This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
SupremeLemon (지존레몬)’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Extremely exhausting and reprehensible for a multitude of reasons, and we've already seen a lot of the same issues in other recent "Asian diaspora" or "Asian themed" works (Shang-chi, Turning Red, After Yang, Love Hard, Eternals, Blue Bayou, the list goes on and on). The central drama of EEAAO (god I fucking hate the title) has never moved beyond the tired and recycled narrative involving generational trauma or the tiger mom/overbearing Asian parent stereotype. It's honestly so reductive and unproductive to frame the majority of the conflict in a way that echoes the equally reductive and unproductive discourse on Asian families that is more concerned with antagonizing Asian parents or Asian children and less concerned with the social or material conditions that caused such conflicts. Yes, these situations exist, but there's a reason why we keep seeing these types of Asian diaspora stories in Western media instead of something new for once, and it's so tiring to sit through them over and over again. The best Ozu or Yang films never resorted to utilizing this model of a family drama. A family member doesn't need to be singled out as an "antagonist" just to move the plot forward. Why even antagonize mothers or daughters? And if you're gonna antagonize the women in the family, I just find it obtuse to only render the women as villains while the husband gets the pass. And no, I'm not gonna racialize this dynamic as an "Asian patriarchy" thing because that's also as reductive as reinforcing "Tiger Mom" or "Asian matriarchy" stereotypes, and racializing issues existing in Asian societies as an "Asian" thing, or calling any Asian society "backwards" for merely having these issues, or even masculinizing or feminizing race, subscribes to white supremacist narratives.
Yet the film can't help but recycle so many racial stereotypes. The close-minded elderly patriarch, an Asian laundromat, martial arts, Asians who defy their parents and move to America, a confused yet rebellious 1st generation kid with immigrant parents who embraces the rebellious Asian Baby Girl aesthetics, etc. etc. Any of these, including the family shit, wouldn't be an issue at all if the film has made any significant effort in not only subverting, deconstructing, renegotiating with, or repurposing the cultural histories and ramifications of such stereotypes existing in Western media but also facilitating anything close to the immense complexity that the Asian diasporic experience possesses. But EEAAO offers little to no nuance on any of the topics related to them. Much of the dramaturgical mechanisms and narrative conventions serve to offer "lived experiences" that only exist in distorted forms. Most of their construction involves enough recognizable signifiers associated with "personal experiences" so that diasporic Asians are encouraged to accept some level of "relatability" even though much of what they find "relatable" comes from a set of racial stereotypes defined or further reinforced by non-Asian (white) people. Even Asians themselves can be complicit or inadvertently participate in perpetuating said racial stereotypes.
If a racial stereotype successfully resists any meaningful subversion, deconstruction, renegotiation, or repurposing, then what will continue is its general function of establishing and preserving a racial hierarchy that maintains the continuity and growth of white supremacy with a minimum amount of effort, attention, and expense. This ideal racial stereotype requires little maintenance; its effectiveness and efficiency enhance as it becomes purportedly "authenticated" and "verified" by canonized historical or cultural records made to be perceived as "reliable" or "legitimate." The fact of the matter is stereotypes operate as models of behavior. They condition society's perceptions and expectations, cognitive structures that contain the perceiver's knowledge, beliefs, and expectations about marginalized groups. Thus, society is conditioned to accept the given minority only within the bounds of the stereotypes they have participated in creating, and the subject minority or marginalized group is also conditioned to reciprocate by becoming the stereotypes, measuring group and individual worth in their terms by living them, talking them, embracing them, and believing them. When the vehicle of such stereotypes, the medium of their perpetuation, and the subject minority to be controlled are all one, where the subject minority itself embodies and perpetuates the white supremacist vision of the reality of their "lived experiences," it results in the neutralization of the subject minority as a social, creative, and cultural force. They no longer pose a threat to white supremacy because they are dependent and even grateful to it. It shouldn't be surprising at all when reprehensible Asian diaspora films like Crazy Rich Asians have been received as landmarks of Asian representation, or that popular Asian social media personalities like Uncle Roger or any goofy-ass Asian Baby Fuccboi who keeps making the same "oh the most unrealistic/fantastical element in Shang-Chi is the Asian mom saying she's proud of her child lol do you get it because Asian parents would never say that ahaa XD" jokes gain some semblance of popularity because of their self-hating buffoonery. ffs with the critical acclaim this film has been receiving (among other factors), we're gonna end up with yet another generation of Asian diasporic "artists" who make stories about """tiger""" parents asking their kids for forgiveness or some other dumb, redundant, or reductive shit.
