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Asian American Film Home > Commentary > Why "The Guru" Is The Most Important Movie About Asian Men You’ll See This Year

 
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Provocative opinions about Asian American film

Why "The Guru" Is The Most Important Movie About Asian Men You’ll See This Year

05.21 - Posted by Editor
The Guru
Heather Graham and Jimi Mistry in "The Guru"
Why "The Guru" Is The Most Important Movie About Asian Men You’ll See This Year

By Karen Fang (copyright 2003)

Post your comments!


05.21.03 - "The Guru" is not a good movie. A romantic comedy about an actor who comes to New York to make it big, the film is your usual "American dream"-story of winning riches and finding true love. But if it falls short on plot originality, the movie is a remarkable episode in the cinematic representations of Asian American men. Specifically, "The Guru" - whose title character is an Indian man - is one of the few mainstream Western movies to positively depict an Asian male as a romantic object for white women. By doing so, the film overturns the pervasive American stereotype of Asian men as sexless, effeminate, or otherwise unappealing love interests - a demeaning stereotype that has fed one of Hollywood's most impenetrable glass ceilings and hence also impacted society today.

In "The Guru," Ramu (Jimi Mistry) is a amiable dance teacher from Delhi, who answers a casting call for an "ethnic male" and unknowingly lands in a porn shoot. The joke thus presupposes the sexual appeal of this Asian man. Indeed, on the set Ramu strikes up a friendship with his comely white co-star, Sharonna (Heather Graham), and sexual tension between the two builds. In the meantime, though, Ramu starts another career as New Age therapist, during which he quickly becomes involved with another white woman, the heiress Lexi (Marisa Tomei). Both of these relationships are remarkable for the ordinary ways in which they are portrayed. For example, Ramu and Lexi end up in bed together the night that they first meet - and the possible scandal in the fact that a white woman is having sex with a brown man passes without comment (the movie makes this point in a post-coital scene when Lexi praises his bedroom skills before an audience). The movie also works hard to undercut existing movie stereotypes about the sexual inadequacies of Asian men, such as Long Duk Dong, the caricatured Asian exchange student in the Eighties teen flick "Sixteen Candles," whose name was a joke on the stereotype that Asian men have small penises. "The Guru" directly rejects this stereotype in a scene where Ramu must reveal his endowments during his audition for the porn film. That Ramu gets the part would suggest that it isn't an issue.

Of course, "The Guru" is hardly the "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" of our time. It has none of the self-conscious social criticism of that important 1967 film, and the cultural resistance against interracial romance that the film helps erode certainly is not as severe as that which exists between white women and black men. But few other Western films have ever shown a romance between an Asian man and a white woman in such a refreshingly appealing light. For example, to consider the specific ethnicity that "The Guru" represents, as recently as 1996, the Oscar-winning movie "The English Patient" all but completely omitted the romance between a white nurse and a Sikh soldier that is the core of the novel upon which the film is based. "The Guru" not only overturns this history but, more importantly, works against stereotypes that exist in the real world: as any Asian American man well knows, social and psychological stereotypes about Asian men often eliminate them from romantic eligibility, such that even today such relationships as "The Guru" portrays are rare. The merit of "The Guru" thus is that it not only shows an Asian man as a romantic object and virile lover, but especially that a series of white women seek him (it is Lexi, for example, who makes all the romantic overtures in their relationship).

In a year that brought us "Better Luck Tomorrow," "The Guru" is easily overlooked. But to do so based on its comparable mediocrity is to miss its unique value as a mainstream movie that makes so visible the idea that Asian men can be attractive to non-Asian American women. Moreover, that "The Guru" is - unlike "Better Luck Tomorrow" - a studio movie is important because it suggests that American audiences are now readily accepting of such an ethnically-Asian love interest. After all, the studios, with their preeminent concern for maximizing profit, would hardly risk it otherwise. Thus, only by being so unremarkable and conventional an event - like "Someone Like You" or "What Women Want" or that recent, pseudo-ethnic crowd-pleaser, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," or any other generic romantic comedy starring a blandly desirable male love interest - can "The Guru" be the event that it is: one of the few wide-release films in American history to present the Asian male in a positively romantic light.

