Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown Summary and Analysis of Act 6: The Case of the Missing Asian Man


Act 6 is a trial scene in the vein of the final act of an episode of Law & Order.

The act begins with Exhibit A: a summary of several US laws which have discriminated against Asian citizens. To summarize, several of these laws prohibited Asians from owning land, one enforced a formalized ghetto for Chinese citizens within San Francisco, and another, 1924's Johnson-Reed Act, completely prohibited immigration from Asia to America.

Next, we see the scene heading: INT. COURTROOM. Willis is at the defendant's table. His lawyer shows up, and it's Older Brother. Willis is shocked, and Older Brother reminds Willis that he went to law school after quitting acting. Willis says, "Oh. Right."

Turner and Green sit by the prosecution, waiting to testify against Willis in "Case No. 47311, People vs. Wu. The Case of the Missing Asian." The assistant District Attorney shows up, and she is a similar figure to Turner and Green, in that she is attractive and telegenic.

Older Brother begins his defense by objecting immediately, saying that the entire justice system is rigged against Willis. The judge overrules this objection by saying, "Your objection, presented to the court and to me as its arbiter, is to the very legitimacy of the body you are presenting that objection to." (Basically, Older Brother's objection to the system would need to be somehow approved by that same system. This is patently absurd.)

After this objection, Willis and Older Brother decide on a Plan B: they will fight their way out of the courtroom with kung fu if need be.

Turner gives testimony against Willis, calling him a punk and a weenie, and then going on to say that Willis has internalized a sense of inferiority to white and black people. In a soliloquy, Turner says Willis "thinks he can't participate in this race dialogue, because Asians haven't been persecuted as much as Black people." He concludes by saying, "Do you think you're the only one who's trapped?" Sarah Green strikes a similar chord, saying that older women, overweight people, and people that don't conform to Western beauty standards share a similar level of invisibility as Asians. She concludes by saying, "Are you sure you're not asking to be treated like a white man?"

In a moment of characteristic heroism, Older Brother finds a brilliant defense for his brother. In his own soliloquy, Older Brother says, "He's asking to be treated like an American. A real American." He concludes by pointing to his own face and saying, "Why doesn't this face register as American? Is it because we make the story too complicated?"

The prosecution objects to Older Brother's defense by saying, "Who cares?" The judge sustains this objection.

Several residents of the SRO are in the courtroom audience. Some of the SRO residents shout out in support of Older Brother, but most of them just watch the proceedings with trepidation.

Older Brother calls Willis to the stand to testify in his own defense. During his cross-examination, Older Brother investigates Turner's suggestion that Willis has an irrational inferiority complex, invoking the history of American race relations. Older Brother asks Willis if he feels that his oppression is "second-class" compared to Black people, who have an American history of enslavement.

But Older Brother goes on to complicate this notion by saying that the struggles of Asian Americans do not belong to this same conversation. The Asian experience, in other words, does not fit into the story of Black and White. Older Brother draws the court's attention to the case of People v. Hall of 1894, in which Judge Hugh C. Murray of the Supreme Court of California decided that "The American Indian and the Mongolian or Asiatic, were regarded as the same type of human species," essentially drawing a line of equivalency between two distinct ethnicities. This was done to prevent Asians from being able to testify against White people in a court of law.

Older Brother explains that this decision by Murray, while "twisted," operates on the kind of willful misunderstanding that allows Asian people to be thought of as inferior, although in a way that was more vague and convoluted than the inferiority already assigned to Black people. Older Brother says, "This is it. The real history of yellow people in America. Two hundred years of being perpetual foreigners." Older Brother explains that Chinatown is a zone created to fence in all Asian people and simplify their lives for easy digestion. By homogenizing Asian culture and relegating it to the background of American experience, Chinatown not only oppresses Asian people, but erases their reality completely. Older Brother says that Willis is only guilty of "wanting to be part of something that never wanted him."

