East Asian Representations as Seen Through Long Duk Dong


Many of the films produced by Hollywood and the film industry portray stereotypes derogatory to all different kinds of people. There is a lack of understanding and misrepresentation in almost all movies starring people of minority races. One of these horrible misrepresentations can be very clearly seen in the character of Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles (1984). As an extremely popular movie that grossed more than $23 million in box office sales, and a key movie in that of 1980’s teenage culture, the movie portrays Long Duk Dong, a Chinese foreign exchange student, in ways that are disgustingly cruel and blatantly racist.

The first appearance of Long Duk Dong in the movie is when he appears hanging upside down from a bunk bed, ogling at the female protagonist, Sam. It is here where he goes on to say “What’s happenin’, hot stuff?” During these lines, the audience is shown someone of a different culture and race trying to fit in with the rest of white society. Although, his first conversation piece is a complete failure at assimilation, the audience now knows that he does not speak proper English and cannot make simple conversation without being awkward. In this scene he is trying to connect and say hello to Sam, yet it goes completely awry, drawing major differences from white culture to that of the “other.”

A major problem with Long Duk Dong is his relationship with Marlene who is known as “Lumberjack.” “Interracial sexuality becomes an element of this stylistic mélange, a contrast in color, rather than either a liberal call for reform or a conservative demand for exclusionism” (Marchetti, 1993, Pg. 203). Due to their interracial romance, it can be seen as a highlight of exclusionism. Their relationship emphasizes the fact that Dong is different. He does not have a typical and traditional American relationship as gender roles are switched between him and Marlene. Dong is emasculated throughout their entire relationship onscreen due to size and personality differences. Marlene is very large and is made to seem very masculine both physically and in her personality traits. She leaves him to look tiny, being feminized by her dramatization of masculinity. While there is nothing wrong with the idea of gender role reversals, the way that the film portrays their relationship is to make fun of them and for laughs. Through their relationship Dong is seen as very feminine, thus implying that he is weak. As Dong and Lumberjack embrace, he is small as she is cradling him, minifying him literally and metaphorically. The relationship between Marlene and Long Duk Dong reasserts the stereotype that Asian men are emasculated and feminine.

Every single time Long Duk Dong is shown on the screen during the film there is the sound of a gong being played. This is extremely offensive because it stereotypes all Asians into one culture. When seeing Dong appear on the screen, the sound of the gong is loud and not easily missed. This sounding of the gong every time Dong is shown is almost as if the movie is trying to alert the viewer that Dong is different than all of the other characters, as he is the only character with a distinct sound every time he appears. Like there is a bell going off to say “Hey here is someone who is different than us!” The bell only going off on Dong creates a distance between him and other characters because there is no music or certain tone that chimes when another character is seen on screen. The tone is seen as foreign to Americans and leaves an indelible mark on Dong showing that he is different from everyone else.

The most insulting scene in the whole movie is when Dong is passed out on the lawn from drinking too much the night before. He is the only one who could not handle himself and get home. This separates him from rest of the characters showing that he cannot even handle himself and get home after he may have drank too much. While on the lawn, Dong is seen wearing a kimono, a traditionally Japanese garment. Dong is not Japanese; he is Chinese, showing that the film did not even care to give Dong a certain Asian identity. “Thus, Asians and Asian Americans are understood in the US media to be interchangeable, having no unique qualities worth mentioning, and so they often find themselves having no choice but to play roles of Asian ethnic groups other than ones most aligned with their own ethnic and cultural experiences” (Ono, Kent and Vincent Pham, 2009. Pg.48). This quote explains the why Asian American actors are subjected to roles that stereotype and lump all Asians into one category, not allowing for any differences between different cultures. Also showcasing the stereotyping of Asians in Sixteen Candles, Dong’s name is a typically Vietnamese sounding name, not Chinese, further aggregating all Asian cultures into one stereotype depicted through Long Duk Dong. He is just lumped together will all other East Asian cultures and does not have identity of his own. During this scene, while passed out on the lawn, his White host family finds him and tries to figure out what happened to him. Dong, still drunk, cannot speak proper English and reverts to talking not in words but in grumblings and sounds. This portrays Dong as someone who cannot even make up simple sentences. Eventually a White woman kicks Dong while he is on the ground and calls him “a little scuzzbag.” Pointing out that he, a Chinese man lumped into one Asian culture, is not nearly as good and inept as Americans through his dress, speak, and overall demeanor.

media: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qwBuBCTKTU


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