For a longer version of this article, see the forthcoming December print issue of Jade Magazine (available by subscription and in Tower Records).




Comments

Jimi is soooooooo sexy my god!!!.....especially in the film East is East.........wow there he is sooooo fit its unbelievable.......ASIAN MEN R INCREDIBLY SEXY......AND I'M WHITE!!!

Posted by: on November 20, 2005 10:44 AM

The Guru is a owesome movie. I believe Jimmy Mistry has acted really very well. Its a nice comedy movie since i have seen for a very long time. Hats off to u Jimmy & keep up the good work. Its proud to c any Indian doing so good in foreigh lands.

Posted by: Neel/Vinayak on October 2, 2005 05:28 PM

I think this entire blog is hilarious. I am an Afro-American who suffers from Yellow Fever (married to a Thai/Chinese)I had to write something
I think that Indian dudes are like some long-lost brothers who remind me of black dudes. It is unforunate that a great deal of them think of themselves not as being negroes with straight hair. I think East Indians and middle eastern cats know that in order to be considered upper-class in their societies and perhaps here in the STATES is by getting with and seeding up a white woman. Until they marry who their parents want them to marry they party hardy while going to college out here in ameirca on daddy's paychecks. They know that the white woman is the ultimate trophy-piece, a status symbol, and the final frontier in their sex lives before they settle down with some poor sexually deprived girl who can't even hold hands with a guy while her future husband can bone all he wants. Now that is a stereotype, based on observances I made hanging out with the international students in college.

But in reality the whole of asia suffers from an inferioty complex brought on by psychological colonization by western influences such as Hollywood and television. Back in the days volumptious and dark women were seen as beautiful in the artworks across the colored continent of asia. In fact kings and some hindu gods were purple, black, and brown in the oldest of antique works. What? Even in Rome and Greece the gods Apollo, Zues, and Isis were all black, because they were icons mimicked from African Egypt. But now, we have the media in asia hating themselves and their own gene pools. the media across the continent are bent on recruiting light, bright, almost white bone-rack models who often get the leading roles in films and are often the heroes while the darker cast members are the sluts and hoes and people who nobody takes seriously such as the slap stick comedy victims of sarcasm, distain, and jokes. There is no argument to this fact if you actually watch these types of films. If all of this wasn't true east asian women wouldn't be spending millions getting eye surgery, bleaching agents for their gorgeous skin, or jumping on the bandwagon trying to move up the social ladder by having half white babies and strutting around half naked trying to dismantle thier own culture to become westernized to please their men.

In all honesty I don't care too much about the color of one's skin as I have a neice and nephew born of a white american woman. I just don't appreciate people who promote the hating of their own blood line and relish in dishonoring their ancestors.

Indian movie stars for example look nothing like the majority of indians in the country. is it because the majority of indians can't act or are ugly? No, on the contrary, this inferioty psychosis is the mental complex most of the colored-world suffers from as a consequence of mental colonialism brought on by the media. Man even Beyonce, micheal jackson, and halle berry all had something done to make themselves look less black for the public.

Afro-American stereotypes are so ingrained in white society that black dudes are synonomous with big hogs, athletics, hot blood, and reproduction This is an obvious after shock of slavery when they served the purpose of breeding when men were traded to mate with specific women for genetic purposes [check the film mandingo]and the women were simply raped and later had their kids sold off by their own masters/fathers,(read frederick douglass's book or George washington's paper/diary)

what now rests in the minds of white america as a result of the enslavement of blacks is the idea that the black man and his youknowwhat is to be feared especially if a white-woman already had one in her, because she "will never go back". Even in the movie the Incredibles that iceman (samuel jackson) refers to sex and his prowess at the moment of his introduction. Never mind the Asian stereotypes, imagine living with the stereotype that you are just a giganitic phallus not be presumed to be any kind of intellectual, mathematician, archetict, or doctor. the only foundation of the stereotype is that mad Afro-Americans usually do have big cocks for all to enjoy in the event he/she is down with brown. So fellas don't hate it is not our fault. \

