The Weirdest Portrayals of Asians In Movie History

Categories: Film

Hollywood used to have a habit of putting slanty-eye makeup on non-Asian stars and passing them off as from "the Orient."

Here are some of the more egregious examples:


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Mickey Rooney as the buck-toothed Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's, 1961. "Miss Go-rightry!" Oy.

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Jennifer Jones as a Eurasian doctor in Hong Kong in Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, 1955. The movie is so cloying, it's like one big crumbling fortune cookie.

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Katharine Hepburn as a very mannered Chinese woman named Jade in 1944's Dragon Seed, based on the Pearl S. Buck novel. Guess Who's Coming to Chinese Dinner?

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Luise Rainer and Paul Muni as a Chinese farming couple in 1937's The Good Earth, also based on a Buck book. Shoot me, but I actually liked their performances, despite the obvious problems. Rainer copped the Oscar.

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Rex Harrison, a Brit with a Thai noodle, in Anna and the King of Siam

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Russian-born Yul Brynner in the musical version, The King and I. He won the Oscar and made hairlessness (and drop earrings) hot.

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Latina spitfire Rita Moreno in the same Thailand-via-Hollywood epic. East Side Story?

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John Gielgud as Chang, who came from the "lamasery" in the musical Lost Horizon, 1972. He should have stayed there. And Charles Boyer should have, too; he played the High Lama!

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Robert Donat (left) gave his last screen performance, sadly, as the mandarin in Inn of the Sixth Happiness, 1958. He was better remembered for Goodbye, Mr. Chips.

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Jerry Lewis in 1981's Hardly Working. I love Jerry, but this thing hardly worked. And the teeth outdid Mickey Looney's, I mean, Rooney's!

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Peter Sellers in 1980's The Fiendish Plot of Fu Man Chu. The plot was fiendish, all right. I was hungry again an hour later.

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John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror. Filmed near a nuclear testing site. Almost everyone in the movie died of cancer years later.

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Charlie Chan. And don't forget his "number-one son."

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African-American Juanita Hall starred in Flower Drum Song and played Bloody Mary in South Pacific. She was the all-purpose ethnic for Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.

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Before The Odd Couple, Tony Randall was the odd septet in 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. Oscar winner for Best Makeup.


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44 comments
Peter Sherwood
Peter Sherwood

Is there not a mention of Max Von Sydow in Flash Gordon? What was it, Emperor Ming?

TestMsg
TestMsg

Sean Connery You Only Live Twice

AnonTWO
AnonTWO

The Japanese character in Breakfast at Tiffany's is a serious flaw in an overrated film.

Lana Wilting
Lana Wilting

I'm hollified at the insensitivity of this post.

Gregorama
Gregorama

It's also interesting from looking at these photos to follow the Hollywood conceit that some White actors don't even need makeup to look Asian, as long as they are old and have droopy eyelids--like the photo of John Gielgud!  He bears NO resemblance to anything or anyone Asian, living or dead.  Bizarre...thank God they wouldn't dare to try to pull off this shit nowadays...would they?

Ming the Vase
Ming the Vase

Maybe you can Pimp your audience out as a movie research resource somehow.

mjm
mjm

Ona Munson as Mother Go-Dam in The Shanghai Gesture. pure camp!

Southern Dave
Southern Dave

Beatrice Lillie's Mrs. Meers in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" transcended caricature and is the last example of this brilliant comic actress' work.

Don't beat me, Mikey!

Jeff
Jeff

Ugh, Mickey Rooney's performance irritates me so much I never even picked up Breakfast at Tiffany's on DVD

Ynnocence
Ynnocence

Sometimes it's done right. In The Letter, Gale Sondergaard's dragon lady, mocked for marrying a white man, forces the Bette Davis character to kneel before her. (Watch it and you'll see how it's justified, brilliantly.) Hollywood started the tradition in silent films, with 2 contrasting images of Asian men - sweet asexual innocent victim in Broken Blossoms, nasty inscrutable oversexed manipulator in The Cheat, both major-studio releases by "name" directors. Finally, Hollywood HAD to cast non-Asians because there weren't enough real ones during that time. The Cheat's Sessue Hayakawa, who decades later was still around, plus Philip Ahn and Benson Fong ... not even enough for an early Joy Luck Club, men's edition.

