BOOK: Beyond the Chinese Connection


Beyond ‘The Chinese Connection”: Contemporary Afro-Asian Cultural Production interrogates cross-cultural dynamics within a transnational context.  As a result of such films as Enter the Dragon (1973), The Chinese Connection (1972) and The Big Boss (1971), Bruce Lee emerges as both a cross-cultural hero and global cultural icon who resonates with the experiences of African American, Asian American and Hong Kong youth, experiences impacted by the rise of a global economy in the 1970s. Drawing on theories of cosmopolitanism and hybridity, I argue that Lee’s films prefigure themes that reflect cross-cultural negotiations with global culture for post-1990 Afro-Asian cultural production.  Engaging in global culture in a variety of ways, such cultural production includes novels such as Frank Chin’s Gunga Din Highway (1999), Ishmael Reed’s Japanese By Spring (1992), and Paul Beatty’s White Boy Shuffle (1996); films such asRush Hour 2 (2001), Unleashed (2005), The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003) and the Japanese anime series, Samurai Champloo (2004). (University of Mississippi Press, 2013)

Get your copy!


Barnes and Noble

University of Mississippi Press

K-pop and Hip Hop

While we can all agree that hip-hop has had an impact on K-pop, we don’t all agree on what that impact is.  Some writers tend to define hip-hop solely in terms of oppression and discrimination experienced by African Americans. This reduces the complexity of the experiences of African Americans, distorts the genre of hip-hop,  and potentially simplifies any analysis of K-pop and hip-hop.

Continue reading “K-pop and Hip Hop”

Psy and Hammer

Psy and MC Hammer, American Music Awards

So, what does Psy‘s appearance with MC Hammer and the 2012 American Music Awards mean?

On one hand, it signifies a different kind of engagement than we have seen between Psy and African Americans in the United States.  While cameras have captured Psy with any and everyone, including Madonna, Justin Beiber and Jon Bon Jovi, sites like Black Kpop Fans have chronicled his appearances with African Americans, such as Kanye West, Kevin Hart and, providing somewhat of a gauge for  his engagement with black America.

This is to be expected, given the impact that African American R&B/soul and hip hop have on Hallyu (Korean wave).  Psy echoed this point in a recent interview about how the MC Hammer/Psy collaboration took place:  “Psy admits that he’s been a lifelong fan of Hammer so it wasn’t hard for him to go Hammer-time at the AMAs. He tells CNN, ‘Honestly, I practiced his move[s] 20 years ago, so I’ve done that for 20 years.’  So, his appearance with MC Hammer at the AMAs functioned as a moment where nostalgia meets the present, both for the audience and for Psy himself.

The joint appearance also strikes me as a profoundly mainstream American cultural moment.  Psy has been popping up all over the place, as has the dance for Gangnam Style. Some may take issue with MC Hammer’s assertions about the ultimate impact of Psy:   “He’s shifted the planet. He’s got the whole world dancing. And it’s a rarity in this world. Only four people made that happen in history — James Brown, Michael Jackson, yours truly and Psy.”  However, he has achieved a certain level of global recognition. Whether this paves the way for other K-pop acts remains to be seen.  My point, though, is that Psy is resonating with a mainstream sensibility.  This collaboration was something that many could identify with. Who doesn’t remember Hammer pants?

At the same time, however, some may be wondering where are Psy’s appearances in venues where he would engage less high-profile black celebrities and have more conversations about the impact of black culture on K-pop.  Maybe that’s asking too much, which is why I may have to be content with seeing Psy’s journey in America as the mainstream cultural moment that it is, as opposed to the cross-cultural moment it could be.

By now, your long-suffering K-pop fan in the United States may be fervently wishing for this moment to pass, but is grateful for the exposure of K-pop to a larger audience.  But with that exposure comes a different kind of response, one less positive and more revealing of the multiple cultural forces at play in Psy’s popularity.    While the audience reveled in this Afro-Asian moment at the AMAs, others were sending racist tweets, insisting that the American Music Awards had no place for a Korean pop star. None. Not at all. I can’t even quote them because they are so heinous, but you can see them at Public Shaming (scroll down).   What is interesting about the tweets is that they focus on Psy’s “foreigness,” even as he is performing with one of the most recognizable icons of American pop music.

As I suggested with my previous piece on Psy, his engagement with American culture is with ALL of American culture:  that part that has its arms wide open because it has a cosmopolitan sensibility, and that part that don’t want any part of anything it deems “foreign.”    As Psy continues his journey, I would like to see him step outside of the mainstream and talk to some other kinds of folk.  Seeing him with MC Hammer may give others the idea that Psy represents much more than the latest trend.

Image: Medley Mag


AMusicAwards. “Psy (With Special Guest MC Hammer) – Gangnam Style (Live 2012 American Music Awards), YouTube

Terri Schwartz, “Psy and M.C. Hammer: The Story Behind the Epic American Music Awards Mash-up,” Zap2it

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

(Black) Man With The Iron Fists: RZA’s Foray Into Kung Fu Film
Poster of RZA’s film Man With the Iron Fists

This week saw the release of first images and the official trailer of RZA’s long-awaited homage to kung-fu film, Man With the Iron Fists. Not only does the film represent a new chapter in the long love-affair between African Americans and Asian culture, it reminds us how long that love affair has been.

I think some people are anticipating this more than others. In one online community, reaction was distinctly muted.  Some predict that this is  going to be a crappy movie. We all know that if we could really determine if a film was crappy just from an image or a trailer, most of us would have fuller wallets.  Bad films can have talented people attached to them; good films can get marred by the skewed vision of a few.

I’m dismayed by such a reaction, given the trajectory of the Hong Kong film industry, a film industry that owes quite a lot to kung fu films and wuxia, two genres that are routinely characterized as “low culture.”  However, the elite directors over which critics fawn routinely cite their work in and the influence of those two genres.  Poshek Fu notes:  “As Ang Lee recently revealed, the shaping influences of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were the numerous Shaw Brothers costume dramas and musicals he watched as he was growing up in Taiwan in the 1950s and 1960s” (1).  Let’s not forget where those Hong Kong Bruce Lee films came from.

Not only did some of the most significant Hong Kong film directors get their start in kung fu films at the studios of Golden Harvest and the Shaw Brothers, they did so in films most of us have never seen. Let’s face it: many of these films are nowhere near Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon material.  But the allowed today’s talent to hone their craft, and created significant followings around the world.

One of the most significant followings is among African Americans in the United States.  Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua notes that in contrast to the American audience for action film, presumed to be “young, white, working-class males,” “the black martial arts audience. . .  complicates, if not transcends, the class, gender and generational limitations of action films’ traditional spectators.  A broader cross-section of the black community is attracted to this film genre” (200).

Cha-Jua refers to film scholar David Desser’s explanation for the appeal:  “He advances two interconnected arguments: First, besides blaxploitation, kung fu films were the only films with nonwhite heroes and heroines; second, they concerned an ‘underdog of color, often fighting against the colonialist enemies, white culture, or the Japanese'” (200).

So we can’t be surprised at the Afro-Asian connection in kung fu films. What may be surprising is what RZA has done with Man with the Iron Fists.  I remember reading when he went to China to film. Not the place you expect to see a black man. Filming a movie. A kung fu movie. If you look at the cast, you see all kinds of folk involved; Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, and Quentin Tarantino.  If nothing else, this is a new chapter in that it represents, to a certain degree, African Americans articulating their own response to Asian popular culture in film.

Will this film be just another example of what some see as the rampant commercialization and low quality of contemporary Hong Kong film? Maybe. Or maybe it will take all the stuff you love about Saturday afternoon kung fu and raise to a new, ridiculously crazy level. Is it going to push some buttons about race, gender, violence and appropriation? Sure will! Have you seen the trailer?