But with respect to this Asian question and their sizes, I really don't know if the east asians are really packing the tackle. i don't want to find out either. I am pretty sure asian guys manage with what they have, as evidence of their huge populations. Somebody's phallus is working in asia.

As for me,...I thank GOD for blessing me with such a perfectly sized, healthy, and highly functioning phallus. I also thank my grandfathers for hooking me up something to swing around from time to time that doesn't require to much effor to get a job done with. I can't not complain and at least to my knowledge, neither can my wife. I sincerely think that it would suck having a sick dick or one that can only tickle a woman who is going to spend the rest of her life with a tiny piece of equipment that gets off before she does. peace out yall

Posted by: boogiedown on August 23, 2005 08:22 PM

joking but it should had shown the mans karate tricks

Posted by: on June 5, 2005 01:23 AM

You were definitely wrong in clumping south and east asians together.
east asians are the ones with the small dicks,m and south asians always get white women quite easily (dont really care if that's less true in america, because that's just one country, i'm talking about around the world)
also, there is hardly any unity between south and east asians, since east asians look down on anything dark (again maybe less so in america but just go to China, for example)

Posted by: rikk on May 23, 2005 03:57 AM

Well I am a playboy living in Norway and i don't think there is any difference now between white and not so white people loke me. I screw white chicks everyday and they are happy being screwed. and in the future time, I am going to rock the world. So watch out.

peace lucky:)

Posted by: lucky singh on March 26, 2005 06:41 PM

You call 'The GURU' funny!!! then u surely haven't met our very own, 'The GUFU', there's just one change in letter, but there's a huge gap which seperates the level and degree of entertainment provided by each. The GUFU? Don't know him,SAD!!! Yeah, its AMAN NAHAR, from KOLKATA, whose smile shows but just 16 great white bloacks, whose act, impresses none but the monkey up the great banyan tree, and his "HOHO's", they are just too gud. RIGHT AMAN???

Posted by: Yash Patel on November 28, 2004 05:24 AM

yeah sure, expect me to say something nice bout 'THE GURU', i will, but its an appreciation under compulsion. Hehe, joking. certainly a movie of great though provocation. Rate it 11 out of 10.

Posted by: Yash on November 28, 2004 05:19 AM

I heard the rumors growing up about how Asian men had small parts, but no one would dare say that to any of the Asian guys at my schools. They were all part of the stereotype being on the honor roll, but they were also in gangs far more violent then any of the black or mexican gangs.
Also, my husband is Indian. I think he is hot. Thought so from the moment I saw him. Never once did i think, "oh dear, he might have a tiny dingy" or "oooh he's Asian, he is weak" He is packed with muscle. I'm not white, (but I look like I am) I'm Portuguese. No one in my family said shit. They all thought he was cute. I don't think color really matters as much as it used to.

Posted by: Molly on November 15, 2004 10:28 PM

Just wanted to point out something - while it may not be promoting a south asian men have no sex appeal stereotype, it is completely playing on the whole white american women are dumb and turned on by "asian mysticism" stereotype... and hey what about the whole good little blonde vs rich, evil brunette stereotypes... i laughed through the whole film though. Loved it.. now let's get over asian men's sex appeal for white women and thing about asian women for a change... after Jimmy Mistry's other film, East is East, South Asian women's sex appeal was trampled over quite badly...

