn family to primary research material that provides an in-depth and nuanced look into the personal life of the actor, his politics, and his attempt to break into the South Korean film business. This is an excellent and important contribution to the scholarly literature."
"Hollywood Asian is an exciting and original contribution to Asian American and Korean Studies.... It is clearly written, making it accessible to a wide readership in a number of disciplines."
"The author has succeeded in bringing an oft-neglected artist and part of film history back into the forefront of scholarly literature. Highly recommended."
"[Chung] gives us an interesting look at a pioneering Asian American actor and the forces that shaped him and vice versa."
"Chung crafts a compelling exploration of how the cinematic representation of Korea and its people became a palimpsest for American domestic and foreign anxieties....the exemplary depth and nuance to Hollywood Asian’s analysis highlights the complex but intimate ways that America’s cultural imagination is tied into international relations and tensions."
"[F]ascinating...this book makes an excellent contribution to the growing body of work on Asian Americans in the cinema...Essential."
"Chung’s book is well researched and well written. Unless the reader is a film historian, much of the content is new and illuminating....Chung makes a critical point about the persistence of reductive images and perception."
"Chung paints a fascinating portrait...While the book is theoretically provocative, it is at its best when reporting little-known information about Ahn and the Asian American actors with whom he worked...By illuminating the rich and complex career of a Korean American trailblazer in Hollywood cinema, Hollywood Asian should prove quite useful for scholars in Asian and Asian American studies and U.S. film history."
List of Illustrations
Part I: Asian American Acts: Performance and Spectatorship
Part II: Oriental Genres, 1930s to 1950s
Hye Seung Chung is Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies in the Department of Communication Studies at Colorado State University. Her writing has appeared in the anthologies South Korean Golden Age Melodrama and New Korean Cinema.