Although strides have been made to portray Asian American women more accurately, SLAYING THE DRAGON points to the fact that unlike other minorities, Asian American women must overcome two passive stereotypes: being Asian and being female.
The documentary includes interviews with some of the image makers themselves: Asian American actresses Nancy Kwan, Nobu McCarthy and Kim Miyori, and TV anchor Emerald Yeh. Asian American women who are not in the public eye reflect on the conflict between their families’ expectations that they remain virtuous and demure and the American white male fantasy of them as promiscuous and flirtatious.
The film opens with clips of America’s first Asian screen star – Anna May Wong as the sinister Dragon Lady was Hollywood’s reaction to the escalating Chinese immigration of the early 20th century. She was upstaged in the ’30s and ’40s by noble peasant characters when World War II changed America’s perception of the Chinese. Ironically, though, this cinematic breakthrough was not even skin deep: Asian actors were overlooked in favor of Caucasians, as in Katharine Hepburn in “Dragon Seed” (1944) and Luise Rainer in “The Good Earth” (1937).
Wartime, once again, shifted American attitudes. SLAYING THE DRAGON traces the American white male’s sudden attraction to Asian women, reflected in such films as “Sayonara” (1957) and “Teahouse of the August Moon” (1956), to the Korean War, when U.S. soldiers encountered Japan’s “geisha girls.” In the ’60s, that romantic desire settled into full-fledged sexual fantasy, with interracial relationships becoming not only acceptable but desirable.