A couple of months ago, I had a conversation with a good friend about my future and how The Banana Times is going to progress. One option for my future was to work for a few years then return to school for a masters degree in possibly Journalism. She asked why not Film Studies, and travel the world for my thesis. I responded “but I wouldn’t know what to write about”. With a brief hesitation I said “…Banana Cinema?”. In retrospect it was an obvious answer, but it never crossed my mind. Naturally, my friend knew this would be the answer all along.
It makes perfect sense since the national cinemas around the world have already been deeply covered and analyzed. Looking further, we live in such a globalized, information-dependent, and international society that language is becoming less and less of a requirement. With that said, national cinemas are evolving beyond the restrictions of their geography and race, thus Banana Cinema is possible.
Banana Cinema will not be contained within a country or a specific culture. It will encompass many Asian cultures and the traces they leave in broadening their horizons past their borders and into other identities. This is definitely something new that can be explored, where a national cinema requires not a nation, but a unified globalized ideology of sorts.
Looking back in the last 10 years, were there any potential young representatives of Banana Cinema that came about? Here are a three people I thought of who have made strides in culture, art and media, as well as influenced myself and The Banana Times (alphabetical order):
John Cho (Actor):
We know John Cho from the American Pie films, Harold & Kumar, and now in ABC’s new drama, Flashforward. Cho has made his mark with the Asian community by by portraying the stereotypical yellowman in Harold & Kumar (soon to be) trilogy, but has graciously advanced into deeper roles such as the revamped Hikaru Sulu in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek and even a guest spot on How I Met Your Mother as the Caucasian-named Jeff Coatsworth. In my opinion his most significant “Banana” role was in Justin Lin’s Better Luck Tomorrow where he played the cunning spoiled Asian high-school student, Steve Choe. More on the film later.
Utada Hikaru (Singer/Songwriter):
Utada Hikaru has very little to do with cinema, let alone Banana Cinema, but she has made huge strides in bringing together Asian and Western audiences. Utada’s body of work speaks for itself, with 5 Japanese and 3 English studio albums selling well over 70 million copies. Although her English work is not as powerful or influential as her native tongue, her global reach is undeniable. You’d be hard pressed to find an Anime lover or a gamer who has not heard of Utada Hikaru (Kingdom Hearts, Rebuild of Evangelion). Personally, if Easy Breezy was not selected as her American debut single, Exodus would have been way more popular and recognized (an underrated album methinks).
Justin Lin (Director):
Born in Taiwan and grew up in LA, Justin Lin made one of the most relatable film to Banana Cinema. Better Luck Tomorrow revolved around a group of Asian-American high school students who became bored of school life and resorted to crime and violence. It was made with a very low budget ($250,000) but made it to the Official Selection of Sundance and the Toronto International Film Festival. The stereotypical Asian student who excels in school is portrayed relevantly, with a splash of crime and drama reminiscent of many Hong Kong films. Lin went on to direct Annapolis and Fast & Furious, but he will forever be remembered, at least in our eyes, by the man who possibly kickstarted Banana Cinema.
Please note that the aforementioned three people are not in any way better or more significant than any other possible representatives of Banana Cinema or any topic regarding the blending of Asian and Western cultures. They were elaborated on because of their emergence in the last decade more or less.
Honorable Mentions (alphabetical):
Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat, Ang Lee, Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Lucy Liu, Masi Oka, Ken Watanabe, John Woo, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi