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If it was a real kung fu movie tribute, the image would be stretched like this!

I don’t watch How I Met Your Mother so I really have no stakes in the game.  But apparently, Monday’s episode was filled with Orientalism guised as a tribute to old kung fu movies.  To learn the “Slap of a Million Exploding Suns,” one of the lead characters goes on a journey to meet the slap masters who are the other stars dressed up all chingy chongy.  Because kung fu!

Offended fans took to twitter using the hashtag #HowIMetYourRacism to express their outrage.  The hashtag got enough attention that the creators of the show actually apologized for the episode.

I’m going to give the entire staff, cast, and crew the benefit of the doubt.  I sincerely doubt they knew that they might offend anyone.  Seems to me that much like syndicated newspaper comic strips, sitcoms go for the lowest common denominator and do their very best not to offend anyone.  We don’t look to these shows to challenge us with new ideas or take on systemic social problems.  We look to them for cheap laughs.  I think this is a case of an idea that was handled terribly.

So how did this happen?

I think this is symptomatic of the echo chamber effect.  When you have people of similar background with similar notions of what’s funny, there’s no one to challenge those ideas.  No one to say, “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t dress our characters like Chinese stereotypes from the 30s.”  No one to say, “You know, it’d be funnier if we got Akebono to teach him how to slap sumo style.”  I look at the cast and the creators of the show and I don’t see a whole lot of ethnic diversity.  How is it surprising that they fucked this up?

That’s not to say that a more diverse staff would have handled this well.  But at least there’d be more backgrounds from them to draw upon.  And maybe, someone would have looked around and said, “Uh, guys, we can do better than this shit.”

I’m also not trying to say you have to Asian to do kung fu movie tributes justice.  There are a number of examples of chop socky tributes done by non Asians who have never been accused of yellowface.  Quentine Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Part 1 was an excellent tribute to kung fu cinema.  The RZA’s Man With The Iron Fists was an enjoyable romp (yeah, I said it) through classic Shaw Brothers tropes.  The Matrix was essentially a kung fu flick with trench coats.  If you treat the source material with reverence, you can come up with some magical stuff.  Treat it like a punchline and you better get that shit right.

I’m glad people spoke up and I’m impressed that the show’s creators responded so quickly.  It’s a bummer that this kind of thing still happens, but until we get more diverse casts and crews as a rule rather than an exception, this accidental racist shit will continue to happen.


Zach Weinersmith charts the history of American comics in this really insightful TEDx talk.  And now I kinda want to get paid in Rolls-Royces.


Waaaaat the fuuuuuuuuug?

Waaaaat the fuuuuuuuuug?

Dammit, Google, this is why we can’t nice things!


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I know... oh fuck it.

I know… oh fuck it.

My brother and I have an awful habit of watching absolutely horrid movies in the theater when we get together.  And so it was last night that we found ourselves in a mostly empty auditorium with Real 3D glasses strapped to our faces in anticipation of, sigh, 47 Ronin.

For the record, I am not entirely opposed to Keanu Reeves.  I absolutely loved Man of Tai Chi which he directed and starred in.  And I wouldn’t mind him as Spike Spiegel in the live action Cowboy Beebop. But I can’t figure out why he’s in this stupid thing.

This thing is pretty rad.

This thing is pretty rad.

I also can’t figure out why the studio sunk so much money into this thing.  47 Ronin cost $200 million.  Why? Where did the fucking money go? Certainly not to Keanu’s salary.  As far as Hollywood stars go, he’s the least likely to demand a stupid large pay day.  Certainly not the writers.  I don’t think they actually know a thing about the actual legend. They certainly didn’t spend money on historians or researchers or anything historical at all.  I suppose the creature design was pretty cool.  There were four creature scenes that a bunch of CG houses probably spent a lot of work on.  The virtual locations and set extensions were pretty impressive.  And the costumes were absolutely exquisit.  Buuuuuuuut that still doesn’t account for such a high price tag for such a dull ass movie.

