IN 2005 FILM SCHOLAR/ARTIST NGUYEN TAN HOANG INTERVIEWS ERICA CHO
ON ASIAN MASCULINITY

"We Got Moves You Ain't Even Heard Of and School Boy Art, along with the animated political allegory Our Cosmos, Our Chaos, constitute smart, irreverent interventions in academic and activist debates about racialized sexuality, (trans)gender politics, and historical trauma. One of the most impressive achievements of Erica’s work is its examination of the role of negative affect (e.g. shame, humiliation, loss, anger) in constituting minoritarian subjecthood and agency. In so doing, it interrogates simplistic claims of social and political empowerment that gloss over the real life experience of racial and sexual subjection." - Nguyen Tan Hoang, Bryn Mawr College


NTH: What are your your thoughts about the use of Asian masculinity in your work, specifically School Boy Art, but also in We Got Moves?

EC: The work is less about masculinity as it is about femininity. It’s basically a recovery of sexuality and desire through the feminine—or through the balanced merging of the feminine and masculine? Yin and Yang, shall we? In SBA, the main characters are two femmey gay men attracted to each other. The short, old professor with little bow tie and corduroy jacket neatly corrects the student's drawings with a feminine hand. The young, aspiring student carries a little satchel purse, walks with a prissy little gait, and cutely checks his appearance in the car rearview mirror. In the sex act, they're very cooperative and polite. I’m attracted to and want to create images of androgyny and bisexed characters, especially male assigned people with feminine qualities – both in their physique and personality.

In We Got Moves, the focus is on a brutalized, emasculated boy who, in the original narrative of The Karate Kid, finds his identity and overcomes his enemies, not by taking up a gun in typical 80s Rambo/Chuck Norris style, but by disguising his training, becoming more invisible and turning into a beautiful crane over water, therefore connecting to femininity and feminine wisdom. Of course the burden of the feminine healing falls on the asexual old isolated Asian man (i.e. ‘like a woman’), but the success of The Karate Kid narrative rests on two things: portraying Mr. Miyagi as a three-dimensional character and exposing the fear and grotesqueness behind hyper-masculine ideals in American culture. As for We Got Moves, it’s about the dyke’s identification with the emasculated boy or brutalized fag, recovering an alternative sexuality through a rejection of white American macho masculinity.


NTH: Do you see the reworking of Asian masculinity as a trend in Asian dyke artwork or is it only isolated, individual instances?


EC: There are few contemporary Asian dyke artists who address masculinity directly... though I have a feeling there is more out there I just haven't seen. School Boy Art itself has enjoyed little circulation. It’s often rejected by Asian American film festivals and Gay and Lesbian film festivals, and I’m not sure why. Maybe because it can't fit neatly into a gay/lesbian or even transgender category, or because there's a huge cock that takes over the screen 'man'-handled by an actor read as female, or if the teacher-student thing is now taboo, or it's just a bad film?

My hapa Japanese friend Shawn Tamarabuchi makes video, photo and performance art that addresses gender and masculinity. The video Ken's Dream (2003) that she made in my class at Scripps College portrayed a genital-less generic 99-cent store Ken Doll who is unhappy until he grows a pussy overnight. After the dream, he is able to ride with pleasure horses and bikes without seats. I like the piece because it's not about about a Barbie who wants a cock. Instead I read the piece as a fagetized dyke piece--- the dyke's identification with the boy without sexuality who inherits female genitals and sees pleasure (and power) in this transformation or discovery (becoming a lesbian!?).


NTH: What is your use of masculinity informed by? Is it just in reference to Asian (American) popular culture, (e.g. Karate Kid, martial arts) or other sources as well, such as gay 70s porn/music or '80s movies?

EC: Asian and American popular culture, yes. Also, '70s and early '80s movies where boys were portrayed as pretty (tight clothes, long hair), 80s music (Britfag synth music, as opposed to macho American guitar solos).

NTH: Are there lesbian sources that you are drawing from? What might those be?


EC: The only hot short video I can recall is one of Shu Lea Cheang's piece, Fingers and Kisses (1995), where Japanese punky dykes make out in the subway? One of the first portrayals of sexualized Asian dykes where I was actually turned on!


