Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown Literary Elements


Fiction, Novel

Setting and Context

The Golden Palace and its attached apartment building: the SRO. The Golden Palace morphs into different parts of an imaginary Chinatown to suit the needs of a screenplay.

Narrator and Point of View

The novel is presented in the form of a hybrid novel and screenplay.

It contains a mix of first-person and close third-person perspectives, mostly fixed on the experiences and imagination of its protagonist: Willis Wu, an aspiring actor of Taiwanese heritage.

The novel frequently moves to different points in time, often with a scene-heading to denote the shift.

Tone and Mood

The tone balances humor and satire with tragic elements.

A meta-fictional screenplay style frequently undercuts its realist elements.

Characters are usually introduced with comic simplicity and later demonstrate complicating nuances.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Willis Wu. The novel's conflict is mainly internal, and so there is no discrete antagonist. Miles Turner occupies a role similar to that of an antagonist for parts of the story.

Major Conflict

This novel is about Willis Wu coming to terms with his place in America.

This conflict is modified by Willis's Taiwanese heritage and his participation in the television industry. TV is a wholly superficial medium, and America is a country that generalizes Asian identities, reducing several cultures into a generic blur. Willis chafes against this systemic mistreatment and struggles to find a way to meaningfully exist within a system poised against him.

He struggles to figure out what he wants from America, where he fits into it, and how he should feel about the indignities he's suffered.


The courtroom scene is designed to fit the mold of a traditional filmic climax, and it contains several dramatic movements in which Willis comes to a final understanding regarding the difficulties of living inside of Chinatown. He lets go of his desire to become "Kung Fu Man," gains a newfound respect for himself, and crystalizes his priotities.


Willis's parents' lives foreshadow the difficulties of ascending to the upper echelons of Asian celebrity at the Golden Palace. Ming-Chen, Willis's father, was a successful action star. His mother was a relatively successful actor as well. But their accomplishments didn't bring meaningful change to their personal lives, and their fame didn't allow them to be true to themselves.




The Golden Palace transforms into different images of a generic Chinatown. The lacquered ornate woodwork, red lighting, and paper lanterns are evocative of a generic version of Asian existence that does not otherwise exist.



Metonymy and Synecdoche

The Golden Palace is a stand-in for several generic Chinatowns: an Asian-themed backdrop for a film or TV show. The thin nature of this setting, as well as its genericism, is a metonym for the limited, oft-stereotyped, genericized experience of living as an Asian person in America.

Phoebe's floating palace is a similar type of metonymic setting, in that it represents her dreams and creativity with a physical, albeit fantastical setting. Also like Chinatown, this palace is superimposed over a mundane setting. The palace is actually Phoebe's closet, and Chinatown is actually a restaurant called The Golden Palace.