What is the significance of the novel's formatting?
Charles Yu's decision to format most of Interior Chinatown as a teleplay isn't a purely aesthetic choice: the script style is a symbolic representation of how mainstream American culture tends to access Chinese culture exclusively through its stereotyped representation in media. By inhabiting the screenplay form and utilizing its tropes, Yu reveals the Asian American stereotypes perpetuated by mainstream media. Further, Yu shows how Wu and his family conform to their scripted roles both on and off-screen, playing out the stereotypes of generic Asian Americans in their private lives as well. In this way, Yu uses the screenplay formatting to underscore the novel's thematic preoccupation with how stereotypes inform not only how others see a stereotyped population but how that stereotyped population sees itself.
How is family significant to the story told in Interior Chinatown?
The importance of family is a major theme in Interior Chinatown. Early in the book, Yu establishes Wu's closeness to his father, mother, and older brother, all of whom have played parts on Black and White. Because only generic Asian roles are available on the TV show, the family comes to resemble their on-screen selves in real life, the boundary between stereotyped media representation and reality blurring beyond distinction. The result is that Wu's family structure suffers: his older brother disappears, his father becomes taciturn and isolated, and his mother worries about the men in her family. The same conflict of on-screen ambitions affecting family solidarity recurs when Karen and Wu separate because Wu is unwilling to give up on his dream of playing Kung Fu Guy to play a supporting role in the new life Karen pursues. It is only once Wu realizes the true spiritual hollowness of the generic roles available to him that he returns his focus to his family, which functions as an antidote to the superficial reality to which he has been confined.
What is ironic about Wu's trial for leaving Chinatown?
After Wu leaves Chinatown in a stolen cop car, he stands trial in "The Case of the Missing Asian Man." However, the trial turns out to be less about his disappearance or theft than it is about what distinguishes Asian identity from other marginalized identities in America. As people give testimony, Wu's issues with his stereotyped identity as a Chinese American are contrasted with the oppression of Black people, and the invisibility of women who don't conform to Western beauty standards. Older Brother, acting as a defense attorney, argues that Asian Americans have a separate history of discrimination and therefore the conversation need not be one of comparison. With this diversion from the premise, Yu creates an instance of situational irony in which the reader's expectations are undermined to touch on deeper themes of Asian-American exclusion from mainstream society.
What is the significance of the novel's setting?
Interior Chinatown is set in an American Chinatown—a district of a non-Chinese city where most residents are Chinese. With this symbolic setting, Yu conveys how Chinese-American culture is packaged and simplified for mainstream consumption. While modern-day Chinatowns are considered by most non-residents to be tourist attractions or places to eat Chinese food, Chinese immigrants first consolidated in Chinatowns to escape violence and racial discrimination that barred them from renting or working elsewhere. It was only after interventions by marketers and journalists after WWII that Chinatowns were promoted as exotic destinations. Their physical appearances changed as a result, with the decoration and architecture conforming to orientalist ideas of Chinese culture. With this physical representation, Yu emphasizes his greater point about how Chinese-American identity is informed by stereotypes.
Explain the irony behind Wu's desire to play Kung Fu Guy.
From childhood, Wu aspires to be cast in Black and White as Kung Fu Guy, the highest rung on the ladder of roles available to Asian actors. His brother attains legendary status by playing the role, disappearing mysteriously after doing so. Although it is likely his older brother realized the emptiness of attaining such status within a broken system, Wu continues to hope to play the prestigious. However, when he finally lands the role of his dreams, Wu realizes it has the same limitations as the Generic Asian Man role because both are stereotypes informed by cultural prejudice. With this revelation, Yu creates an instance of situational irony that undermines his protagonist's expectations and reorients him toward a more spiritually fulfilling life.