Essay on Stereotyping Asians in Western Films

Published: 2021-08-11
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13 min to read
George Washington University
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Argumentative essay
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Historically, the depiction of Asians in media inclines towards a racial typecast and the enigmatic bizarre (Min, 2016). From the many years of typecasting that Asians and especially the Chinese have experienced, many people have come to believe some of the typical stereotypes about Asians. Often, Chinese men are portrayed as greedy and calculating villains or even weak and submissive individuals. On the other hand, women are described as Iron Ladies who are treacherous and often represented as objects of desire (Min, 2016). Jackie Chan is a popular Chinese actor with many starring roles in multiple Western and Asian films that depict him in a manner that reinforces the beliefs of people about Asians. This essay will delve into identifying the various typecasts of Asians through analysis of Jackie Chans role in some Western films.

According to Graham (2016), Asian Americans are a growing racial group in the United States, but in Hollywood, they are usually invisible or subjected to outdated typecasts. The Hollywood film industry and media are especially harmful to the American Asians since they spread ideas about the Asian people and culture in a manner that makes them a misunderstood population (Kareem, 2017). Chinese actors often get depicted in many Western movies as aggressive people who have all mastered the art of Kung Fu among other Asian martial arts. Some the most popular Western films that Jackie Chan has played a leading role include: The Karate Kid,' Spy Next Door,' Rush Hour,' Foreigner and Around the World In 80 Days. These movies are some of the favorite Western Films starring Jackie Chan that confirm some of the misguided ideas that Asian and Asian American people get typecast.

In the film Karate Kid, Jackie Chan takes the character of Mr. Han, a Kung Fu Master who helps an American boy Dre Parker, played by Jaden Smith to master the art of Kung Fu to defend himself against his enemies. The film of the year 2010 parodies the common perception of all Asians as foreigners even though the movie setting is in China where Dres mother has taken a job. The film further depicts all Asians as Kung Fu fighters whereby Dre suggests that Chinese people can grab flies from the air using chopsticks which reinforces the idea many people have about all Asians regarding their martial art abilities. It is commendable that the film conserves some of the constructive perceptions from the original movie through engagement of cross-racial alliance and the theme of mutual redemption. However, it still shows the outdated image surrounding Hollywood fantasies about Asians which is: that they all respect their elders, obey authority, are weirdly focused, are cruel, and that they have bad hair (Min, 2016). Jackie Chan embodies all the mentioned stereotypes about Asians in his role as Mr. Han the master of King Fu. He is also portrayed as a self-disciplined individual with impeccable fighting skills which further infuses in the minds of people that all Asians engage in and are good at martial arts.

The movie The Spy Next Door is another popular Jackie Chan movie with elements of stereotyping of Asian people. The movie of the year 2010 finds Jackie Chan playing the character of Bob who is timidly and secretly mooning over his neighbor Gillian played by Amber Valletta. She is a single mom who thinks that Bob is a pen sales person and her children dislike him for being uninteresting. In the real sense, Jackie Chan is an international spy form the Chinese Intelligence Services employed by the CIA to save Gillians children form Russkie villains. The movie depicts Jackie Chan as the hero of the movie who acts as the leading character. His nature portrays a friendly man with impressive fighting skills in the realm of Kung Fu. Jackie is, however, depicted as lacking the basic skill of making a simple American breakfast as he struggles to nanny Gillians kids. Bobs lack of knowledge regarding these basic American ways symbolizes the Asian stereotype of a perpetual foreigner with a deficit in Western culture. This movie just like the media implies that Asians including US citizens do not belong and cannot be from the West (Min, 2016). The notion is further enforced by Jackie Chans atrocious accent with broken English which brings in the element of exotic foreigners.

Rush Hour is a thrilling comedy movie featuring Jackie Chan. It was filmed between 1998 and 2007. Jackies role as Inspector Lee, a Hong Kong super cop, is supported by Chris Tuckers character as Detective James Carter who is an FBI agent. The characters of Chan and Tucker are forced to work together despite their shared dislike for each other to save a young Chinese girl named Soo Yung. Rush Hour was met with varied responses by many Asian Americans some of whom were festered by the movies offensive racially focused gags and typecast Asian depictions (Eng, 1998). The movies critics pointed out that it portrayed Asian stereotypes using subtlety masked humor. At the end of the movie, Chris Tucker mentions to Chan of his desire to meet some Chinese girls who would massage him. This statement symbolizes the Asian representation of assuming specific jobs perceived as 'Asian' which include running massage parlors. This representation reinforces the idea of Asian people taking up non-threatening services professions that make them invisible to lead their lives quietly. Despite the cliches, there is some positive side to the movie which had a combined starring of two minorities in Chan and Tucker who is African American. The movies clash of cultures is a funny and culturally inclusive element which is commendable.

The movie The Foreigner of 2017 features Jackie Chan as a lead character in an antagonistic position to Pierce Brosnan of the James Bond franchise. Jackie China plays the role of a sympathetic anti-hero Quan whose daughter is killed forcing him to seek justice. As usual, even with his character being aged and retired from active duty, Chan who plays Quan is portrayed as a martial arts expert. He is involved in a fight with gun-wielding men whom he beats and manages to kill two of them with only his fighting skills. The role of Quan is in a positive light since instead of a vengeful character, he seeks justice. This characteristic, however, portrays the stereotypical belief of Asian people and especially the Chinese having cultural beliefs that forbid vices and instead seek justice in the world. It also positively sheds light on the wisdom perceived by Chinese people especially the elderly. In the movie, Jackie Chan is seen to own a restaurant which as mentioned before symbolizes the lower end jobs meant for the Asian people due to their nonthreatening placement in the West.

Around the World in 80 Days is an action/adventure comedy movie of 2008 has the starring role of Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan in a 19th-century British setting. Jackie Chan plays the role of Passepartout who is an assistant to Steve Coogans character of Phileas Fogg, an eccentric inventor attempting to travel around the world in 80 days. Chans character as an assistant to a Phileas depicts the stereotype of Asian people playing second fiddle roles to Westerners usually in a low capacity status such as Passepartouts. In the movie, Jackie Chan also plays the role character Lau Xing who is a bank robber trying to evade the authorities by becoming Phileas valet and taking the pseudo-Passepartout. In the movie, another Chinese villain character is played by General Fang, a warlord from China who is after the stolen artifact in Xings possession. The movies depiction of Chan and General Fang as villains reinforces the notion communicated in many Western films that the Chinese and Asians in general as deceitful, homicidal felonious schemers living in an illicit world.


In the essay, it is evident that Asian people both native and Asian-Americans are adversely affected by their stereotypes as depicted in Western media and films. The role of Jackie Chan in different Western movies is used to show how these portrayals are influential in the perception of the Asian people by others. There is misinformation mostly relating to the martial arts abilities of Asians, their strict cultures, their perpetual foreignness, and their villain tendencies. All these typecasts are evident in the limited roles that Asians have in the film industry, especially Hollywood. However, there are some positive depictions of the Asians in various films that shed a positive light on the character and culture of the Asian people. This feature is commendable and is expected to grow in small increments as the film industry progresses.


Eng, M. (1998, September 26). 'RUSH HOUR' ANGERS SOME ASIAN AMERICANS. Retrieved from

Graham, A. (2016, October 31). Chinese people in Western films | The Subtext. Retrieved from

Kareem N. N. (2017, July 8). Why Hollywood Should Drop These 5 Asian American Stereotypes. Retrieved from

Min, H. (2016). Media Representation of Asian Americans and Asian Native New Yorkers Hybrid Persona. CUNY Academic Works.

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