Posted by: desistereotypes on October 16, 2004 09:27 AM

Just wanted to point out something - while it may not be promoting a south asian men have no sex appeal stereotype, it is completely playing on the whole white american women are dumb and turned on by "asian mysticism" stereotype... and hey what about the whole good little blonde vs rich, evil brunette stereotypes... i laughed through the whole film though. Loved it.. now let's get over asian men's sex appeal for white women and thing about asian women for a change... after Jimmy Mistry's other film, East is East, South Asian women's sex appeal was trampled over quite badly...

Posted by: desistereotypes on October 16, 2004 09:26 AM

Since my first exposure to Asian men was a picture of Bruce Lee, I've never understood the stereotype that Asian men lack virility. While I agree that Long Duk Dong is a stereotype, all the other girls I knew who saw "Sixteen Candles" in theaters thought like me 'long dong' was male-locker-room-code for well-endowed (remember the use of 'long dong' during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings?). Although one of the meanest guys in junior high was Asian, I never thought he was the norm or lacked masculinity.

But then I wouldn't be here if my parents hadn't found free time from teacher enrichment courses in 1966 Japan to be conducive to romance. I'm no less bigoted than many stateside women my age (recent interracial romance failure a case in point), still tolerance is all about cross-cultural experience. Seeing few examples of Greek life besides "Zorba the Greek" and SNL skits made "Greek Wedding" pretty potent.

Coming at desirability from the standpoint of a woman who first spent time in a man's room for nonscholastic purposes after
1992 lol, attractiveness, trite or not, is self-induced. People choose to feel or are shown passion depending upon how confident they are themselves. Perhaps the greatest aphrodisiac between any two people is positive thinking.

Posted by: Carolyn Dethlefson on September 22, 2004 07:26 AM

Hey you all. I'm an Asian male, I have to admit that most Asian male got no balls. It's a fact, not a stereotype. Nothing can change it. You all probably call me traitor. Whatever! I've not seen more than one true Asian American hero in my life. Most of them keep complaining about the media, but never really go out there and beat the shit out of it society. They love working the long hour job and not having any voice in the society. Only Director Justin Lin looks like an Asian American man because he has the balls. He stands up and fights for his dream. I'm like Justin Lin who has the courage to stand up and fight. My movie will show that Bana Americans can do more than just what Justin Lin showed. Go visit www.bananaentertainment.com next month. You will see good stuff.

Posted by: Angry Bana American Director on August 7, 2004 02:25 AM

A question, how can you so closely relate the Gedde Watanabe's portrayal of Long Duk Dong with Jimi Mistri's character as representative of Asian men? How are they even connected? Who would even go so far to make that kind of subtle connection? Its usually a very hard jump in logic, but I still think we dont have that stereotype casted away - good article.

Posted by: Jonathan on August 6, 2004 11:44 AM

You are quite wrong in grouping Indian Americans with East Asian Americans such as Japanese and Chinese Americans. American society do not put these two together in the same category of stereotype. You are really out of touch with reality!

Posted by: kangj on February 23, 2004 04:10 AM

Hi . I ve disllike the stereo types. I m more eastern asian and got a big dong. However i dislike some of the stereo types although some are true ...AHH THE BEAUTY OF DIVERSITY. WHITE CHICKS ARE GOOD

Posted by: Big Dong on February 13, 2004 04:21 AM

Nope. Unlike what Ms. Fang stated in her article or like to think, this movie did no favors for the East Asian male, but for South Asian (Indian) guys maybe it did. Since Ms. Fang is probably East Asian herself, judging by name, it is important for her to know the distinction.
It is ridiculous to lump the issues of East and South Asians together as one issue, because they are indeed separate issues, and each respective group have their very own types of battles to fight in terms of stereotypes. Lumping them together actually shows a certain disrespect for both parties, discrediting the distinct experiences they go through. Just because they are from the same continent geographically does not mean they can be considered the same ethnic group, they are not. South Asians, in fact, trace their ancestry back to Indo-European (Caucasian) peoples, nothing at all like East Asians.
So saying that this movie served to empower all "Asian" males is like saying that "Shaft" empowered the black male as well as Asian men. That type of conclusion does not fly. Next.

