I Finally Got Around to Seeing Sixteen Candles – OMG!

I finally got around to seeing Sixteen Candles. I had blogged back In March about NPR’s story on Long Duk Dong: Last of the Hollywood Stereotypes?, but had never actually seen the movie (to the surprise of many). I saw that Sixteen Candles was airing and decided to record it on my DVR and got around to watching it last night.

Oh My God!

I’m still debating what I am finding more offensive – Long Duk Dong or Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I am wondering whatever drove the director John Hughes to include the character Long Duk Dong in the movie, except purely for comedic relief throughout the plot line. Some questions and comments:

  • Why is a “Chinaman” being played by a Japanese American? As a native born American, I *guess* Gedde Watanabe does a decent job of faking some sort of foreign accent. I’m not saying that all Chinese roles be played by Chinese, I am just curious. I imagine back in the early 1980’s, there weren’t too many Asian American child actors (not like there are a lot today either).
  • Long Duk Dong – that’s doesn’t sound like a Chinese name to me at all? I don’t know anybody with the last name Long or Dong. This sounds more possibly Vietnamese to me…
  • Why is Long Duk Dong being hosted as an exchange student by an elderly couple? From what I recall, most exchange students are hosted by families with similarly school aged children.
  • How can Long Duk Dong be driving a car in the United States? Sixteen Candles takes place in modern day 1984 when the film was released. I don’t think many mainland Chinese “Chinamen” had cars, or even had a license, let alone a Chinese teenager. And why would Molly Ringwald’s Samantha’s (Sam) grandparents let Long Duk Dong drive?
  • Do you know anybody that has ever acted like Long Duk Dong in real life, let alone an Asian American or Chinese American? I have a hard time believing any exchange student who is not fully fluent in English being so audacious in his behavior. What was John Hughes’ point? Why a “Chinaman”? Because China was far an exotic and needed to be “different” from white suburban America?
  • If Long Duk Dong is so odd, foreign and weird, why is he hooking up with a white teenage girl? Wouldn’t white America be concerned about their daughters being seduced by a “Chinaman”?
  • And finally, what the hell is it with the movie having a gong sound whenever Long Duk Dong is on screen – it’s just plain ridiculous.

Overall, I enjoyed the film, despite its lack of realism. I’m kind of shocked at how supposedly popular Sixteen Candles was. I don’t have a recollection of the movie really when I was in middle school – maybe I was just sheltered and clueless. I wish I had known more about this movie – I probably would have been very insulted about it. Personally, while growing up in predominately white suburb, I don’t recall ever getting called Long Duk Dong in middle school or high school while growing (but do recall being called Bruce Lee, Mr. Miyagi or Daniel-san).

I’m wondering, what are the most obviously racist and ridiculous depictions of Asian Americans in cinema today in the 21st century?

Other observations and questions regarding Sixteen Candles, NOT related to Long Duk Dong.

  • I still find Molly Ringwald of the 1980s quite cute and unique, for her red/auburn hair and light complexion. I have yet to watch Pretty in Pink, but did really like her in The Breakfast Club and The Pickup Artist (my first recollection of Robert Downey Jr. as an actor)
  • I was amused to be reminded of the eighties – with the music, hair styles, etc.
  • Anthony Michael Hall and John Cusack look incredibly young in the movie, because they are! Given how young Anthony Michael Hall was when Sixteen Candles was filmed, I’m pretty impressed with Hall’s performance.
  • I kept thinking that Michael Schoeffling, who plays Jake Ryan, looked a LOT like a young Matt Dillon, which lead me to Google more info about Schoeffling. Apparently Schoeffling did eight more movies after Sixteen Candles that didn’t really go anywhere and has since left the acting business a long, long time ago.
  • I thought the most redeeming and “realistic” scene in the movie was when Samantha’s father comes downstairs in the middle of the night and checks on Samantha, apologizing for the family forgetting her sixteenth birthday.
  • The cell phone in the Rolls Royce was pretty big – pretty funny to think how big, expensive, uncommon and awkward looking cell phones back in the 1980s were.

In doing some research on the web, I did come an interesting article in The Washington Post about the unrealistic appeal of the Jake Ryan character in a 2004 story titled, “Real Men Can’t Hold a Match to Jake Ryan of ‘Sixteen Candles‘” If any of you women who had a teenage crush, holding out for a Jake Ryan, I think you might find the article interesting…

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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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