The Departed

Hollywood hasn't got a creative bone left in its withering old body.

Most big-grossing films these days are re-makes or film adaptations of stories that have achieved success in print media. If not comic book movies, than some of the most popular films of our times have been part of a burgeoning genre of Americanized reinterpretations of classic Hong Kong, Korean or Japanese movies. Although the most well-known of these films are J-Horrors like Ju-on (i.e. the Grudge) or Ringu (i.e. the Ring), today marked the opening of the Departed, which was Martin Scorcese's take on a fantastic Hong Kong gangster film from 2002 called Infernal Affairs, which starred Tony Leung and Andy Lau.

It's frustrating to watch Hollywood appropriate Asian films to try and revive its flaccid box office numbers, as the process of modernization not only involves bigger budgets, but usually includes a dumbing down of the plot and a White-washing of the cast. In the Departed, the storyline of Infernal Affairs is moved from the gritty streets of Hong Kong to the city of Boston where the criminal enterprise being investigated are Irish gangsters rather than the Chinese mob. Other than a few scenes early in the film to establish racial tensions in mid-twentieth century Boston (setting the stage for Jack Nicholson's race-baiting rants), the entire cast of The Departed is White.

In other words, in this film, lifted almost entirely from a classic Hong Kong movie, there is nary an Asian person in sight.

Or at least, I could say that… except that Scorcese seems to love rubbing salt into an already gaping wound of cultural misappropriation. Although the vast majority of the film's two-hour-and-a-half running time featured an all-White cast of characters, there was a rather unimportant fifteen minute scene which did involve some Asian people. However, if this was a nod to the film's roots in Infernal Affairs, I don't want it.

In this scene, Jack Nicholson's character meets with a group of Chinese mobsters who are working for the Chinese government — all of them stereotypes. One of the Chinese characters is a terrified government lackey, emasculated in a room full of hardened criminals. The rest are crazed, machine-gun wielding triad members, either standing around glaring shiftily at Jack Nicholson's crew, or otherwise ranting and raving in Cantonese. (Note, that they are supposed to be working for the Chinese government.)

But the insult comes not in these caricatures of Chinese characters. No, the insult comes with Jack Nicholson's dialogue, which blatantly invokes nearly every “amusing” anti-Asian joke one can bring to mind: from Chinese as spies, to Chinese as foreigners, to Chinese as un-American, to Chinese as emasculated, to Chinese dick-size jokes, to — and I quote — “No Tickee No Laundry”.

All in the span of five minutes.

As quickly and as pointlessly as these Chinese mobsters arrived on the scene in this film, they vanish back into the night. And the only other Chinese guy we see in the movie is a Chinese food delivery guy who gets knifed by Matt Damon.

This is how Hollywood treats the people who gave birth to the film upon which the Departed is based. This is how visible our community is in Hollywood. And they wonder why we don't go to theatres anymore: tonight, I spent $17 on a movie that basically spat in my face.

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