P.S. - Oh, and just because it's not in movies, doesn't mean you can't do it. Date whoever the heck you want.

Posted by: RealGuru on February 12, 2004 11:42 PM

I'm not sure I buy passing off Long Duk Dong as a racial slur about penis size. You'd have to look pretty closely at Sixteen Candles to make a credible case for racism, and even then, I'm not convinced you could make the charges stick.

Consider the much more damaging stereotype: the "model minority" hard working student with no personality. Seems to me that having an Asian kid be the comic relief was a pretty sly challenge to the status quo.

Posted by: on January 5, 2004 12:10 PM

An East Indian man doesn't exactly share the same stereotypes as an "Asian American male." When you talk of the small penis and asexual stereotypes, those are usually used to describe Chinese and Japanese Americans. East Indian males have to deal with a whole different set of stereotypes: cab driver, quick-mart owner, mistaken-as-terrorist, always turbaned with heavy Indian accents. Sure, this film may help to reverse those stereotypes but it doesn't do anything to reverse stereotypes of Chinese and Japanese American males. Unless Hollywood decides to do another biopic about Bruce Lee, there probably won't be another Chinese male/White female romance on the big screen anytime soon. But then who cares whether a white female actress plays the wife/girlfriend to an Asian American male in a movie? We really don't need them to validate our sex appeal. Why not focus more on a fully Asian American couple? Now that's more like it.

Posted by: on November 20, 2003 06:54 PM

Not true in MD, DC, VA & CA (and possibly a lot more places in America), or, in other words in those parts, asian-american men get plenty of non-asian loving (as far as I can see).

All in all an interesting article, but regarding the following sentence:
""The Guru" ... works against stereotypes that exist in the real world: as any Asian American man well knows, social and psychological stereotypes about Asian men often eliminate them from romantic eligibility, such that even today such relationships as "The Guru" portrays are rare."
I am not sure what observations led Karen Fang to that conclusion, but, being male & asian-american & having grown up in Maryland, and having dated, since 15 (which means for 15 happy years at this point), lots of non-Asian women, and having observed lots of other inter-ethnic (or to use the popular term-interracial) couples including asian-american men and euro-american women, I would have to say that at least where I live there does not seem to be a dating problem for asian-american men. Also, my asian-american male friends & aquaintances in DC, VA & CA do not have any unusually difficult times finding non-asian women to date.
So, I think perhaps the lesson is, just becasue Hollywood movies don't show it does not mean its not happening. Keep in mind Hollywood movies & mainstream television did not begin to show "interracial" couples of any kind, even rarely, until well into the 1980's. However, "interracial" dating, romance, relationships, etc. have been going on in America from day 1. There is a lot of real life that mainstream film & TV does not show at the moment, and film & TV does not have as much power as people usually attribute to them for affecting society. Being a consumer driven society, mass produced and expensive products such as Hollywood movies usually end up reflecting either the most comforting or the most shocking images in order to engage the audience/sell tickets. Real life & movies are too very different things, specially in America and specially when it comes to ethnicity related issues.

All that aside, I am all for more acting opportunities for asian-american male actors and men and women of other underrepresented backgrounds-in well written (and hopefully somewhat accurate and positive) roles.

I do agree with the Karen on "Greek Wedding" being blander then bland (it did have a few funny moments-like the windex bit). But some, actually make that lots, of Americans thought it was a good movie. What is bland to some is exciting for many.

Keep up the media analysis Karen! And know that at least 1 asian-american man's romantic life has not been negatively affected by Hollywood :)

Posted by: Sujewa Ekanayake on July 2, 2003 04:20 AM

Hmmm...I thought this movie looked dumb (and I still do) but your insight is much appreciated Ms. Fang. I'll have to see it sometime.

Posted by: benedictus on June 2, 2003 11:53 PM

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