NTH: Does it also draw on past and contemporary dyke uses and abuses of masculinity, say female/butch/FTM masculinities?


EC: A NYC drag performer that impressed me in the '90s was Murray Hill because he/she performs an alternative masculinity that doesn’t depend exclusively on a feminine other/object to reinforce his/her masculinity.


NTH: Is there an intervention of a sort into the female masculinity debate esp since that has been talked about by people like Halberstam in terms of black and white masculinities?

EC: Not directly.

NTH: Basically I would like to find out where you are coming from with your work , especially School Boy Art, because I would like to talk about it as a "corrective" or a more playful model of Asian masculinity that breaks out of the more defensive position that gay and straight Asian American male artists are invested in rescuing/resurrecting...

EC: Another aspect of the “playfulness” of the representation of an old Asian professor was made clear to me by the kinds of positive reactions I get from audiences reading this as humorous queer porn—that is, as a film designed to arouse them. Certain subgenres of queer porn, especially lesbian narrative porn, try to be more real and less staged in the sexual enjoyment of the characters/actors (by casting partners to have sex, filming play parties, etc.). When people see SBA, their second major reaction after laughter is often a delighted arousal during the cum scene. They will exclaim, outloud, “But is that real, or is it a dildo?” or “Is she/he really doing that?” or “How could they?” The performativity of a sexual act brings up all these questions that reveal another level of playfulness, which is in the acting. What were those people thinking as they did that together? Why would they do such a thing? Are they relating as a fag and a dyke, a fag and a transfag, two friends leaving their gender behind, a man and a woman, ‘opposite-sex’ virgins? Were they really aroused, or were they just “faking it”? People, both fags and dykes, are intrigued by their own delight as well, because it challenges what they usually find arousing, not just in terms of intergenerational sex, or old Asian man sex, but gendered sex. So an important level of experimentation was in the staging of this sex scene, and the knowledge that the audience assumes (or becomes aware of the fact) that the event “really” happened, beyond a staged set. It’s a more corrective model of masculinity because I invite people’s open curiosity, fascination, or unintentional bleeding between the character and the actor, or the actor and the director. It doesn’t threaten the masculinity or attractiveness of the two characters, and it doesn’t threaten my own sexuality (actually, it enhances it). It doesn’t even threaten the cohesion of the narrative by people momentarily leaving their suspension of disbelief to wonder about the logistics of filming an unexpected scene like that. An earlier concept of the film was to overlay the awkward, bumbling soundtrack of actors struggling to make a cock cum, to especially draw attention to this aspect of the film. Luckily, people pick up on it even without the soundtrack.


NTH: Is your use of masculinity in this work informed in any way by gay Asian male experimental work (Richard Fung, Ming Ma, Wayne Yung, my own) on masculinity? If yes,then how so?

EC: The only filmmaker listed above I have been inspired and influenced by is Nguyen Tan Hoang, having seen Forever Linda! and Maybe Never (But I'm Counting the Days...)in NYC in 1996 and 1997, pre-We Got Moves. The Hello Kitty pop-ness, the representation of friendship, collaboration, playfulness, sexiness among Asian men, women, fags and dykes in an American context with the exclusion of whiteness was refreshing. The pretty Asian boys with lipstick kissing each other in the art gallery was especially cute! The collectivity demonstrated by the collaboration, non-actor volunteerism, and multiple characters restages Asian sexuality and desire as community and not as a personal isolated identity struggle. I read your work as queer and not exclusively gay male. In the same way, I read my work as not exclusively lesbian, but queer, where dykes and fags inform and share concepts on how they view themselves and how they desire. I’m interested in fags who identify with dykes (read: feminist fags) and vice versa.

NTH: How do you see your project as different from theirs in regards to your use of masculinity? And how do you see your work related to Lynne Chan or other Asian dyke work that engages with masculinity?


EC: I think my work, though softcore—or rather nrrdcore, aspires to be pornographic. Also, in Lynne Chan's JJ Chinois video, the character’s masculine body is one of the foci. I don’t see my work focusing too heavily on the masculine physique on the female body.


NTH: Thanks. Have a great Thanksgiving, especially since you eat meat now.

EC: Yer welcome!

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