Monkey see, Monkey do

Come one, Come all! See the monkeys! The recently restored film (in 3-D) “Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven” on March 20th held its first screening at this year’s CAAMFEST. The reviews look very positive and relinquish on childhood memories of the old 1965 edition. The story is about the protagonist named Sun Wu-Kong (meaning monkey king). It followers his adventures as he leads his monkey followers and goes off on his own quests. It originated from a 16th century Chinese novel.


Isn’t this wonderful? This means more Asian representations in main stream media (even better if the voice acting was performed by actual Asians instead of following yellowface logics). HOWEVER… although the movie may be quite lovely and inspiring, let’s take a quick glance of the implications using the theories of perception. Using the cognitive accessibility theory we might begin to make mental shortcuts that monkeys act foreign, have Asian names, and live in exotic lands with adventures. Then the spreading activist recognizes that now these shortcuts leads us to believe that “Oh, Monkeys are all Asian”. They may also assume that the way monkeys act, is the same way that Asians act, so therefore Asians are also monkeys! Now cultivation analysis tells us that this “media/Televised” foreign Asian is what Asians REALLY are.

Now I understand that it might be a stretch that people will begin thinking Asians and monkeys act the same just because of a film. But we must consider real citations and issues that may arise. We might not think of Asian as acting monkey-like, but what about being foreign? Because of the lack (or shortage) of monkeys in America, we tend to view them as being exotic, different, and all round not normal (even if you think they are good/cute). We also tend to view monkey adventures as exotic, different, and all around not normal, even fictional. Now if we are repeatedly exposed to the construction of monkeys following Asian cultures, can we assume a connection will be reinforced between Asian and foreign? This Orientalistic perspective soon is the dominant image. This is also a reason Asian Americans face issues as being forever foreign. I looked through popular media (mainly video games) to see the association between monkeys and Asians. To simplify my analysis I will just list names of monkey characters that draw connection to Asians (whether these names originate or not from Asains, I don’t know. But being an average whit American, I think I can draw on my perceptions to represent much of the population’s interpretations of the same “foreign” names)

Wukong  (League of Legends)    AiAi (Super Monkey Ball)              KiKi (Legend of Zelda)

Wiki (Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure)           Kongo (Monkey Magic)

SonSon (SonSon/MvC2 series)



So come one, come all! See the Asians! Or let’s instead learn from the past and present more resistant representations not associating monkeys with our fellow Americans.



One thought on “Monkey see, Monkey do

  1. Good job challenging and problematizing this classic film. What’s interesting it that it is being shown at one of the most prominent Asian American film festivals in the country. I have not read any negative reviews of the film–but I appreciate your take on this and how you connect it to theories that may reinforce troubling stereotypes.

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