The poster and trailer invite commentary, but let’s not pretend that any of this is new and, more importantly, not part of the legacy of kung fu films.  C’mon, we all know what we are here for.


Fu, Poshek. “Introduction: The Shaw Brothers Diasporic Cinema,” China Forever: The Shaw Brothers and Diasporic Cinema (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,  2008).  1-26.

Cha-Jua, Sundiata Keita.  “Black Audiences, Blaxploitation and Kung Fu Films, and challenges to White Celluloid Masculinity,” China Forever: The Shaw Brothers and Diasporic Cinema (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,  2008). 199-223.

Talking About Asians Behaving Badly: Fan Reaction to the Block B-Jenny Hyun-MBC Blackface Controversies

Originally published on KPK: Kpop Kollective on March 31, 2012 by CeeFu

In the last few months, the Kpop world has been subject to a rash of episodes of Asians Behaving Badly:  the Block B-Thailand controversy, the Jenny Hyun incident, and an episode of blackface on MBC’Quiz to Rule the World.  In each case, netizens voiced their dismay in national and cultural terms and took it to a global level.

Kpop fans are no strangers to extreme rhetoric. Anyone who braves a Kpop forum knows exactly what I’m talking about. Any kind of disagreement has the potential to erupt into a full-on war of the words. So it’s not surprising to see the huge responses to these recent controversies related to Kpop. But these stand out in that they place the controversies, started by individuals or representations, to an international version of “who’s dissin’ who?”

Block B

A routine interview sparked widespread Internet controversy when Zico of Block B made light of the receent devestating flooding in Thailand:  “The interviewer brought up the crisis, to which Zico replied, ‘I know that many people have it hard due to the flood. With this monetary aid, we hope that you will feel better. The only thing we have is money. To this, another member chimed in, asking how much money Zico had, to which the leader answered, ‘About 7000 won? which is roughly $6 USD” (lawlietta).

This article sparked over 7,000 responses on allkpop.   While the comments ranged from unwavering support to harsh criticism, several commenters elevated Zico’s comments to the level of a national conflict.   Alexander Ming Xuan wrote:  “They are idols of Korea. And off they go, to another country, Thailand. Since they are idols of Korea, which would definitely means that they are a part of Korea’s visual representation. As which, they are tarnishing not only their reputation but also Korea’s reputation. It’s not about them anymore.”  WhatItIs stated:  “They were there representing Korea and the Korean people and they made a bad impression.”

Other commenters challenged the idea that one group’s actions represented an entire country.   Janny Van Der Woodsen wrote:  “Please do not say ‘PEOPLE.’ It’s not like you have interviewed every single people in Korea let alone the world.”  Ayrianne Anderson wrote:  “I’m offended that they are taking it to this level considering that these are ‘boys.’ I hate to state the obvious but they are young men and they will act occasionally with the foolishness of their age. And should be sternly talked too but the drag it out as if it’s an actual national issue is crazy.”

In response to the firestorm their comments unleashed, Block B issued several apologies, including this one:

While some fans saw the apology as sincere, others were unmoved.

Jenny Hyun

On February 16th, Jenny Hyun sent a series of tweets, initially in response to Floyd Mayweather‘s comments about Jeremy Lin.  Yoojin wrote:  “Hyun responded that Floyd was a ‘subhuman, ungrateful APE,’ and then started spreading vitriol about the black community in general. She insinuated that Whitney Houston‘s recent passing wasn’t such a loss because of ‘all that baggage’ she came with, and referred to African-Americans as ‘disgusting, violent, arrogant, and stupid.’ Then, in an even more frightening twist, she repeatedly called for the eradication of the entire black race.”   IATFB describes her rant as “bigoted verbal diarrhea.”

In the over 400 comments on soompi‘s story on the incident, netizens expressed almost universal dismay at Hyun’s actions.  Once again, comments reflected a national or cultural point of view.  sarahj wrote:  “This is a disgrace to the Asian community.” MaGee wrote:  “You saying that a lot of people in America feel that way, is really just you saying that YOU feel that way. I care less that you’re trying, for whatever reason, to damage America’s name. What really irks me is that anyone from the country I was raised in, where we are taught not only about freedom and equality for all men, but also to learn from our history of ignorance and predjudice, is trying to justify this hate.” tanio12 added:  “i’m black and i’m really hurt but this matter, but don’t disrespect koreans and their culture because you’re mad! hate only brings hate.”

Hyun briefly released an apology on her site, but Yoojin questioned the sincerity of her apology:  “She prefaced it with an explanation that people were saying they knew where she lived, and followed it up with a statement that she did not regret what she said.”

Blackface and MBC’s Quiz to Change the World

On January 21, MBC aired an episode of Quiz to Change the World that featured blackface.  choiwj writes:  “During the episode, comedians Lee Kyung Shil and Kim Ji Sun parodied Michol by wearing similar costumes and both covered in black makeup. Unfortunately, oversea fans did not find the parody to be entertaining and furiously commented saying that it is a ‘racial discrimination.'”

In the over 2,000 comments on the allkpop story, several placed the controversy in a national context.  Shiharu reasoned:  “I understand why this is considered racist, but Westerners intentionally or unintentionally poking fun at people of Asian descent also happens a lot  (and this wasn’t poking fun at Africans at all; the character just reminds one of an African person).”

norimix posted a series of full-length articles culled from various sources, all of which note the amount of discrimination Asian Americans experience in the United States.  This prompted Kahi to respond:  “You mentioned in your previous post ‘Do you think … that African-Americans don’t perpetrate racism?’ You got to be kidding me! Anyone can be racist. Not just Americans! I can post thousands of articles stating how poorly foreigners and mix children in Asia gets treated. You need to relax and open your eyes. Seems like you’re trying to prove Asian Americans have it worse in American!”

MBC issued an apology that read, in part:  “This is something that occurred because we did not think carefully at the time about the fact that many international viewers also have gained a high interest in the show with the spread of the Hallyu wave. In the future, we will think through the selection of the material, no matter how small it is, so that we will not cause any discomfort to our viewers” (choiwj).

These three incidents generated massive netizen reaction where fans placed these incidents within a national or cultural context.  The comments ranged from criticizing to condoning the actions as representative of the country of origin of the “perpetrators.”  While some people complain about the relentlessly positive representation of Kpop by Korean media, national and cultural concerns remain largely in the background in Kpop.  These incidents show that they are often barely below the surface.  Kpop fans live in countries and will often express their opinions in a way that reflects that.

What is interesting, though, is the sheer diversity of opinion. For every person who fiercely chastises Block B for failing to represent Korea well, there was another commenter urging restraint and calling out others on their generalizations.  Commenters were quick to point out that Jenny Hyun did not represent anyone but herself, even as they argued about the role her reported mental illness played in her actions.  While some netizens tried to downplay the racial implications of blackface in MBC’s show, others turned the conversation into one about how other races participate in negative racial portrayals.

The early part of 2012 saw more controversy around racial bad behavior than average. While such incidents are ugly to watch, they also show us that the fanbase for Kpop is varied, and often carries perspectives informed by nation and culture.


lawlietta, Block B Stirs Controversy with Thai Interview, Draws Response from 2PM.  allkpop.  February 19, 2012.

xxxKrissKrossxxx, Block B “Suicide Petition” is Unfounded?  soompi.  February 25, 2012.

eunhyuk100, Block B Releases a Video Apology About Thailand Incident.  YouTube. February 23, 2012.

Yoojin, K-pop Songwriter’s Racist Tweets Spark Outrage.  soompi. February 19, 2012.

IATFB, Jenny Hyun, Songwriter for SNSD & Choclocat, Is a Racist Psychopath.  Asian Junkie.  February 18, 2012.

choiwj, MBC Issues an Apology After Recent Blackface Controversy.  allkpop.  February 28, 2012.