Thursday, October 28, 2004

Was anyone else vaguely disturbed by Lost last night (and not in the way that you're supposed to be disturbed)? Lost is losing me anyway, because it's getting kind of boring, but I thought last night's episode was stereotype-o-rama.

So the premise of Lost is that a whole bunch of people survive a plane crash and are stuck on a creepy yet lush and beautiful island where strange things happen. In each episode, we watch the people trying to survive and get along with each other, we see some creepy island strangeness, and we get the backstory on one character or connected group of characters, via flashbacks. This week focused on a Korean couple who apparently don't speak English and have had trouble communicating with the other castaways. They speak to each other in Korean, which is subtitled for the non-Korean-speaking audience.

At the beginning of the episode, the Korean man attacks and tries to kill another character, apparently for no reason. It's a disturbing (in the way it's meant to be) scene, and you expect the flashbacks to reveal why he'd do this awful thing. They don't, though, although they do tell us that the man works for his wife's father, a Korean gangster, and that the wife was considering running away from both her husband and her dad. But the reason that the Korean guy tried to kill the other guy, it is finally revealed, is that the other guy was wearing the wife's father's watch. (I don't know if we ever find out how her father's watch came to be on the plane. That's actually an interesting question, since the father was not on the plane, as far as we know.) All of the castaways have been shown scavanging through the wreckage for stuff, so it's not that surprising that the guy was wearing someone else's watch. But the Korean guy decided he was a thief and had to be punished. It was, you see, a quesiton of honor.

Now, this makes no damn sense. If you were in a situation where people were scavanging through dead people's stuff, and one of them accidentally took something that belonged to you or your relative, you would simply ask for it back. The Korean guy can't speak to the other guy, but he could try, say, pointing at the watch and pointing at himself, and I bet the other guy would understand. And even if he didn't, it's a watch. Considering that these people are marooned on a deserted island inhabited by a scary monster and other highly improbable fauna, you'd think that the Korean guy would have bigger fish to fry than a damn watch.

I think that the writers of this show were counting on viewers to buy this storyline because we are supposed to believe that Asians have kooky ideas about honor. Asian characters can be made to behave in ways that would otherwise seem completely illogical, and a lot of people will go along with it as long as writers claim it's about "honor." I think of this as the Crouching Tiger effect. I read an article that suggested that Chinese audiences were baffled by the love story at the center of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which involves two characters who are honor-bound not to hook up because one of them used to be engaged to the other one's dead best friend. To Chinese people, this is nutty: they love each other, the fiance/ best friend is out of the picture, and they should clearly start dating immediately. But American audiences completely bought the notion that honor prohibited them from doing anything more than exchanging passionate, tragic glances. The whole movie only makes sense if you buy into the myth of kooky Asian honor.

I think that's what's going on with last night's episode of Lost. But maybe I missed something, or maybe it's all a set-up for a big reveal later on.

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