Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown Summary and Analysis of Act 3: Ethnic Recurring


Willis appears on several episodes of Black and White and is promoted to progressively more central roles. This culminates, thus far, in his appearance as Special Guest Star. Willis speaks in an accented, broken English entirely unlike his narration, which is generally colloquial, varied, and descriptive.

Turner and Green’s investigation leads them to believe that Older Brother (Willis’s older brother) is a probable suspect in the murder of Dead Asian Man because of Older Brother's unexplained disappearance. To aid in the investigation, Willis brings Turner and Green to the Golden Palace’s kitchen, where Willis’s father plays Old Asian Man. Willis tells Turner and Green that this Old Asian Man was once a kung fu master, and that he taught everyone in Chinatown, including the missing Older Brother.

Willis, somewhat proudly, goes on to suggest that Old Asian Man could teach Turner “a thing or two.” Turner scoffs and takes offense. After a tense exchange, Turner and Willis are squared off, ready to fight, but Green intervenes.

Willis backs down, and Turner accuses Willis of being overly obedient, insulting his masculinity and drawing attention to his subordinate position on the perceived hierarchy of race. Turner goes on to say that Willis shouldn’t be proud of his recent success on the show, that any victory within a system of injustice only feeds it. Willis counters by saying that Turner’s face is on the billboard, his name is on the title. Turner corrects him, saying that the word “Black” is on the billboard; Turner explains that he’s forced into a category, just like Willis. Green intervenes again, and Turner suggests that Willis enjoys having a white person stick up for him, implying that Willis behaves like a “model minority.” Green intervenes once more, this time successfully, by suggesting that their entire disagreement is being motivated by petty, macho head-butting.

The homicide investigation takes Turner, Green, and Wu further into the Golden Palace, which has been superficially transformed into a gambling den. Fatty Choy, playing a low-ranking henchman, congratulates Willis on his newfound fame. The crime boss of the gambling den is played by Young Fong, son of the recently deceased Old Fong. After a brief interrogation, Young Fong turns the tables on Turner and Green by instigating a large-scale battle-royale and disappearing in the chaos.

In the midst of all this gunfire and kung fu, Karen Lee, an undercover detective, saves Willis’s life. Shortly thereafter, Willis saves Turner’s life by performing an impressive kung-fu kick.

Willis is the hero of the moment. Karen praises Willis’s kung fu, and even Turner acknowledges how cool it was. But his glory is short-lived. Willis was shot in the stomach during the action scene, and he’s dying. Green calls over a medic, but it’s too late. Turner gives the prognosis: “You’re dying, man.”


Willis describes a fog of amnesia hanging over the kitchen. Ming Chen, his father, once a dragon, has been reduced to playing Old Asian Man, a diminished version of his former self who wears a grease-stained undershirt and stares blankly into the middle distance. But Ming Chen is aware of what’s happening, namely Willis’s participation in Black and White. They speak to each other in Taiwanese, and there’s an honesty and clarity in this quotation-marked dialogue that doesn’t exist at all in the script-style centered dialogue. They’re not lying to each other or performing a role. They’re trying to understand each other.

Willis and Turner’s disagreement is an important feature of the Interior Chinatown narrative that will receive more attention and nuance in the trial of Act 6. For now, it would suffice to understand that Turner and Green are beholden to the restrictions of mainstream perceptions surrounding their gender and ethnicity. Although Turner is a star, he’s become one at the expense of his individuality. Like Green, he is sexualized, routinized, and limited by the demands of a TV script. Young Fong’s appearance is similarly utilized and repurposed for the needs of TV drama. Wu describes his appearance as being slender, pasty, and mild: an anti-masculine look that is an “Asian phenotype…inherently creepy to the Western eye.” This allows Young Fong to portray the “bad guy of the week,” and serve as a counterpoint to the traditionally attractive, and nominally heterosexual duo of Turner and Green.

Willis’ death is presented for the first time at the end of this chapter, and it seems like the end of his hopes and dreams. Just when things were looking good, the rug is pulled out from under him. He didn’t even notice being shot until it was too late. After Karen’s optimistic encouragement, Willis turns pessimistic, and reflects on being “yellow in America,” comparing the experience to a permanent guest role.