Of course, it would be ludicrous to claim that EEAAO promotes white supremacy, but this is yet another Asian diaspora film that fails to address the more important questions regarding how its Asian representation matters as well as for whom and for what does it matter. Failing to address such questions will result in a continuation of an already existing situation where Asian representation is vulnerable to surrendering itself to the disempowerment of the Asian communities that should be benefitting from it. Like Shang-Chi, I see Asian people and Asian culture, but Asianness is merely consecrated and desecrated as ornamental artifice or aesthetic objects that epitomize the congealment of commodification. If Asianness in Shang-Chi is a commodity for annoying Marvel fans, Asianness in EEAAO is a commodity for the insufferable A24 fanbase. So this Asianness is primarily designed to appeal to a non-Asian (white) audience or boba liberals who seek validation through non-Asian (white) approval. Since Asianness is repurposed to suit the non-Asian (white) audience, this is no different from watching a non-Asian (white) movie, or a movie that contains Asianness that also happens to be directed by non-Asian (white) filmmakers. You can tell the Asianness is merely utilized for surface aesthetics when the film, as illustrated by its dumbass title, wants to universalize everything. EEAAO deprives Asian characters of their identity by making their cultural histories and racial/ethnic backgrounds matter less as the story progresses; Asianness hardly matters for the Asian characters because of the film's insistence on committing to its "universality," but this universality only ever amounts to platitudinous "love conquers all" writing that cunningly disguises itself with cinematic references and cinematographic tributes to other films about existentialism or nihilism or whatever Rick and Morty postmodern dumbshit the Daniels prefer to make a movie on instead of actual Asian experiences. Enforcing this mode of universalization only makes Asian diasporic stories narrower because the privilege of a "universal experience" within the scope of Western media is often a manifestation of internalized racial superiority and Western chauvinism in which all of us supposedly share a "common experience" when, in reality, said experience is centered on a very neoliberal, very Western/white interpretation of "universality" that ultimately denies a multitude of "lived experiences," only to privilege the more palatable ones for the sake of upholding the status quo.
Asianness in EEAAO never expands beyond surface aesthetics because the film itself is also perpetually resistant to any aesthetic or directorial invention. The film is nothing but a pastiche that assaults you with a constant barrage of audiovisual references, emulating the (pop) cultural phenomena of the older works that inspired it, but whatever "thrills" this provokes are only temporary. Literal "theme park ride" energy. Once it wears off, there's nothing else it offers; dissect the most "significant" images in this film and you'll realize you're left with something intellectually and emotionally dishonest. But people seem convinced that artifice and gimmicks are synonymous with "originality," as if synthesizing these filmic references with sophomoric philosophizing is considered "good" filmmaking. There's nothing creative, surprising, or audacious about any of this. The Daniels sure love to add every idea into this pastiche, but they seem confident in believing that breadth is equivalent to depth, and for a film that tries desperately to explore the "truth" about the universe or optimistic nihilism or whatever the fuck, it comes off as vapid nonsense, especially when the film's message is that of complacency. Oh, the working-class/lower-middle-class roots of these people are actually a result of personal failure and primarily caused by their individual choices instead of the various systems, structures, inequities, or modes of exploitation that directly caused them? Nah whatever dude so long as we love each other this is totally fine lol. You should stay poor because you're exactly where you should be but don't forget to be grateful ☠️ In the face of hardship, so long as you're being kind, everything is fine, because the one thing that's "everything everywhere all at once" is "loveeeee" ☠️☠️
And what the absolute fuck was that Wong Kar-wai reference? The most memorable moments in any Wong Kar-wai film involve unspoken actions. Why the hell would you make your characters in the Wong Kar-wai scene explain everything in excruciatingly verbose detail? There's no depth, no ambiguity, and no sense of poetry in what's been expressed or depicted in front of us.
Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan are good actors btw.