47 Booooooooooring

The chief sin of this movie is not its vast list of historical inaccuracies.  Its fatal flaw is that it’s a total bore.  The few action scene are spaced entirely too far apart so that you almost forget you’re watching a movie about swords.  Everyone speaks ever line of dialog like it’s the. Most. Important. Thing. They. Have. Ever. Said. In. Their. Entire. Lives.  Which robs the dialog of the entire film of any import or weight.

There’s a lot of extraneous stuff in here.  The romance between Keanu and Lord Asano’s daughter lacks any real chemistry which makes it entirely difficult to connect with.  Many of the fantasy elements take away from the main plot.  Sadly, those are also the most interesting bits of the film which makes me think that maybe they needed to go even further with the fantasy stuff.

The saddest victim of waste in this movie is Rick Genest.  You may remember him from the trailers as the tattooed man with guns.

This scene isn't in the movie I watched.

This scene isn’t in the movie I watched.

There are entire posters of him in much of the 47 Ronin publicity campaign.  He’s in like one scene which doesn’t include any of the action shots from the trailer.  What the fuck?  There’s so much wasted film in this thing, you might as well extend his scenes.  I don’t know why his stuff was left on the cutting room floor, but it’s a damn shame.  Might have made those scenes in the Dutch port somewhat interesting.

Also, there needed to be more of Lord Kira’s giant warrior.

This guy is totally badass and underused.

This guy is totally badass and underused.

The Great White Token

I complain a lot when minority characters are used as tokens.  If there is a single Asian character in a majority white cast, their Asianess is their justification for inclusion in the film.  Either they’re a martial artists or some tech wizard or some former Yakuza.  It kind of surprised me to see this, but in this instance, Keanus is the token.  His whiteness is the entire reason he’s there.

I really love Tengu man's design.

Tengu man is tired of your shit.

You see, the ronin can’t defeat Kira on their own.  Kira has the witch, Mizuki played by Rinko Kikuchi, who can poison men and defeat entire armies.  The 47 need someone on their side who can fight the demons.  Which is where Keanu comes in.  Since he’s half white and an outcast, everyone calls him a demon or a half breed.  As it turns out, he actually is a sort of demon.  He was taken in by the tengu of the forest when his mother abandoned him because he was a horrid half breed.  They taught him their demon ways so now he can do things no normal human can.

The really sad part, though, is that if you cut his scenes out of this thing, you’d still have a pretty solid movie.  Even though the movie makes every effort to convince you that the 47 need Keanu’s tengu powers to defeat Kira, his character is completely extraneous.  The 47 would have succeeded on their own without Keanu’s help.  Sure, it would have been a little more difficult to fight off the dragon lady, but I think they would have eventually done it.

More Creatures! More Dragons! More ANYTHING INTERESTING!

I don’t believe I’m saying this because it offended me so that they’re using the title of the actual legend, but I kind of wish they pushed the fantasy angle way more than they did.  By making it so subtle, Keanu’s character never felt fully integrated into the narrative of the damn thing.  More demon fights would have also helped to keep my interest.

Mako Mori as a literal dragon lady is actually fucking rad.

Mako Mori as a literal dragon lady is actually fucking rad.

As long and as boring as it is, we surprisingly don’t get a lot of character development from anyone.  We see very little growth from our heroes which makes it difficult to get emotionally attached to any of them.  The romance angle feels forced and you can only get so far with a revenge story.  Lots of things going on but none of it very focused.

If you want to see a movie with samurai doing samurai things, there’s an entire Akira Kurosawa library of films to go through.  He did way more with way less.  Universal should feel embarrassed for dumping so much money into this thing.  Ran is waaaaay longer than 47 Ronin but hardly feels boring even with the camera locked down on that shot of Hidetora Ichimonji slowly walking out of a burning castle.  If you’re looking for a fantasy movie with lots of creatures and dragons, well shit, there’s a Hobbit waiting for you.  If you’re looking for both samurai action and demons, there’s nothing in the theaters for you.  47 Ronin fails to deliver on both the fantasy and reality fronts making for a totally boring experience at the theater.