The SRO residents start to applaud and cheer raucously. Willis sees his mom, Dorothy, in attendance.

The judge calls the court to order. The jury leaves to deliberate. Turner and Green approach the defense table and congratulate Older Brother on doing a great job testifying. Green wishes Willis good luck.

Older Brother and Willis share a quiet moment of mutual fondness while the jury deliberates. They both hope they've done enough to sway the jury in their favor.

The jury returns after what seems like a short deliberation and finds Willis guilty. The crowd "erupts into chaos." The judge calls order again.

Willis gets up to say his own soliloquy. He starts with, "Ever since I was a boy, I've dreamt of being Kung Fu Guy." He chokes up with nerves. Miles Turner brings him a bottle of water. Willis goes on to say he realized, after getting cast as Kung Fu Guy, that he never should've wanted it. He says, "Kung Fu Guy is just another form of Generic Asian Man... It sucks being Generic Asian Man."

Willis goes on to say that he's guilty of putting himself in this category. He says that, by putting himself below other people, he was "building up a self-defense mechanism. Protecting against real engagement." But Willis says, speaking to the SRO crowd, that none of them are Generic Asian Man. "We look ridiculous. All pretending to be the same thing. We're not." Willis says he spent his life trapped inside of Interior Chinatown. He made it out to become Kung Fu Dad, but that was "just another role." He says his dad, Ming-Chen, fell into the same trap of performing role after role, never becoming himself.

Willis's monologue builds an emotional groundswell in the SRO crowd. The crowd is "about to explode." Willis and Older Brother look at each other and agree to plan B.

Willis fights his way through wave after wave of people with perfect kung fu, spinning six feet in the air and landing butterfly kicks, twisting through somersaults... Then a gun goes off. Willis dies.

Turner and Green stand over Willis's body and say their lines, using similar language to when they discovered Dead Asian Man in Act 2. Willis opens one eye and says, "I can't do this anymore." Turner smiles and agrees. Turner and Green say goodbye to Willis, wishing him well.

When Willis opens his eyes again, he's with Karen, his mom, and Phoebe. The facade of the Golden Palace dissolves. "No show. No plot, no world. Just characters."

A scene heading: EXT. CHINATOWN.

In the post-credits sequence, it's revealed that Miles Turner went on to get his medical degree at Harvard is now a surgeon. Green started a singing career. They remain friends.

In a post-post-credits segment, we see Exhibit B: the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943 and the abolishment of quota-based anti-Asian immigration policy by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965.


This act plays with the dramatic tropes of courtroom drama as seen in legal thrillers like A Few Good Men or the concluding scenes of a Law & Order episode. The trial, like every other institution Willis interacts with throughout the novel, is unfairly weighted against him. But with the help of Older Brother, and through the lessons he learned as a family man, Willis is able to conquer this oppression.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this act is the way it lays the conflict bare. Turner and Green give reasonable objections to Willis's worldview by arguing that other people suffer from discriminatory behavior. Turner's experiences as a Black man provide a meaningful basis for comparison and discussion, as does Green's invocation of the marginalized lives of women. Willis and Older Brother hold their ground, not by dismissing Turner and Green's assertions, but by bringing their own experiences of iniquity to the forefront. This court scene shows the room for varied and nuanced discussions about race in America, while also providing several excellent points about the insidious ways in which Asians have been marginalized in ways that may seem more subtle.

This scene is also a masterful combination of ideas, action, and drama. By having the characters of Green, Turner, Willis, and Older Brother behave consistently within their personalities and worldviews, Yu is able to dramatize very complex ideas with dialogue, behavior, and action scenes. The moment where Turner offers Willis a water bottle is a great example of this dramatization, as it relays Turner's newfound respect for Willis very simply, without really even halting Willis's dramatic monologue. Willis's refusal to die is also incredibly satisfying in a similar way, as we're seeing a character throw off some of the oppression and artifice that has made him miserable in order to be with a family that has always brought him joy.