Michael
Michael

Don't forget Joel Grey in 85's "Remo Williams Begins"

Gregorama
Gregorama

Whoa....great work in assembling this list of offenders.  When you lump them all together, it really makes it clear how pervasive this grotesque practice really was.  I've always said that the huge elephant in the room that makes "Breakfast at Tiffany's" a severely flawed film is Mickey Rooney's horrendous "ching-chong-ling-long" performance in the film.  And as for "Dragon Seed," with Katharine Hepburn, I couldn't really make it past about the first 5 minutes before throwing a bowling ball through my TV and praying to Buddha for forgiveness for all of mankind--especially Hollywood.

mjm
mjm

the worst:Marlon Brando in Teahouse of the August MoonHelen Hayes and Ramon Novarro in The Son-Daughter Bea Lillie in Thoroughly Modern Millie Eddie Murphy in NorbitPeter Sellers in Murder by Death Josh Hartnett in 30 Days of NightChristopher Walken in Balls of Fury Joel Grey in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins Seann William Scott in Bulletproof Monk Shirley MacLaine in My GeishaPeter Weller in The Adventures of Buckaroo BanzaRob Schneider in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry Peter Lorre in the Mr. Moto seriesPeter Ustinov and Angie Dickinson in Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen

Musto
Musto

I just added Tony Randall and Juanita Hall. You can go find Myrna Loy yourself. 

Musto
Musto

I just broke down and added  John Wayne and Charlie Chan. 

And let's not forget Tony Randall, Juanita Moore, the Asian in Auntie Mame...

Ming the Vase
Ming the Vase

Hey,John Wayne was an incredibly convincing Mongol.

ACW
ACW

Orientalism at it's finest. Stereotypes and caricatures. Amusing to see the typical perspective of what [generally] the West views the East as, yet so demeaning.

Musto
Musto

By the way, I didn't include the Charlie Chan movies because they were the most obvious offenders.

MK
MK

Fuck them ChinksIf they're not bringin me spare ribs. I don't want to see them

Desree
Desree

Seeing these all together is pretty eye opening and kind of hilarious at the same time. Hollywood is SO fucked up.

Loins
Loins

This was a hoot!!! Great work.

Musto
Musto

I won't beat you. But I ain't doing these any more.

(Agree re Bea, though--and Harriet Harris was brilliant on Broadway.)

Musto
Musto

Since the majority of people here just use these threads as an irritating excuse to point out examples I left out, I won't do them anymore. I download and explain TONS of examples, and most of the comments are always "But what about...? It's very showoffy and annoying to me. Maybe I need therapy to figure out why this bugs me so much, but it really does. If I had included Joel Grey, someone would have wondered where some other obscure performance was. It would be nice to actually hear comments on the ones I did include. Thank you to those who did so.

Musto
Musto

I know. Tiresome! But Aline McMahon actually rocks it and got a supporting Oscar nomination for it.

bsomers
bsomers

Peter Sellers in "Murder by Death" was satire. 

Spiel
Spiel

Right. So none of the ones Musto came up with are the worst. Just the ones you came up with.

Muscato
Muscato

And Myrna Loy in something like the first 70 pictures she was in!

Gregorama
Gregorama

Are you really a high school English teacher, as it says in your profile??  God help us.

ACW
ACW

Your ignorance is astounding. For an attempt at stereotypical humor, I would have at least expected some sad attempt at "eggrolls" or "dumpings"

Wings
Wings

Sad attempt at humor. You're a moron.

Prezdent Obama
Prezdent Obama

as long as nobody makes fun of michelle obama's big fat black ghetto booty ass!

Joany Phoney Rivers
Joany Phoney Rivers

As funny as the joke of the chink and jap who walk into a gook resturant...

But, you know the punchline.

Michael
Michael

Sorry if I came off as" show offy". I was not trying to show a mastery of trivia. It's just that as a person of color and a movie fanatic, I always look for unfair portrayls of non-whites in films. Again, my apologies to yourself and your readers.

Gregorama
Gregorama

Please don't let this annoyance stop you from doing compendiums such as this one.  I'm sure it does seem like a smack in the face to have readers add their own choices...and then offensively phrase it, "But you forgot...", etc.  Just print a patented disclaimer at the end of each posting such as this one, something like, "These are MY choices and it's not a complete listing...and if you write in with 'omissions' or 'ones that I forgot' I'll search you out and rip your tits off".  You know, something subtle?

mjm
mjm

I posted these as MY personal picks. I don't disagree w/ Musto's choices at all

mjm
mjm

I posted these as MY picks.

FYI411
FYI411

Oh PLeeze like Katharine Hepburn or Jennifer Jones would FUCK a Chink. You phony progressives are full of shit. No White women wants to FUCK Chinks.

Guest
Guest

Oh PLeeze like Katharine Hepburn or Jennifer Jones would FUCK a Chink. You phony progressives are full of shit. No White women wants to FUCK Chinks.

Musto
Musto

For the record, Rob Schneider is part Asian, so he's only three quarters eligible here.

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