Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown Summary and Analysis of Act 5: Kung Fu Dad


Act 5 opens with a children’s show in which Phoebe, Willis’s daughter, plays a little Chinese girl named Mei Mei. Mei Mei moves freely and joyfully between colorful backdrops of an American suburb, a Taiwanese village, and dynastic China.

Willis, now playing Kung Fu Dad, arrives and embraces Phoebe. Karen receives him coldly, and a discussion about their divorce plays out as an educational segment of the Mei Mei show. Willis apologizes to Phoebe for being an absentee father, and she forgives him easily. The two abscond to INT. CASTLE, which is actually Phoebe’s closet. The castle floats magically in midair and is a manifestation of Phoebe’s hopes and dreams. Willis is awed by the complexity of his daughter’s imagination and the courageousness of her ambition.

Phoebe tells Willis about her five fears: secret passages, waking up sweaty, getting eaten by a witch, a pebble flying into your eye, and her dad dying. Willis starts telling Phoebe a story but gets anxiously caught up in the particulars. He doesn’t want to tell her the wrong story and harm her psychological development. Fortunately, Phoebe falls asleep before Willis can properly start.

Willis watches his daughter sleep and realizes that his entire life was a generational bridge to his daughter’s happy, comfortable, assimilated American life. He enters the role of a stay-at-home Dad, cooking and doing the dishes, not doing any kung fu.

The police come to Karen and Willis's home to arrest Willis for stealing Turner’s car and leaving Chinatown. Miles Turner is at the head of the task force and demands Willis’s surrender with a megaphone. Willis complies, remarking to Karen that he “wanted them to find us,” implying that he wanted Turner and the rest of Black and White to see his happy family.


Act 5 reinforces the turning point at the end of Act 4, in which Willis realizes that his aspiration to become Kung Fu Guy was a dead end. He finds happiness with Phoebe and Karen, and realizes that being a part of a happy family is the most satisfying thing he has done thus far.

Phoebe, for Willis, is a miracle. Willis remarks several times that Phoebe's assimilation into American society is perhaps the most miraculous part of her life, as Phoebe seems comfortable in her place between cultural worlds, so to speak. Phoebe's show, in which she plays Mei Mei (Chinese for "Younger Sister"), is a metonym for this assimilation. Phoebe moves freely between colorful, animated backdrops of three differently platonically ideal places: dynastic China, a pre-Industrial Taiwanese village, and a perfect American suburb.

By giving himself over to the police, Willis demonstrates that he is ready to confront Chinatown. Chinatown is a metonym, in this case, for the marginalized, cordoned-off life of a genericized Asian person in America. Prior to the events of this act/chapter, Willis felt outsized by the institutional hugeness of Chinatown, but now, armed with the rich experience of fatherhood, he feels ready to defend himself against this cruelty.