Identities in Motion Peter X Feng

Identities in Motion


“The central theme of this volume is that cinema has defined what it means to be American, including the conditions that Asian Americans must meet to be considered American” (Feng 2).

“The last part… examines how attempts to redefine Asian American subjectivity are at times rendered incomprehensible due to the shared investment by Asian American makers and audiences in the categories to which we have grown accustomed” (2).

“Identity emerges from the friction between cited cinematic texts and the Asian American movies that incorporate them, which is to say that identity is produced by the friction between movies that arrest identity (essentialism) and Asian American movies that construct identity” (4).

“The study of Asian American cinema requires a methodology that can deal with identities in motion, that can explore the multiple gaps that constitute Asian American cinematic identity. These gaps include the gaps of history (the absence of narratives that would connect Asian Americans to the United States), gaps in representation (the anxious repetition that permits splitting results from an awareness that dominant discourse does not correspond with reality), gaps between essentialist and constructivist identity formations, and finally, gaps between the fields of Asian American studies and film studies” (6-7).

“This ambivalent critique contributes to a disidentification with Americanness: more specifically, a disidentification with narratives of bourgeois assimilation. Asian American cinema interrogates the mutual implications of assimilation narratives and conventional cinematic forms” (7).

“Asian American identity is defined not by history, but gaps in history: the absence of information bespeaks a historical trauma that defines Asian Americans” (17).

“By discontinuous representations of the past, I mean to describe the relationship of Asian Americans to a historical record that was not written with us in mind. Investigating the historical record with Asian Americans in mind calls attention to the ways ideology has shaped the telling of history, investigating the terms under which Asian Americans are included in the telling of history and the terms by which Asian Americans narrate their own history (itself marked by ideological contradictions and by the exclusions of certain identity formations)” (18).

“Just as Asian American cinematic identity exists in tension with discourse of Americanness, so do Asian American makers define their own subjectivity in relation to cinema” (7).

Feng on Chan is Missing

“Can cinema express Asian American identities that escape containment by Western regimes of vision and discourses of citizenship” (152)?

Chan is Missing may show us how Asian American cinematic identity can be spoken from the interval, from liminal space, but we must not forget that even liminality is faced with recuperation by identity formations that are founded on the myth of origins and essences” (168).

Feng On Surname Viet Given Name Nam

Surname‘s narrative fragmentation refuses to articulate refuses to articulate a unified notion of Vietnam or Vietnamese womanhood; such a strategy is especially disturbing to an exile community that turns to film to construct an image of its homeland” (193).

“Commodification tends to arrest identities in motion, in large part by making ethnicity available for consumption both by diasporic Asians and by U.S. culture at large. Multicultural consumption involves translation, the adaptation of Asian traditions for diasporic contexts, and it is the paradox of translation that it arrests tradition as it distorts it” (193).

“By referring to an absent interlocutor, such dialogue calls attention to the textual mediation of the interviews, referring not just to Mai’s book but to the original interviews on which the book was based – the ur-text of the ur-text that germinated Trinh’s film” (196).

“The stylized mise-en-scene and framing of the film’s first half convey the ways that meaning exceeds translation and representation in documentary film generally; paradoxically, these techniques of estrangement call attention to Trinh’s intervention, metonymically representing her control in selecting and framing interviews” (198).

“In this interview, Trinh seems to forget for a moment that the artificiality of cinema precludes the possibility of capturing ‘daily existence'” (199).

“How can a filmmaker critique ideology without condemning the people who reproduce those ideologies” (201)?


Feng, Peter X. Identities in Motion: Asian American Film and Video. Durham [N.C.: Duke UP, 2002. Print.

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