The novel is about Asian stereotypes and limited access to opportunities in Hollywood. As a result, the physicality of the characters is almost always front and center. And the narrator addresses the situation directly:
You wish your face was more—more, something. You don’t know what. Maybe not more. Less. Less flat. Less delicate. More rugged. Your jawline more defined. This face that feels like a mask, that has never felt quite right on you. That reminds you, at odd times, and often after two to four drinks, that you’re Asian. You are Asian! Your brain forgets sometimes. But then your face reminds you.
The Non-Asian Face
So deeply does the racism penetrate into the Hollywood movie system—and, by association, all of America—that there even a reverse kind of racism. Racism is generally about exclusion through prejudice and discrimination. But the imagery here reveals how it can equally be perpetrated through misguided inclusion:
“Able to pass in any situation as may be required,” she says. “I get it all. Brazilian, Filipina, Mediterranean, Eurasian. Or just a really tan White girl with exotic-looking eyes. Everywhere I go, people think I’m one of them. They want to claim me for their tribe.”
Kung Fu Fighting
At the top of the heap for Chinese actors is Kung Fu Guy. But it is reserved only for the rarest of the rare, the crème de la crème, though perhaps that is not a completely appropriate term. It is the highest a Chinese actor can get and so it is what goes through the mind in the fantasies of the narrator almost constantly:
On-screen, two fighters crisscrossing six feet above the ground, somersaults in the air, butterfly kicks, twisting horizontally, diagonally, three-sixty, seventy-twenty, ten-eighty. Gravity waiting patiently for the two black-haired masters to succumb, not inevitably bound by the rules of physics like regular mortals, rather by choice, returning to earth only if and when they feel like it and even then in their own manner. Blue sky behind them, the midday sun backlighting the whole scene in such a way as to wash out all details.
The story is not about reaching the top as a Chinese actor. It is not even about making a living as an actor. It is about the struggle just to land regular gigs as Generic Asian Delivery Guy. It is about life in La La Land at the bottom of the heap of the bottom of the heap. The town is not yet tinsel:
The main thing about living on eight is that the shower pan in the bathroom on nine is cracked. It was cracked when you were a kid, crammed in this room with your parents, and it’s still cracked now. They’ve repaired it a half-dozen times in the past few years but always on the cheap, caulking it with cheap stuff when what they really need to do is replace the whole damn thing. Otherwise, it will just keep cracking over and over again.
Interior Chinatown Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Interior Chinatown is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.