Many Chinese and Japanese are angered that Zhang Ziyi has chosen to play the part of a Japanese Geisha in the movie Adaptation of Arthur Golden’s “Memoirs of a Geisha”.
I think it’s stupid for Zhang to do this role, for a few reasons which may be different from the chatroom outrage:
- She has already done a good job avoiding the promiscuous/submissive asian woman western stereotypes. Actresses like Lucy Liu, who were able to make some quick cash by milking this sterotype, are now finding it difficult to break out of the typecast. Zhang already had a big name; this type of role is not moving her in the direction she probably wants to go. Zhang is setting back asian actresses in Holywood by taking this role.
- She is not Japanese. I cringe every time I see Yul Brynner as the King of Siam. There are plenty of qualified Japanese actresses. The story already lacks credibility by virtue of being written by a western man, so you would expect them to attempt to bolster their credibility by getting at least a *few* of the details right. Or is the problem that no Japanese would agree to do the movie?
- The story is very weak. “Japanese girl makes lots of friends and learns how to please rich men; settles down with a rich sponsor”. This was hackneyed when Madame Butterfly did it. It’s a mass-market vehicle written by a western guy to cater to western stereotypes, with little artistic value. I don’t see it as a step forward to go from the romance in Flying Daggers to this one-dimensional cartoon.
- You don’t need a big name for this movie. The reason that westerners pay money to watch these sterotypical movies like “Chinese Box” are precisely because of the fantasy of “different” or “exotic”. This is why Lucy Liu couldn’t play this part, and I believe Zhang is also too well-known to get maximum interest. A vehicle like this would be a good way to elevate a lesser-known actress. Audiences go to identify with the experience of discovering or revealing something that is not commonly know, and would tend to project their feelings of “discovering” for the character onto the actress, and likely give her more of a boost that a bigger name would get.