knives chau: the pleasant surprise of scott pilgrim

posted by jroselkim

Being a good Canadian (who also wondered whether Michael Cera could pull off yet another similarly constructed awkward-boy role), I went to see Scott Pilgrim last week. And I had a surprisingly positive experience.

There are lots of good reviews and commentary about the film’s graphic novels origins, its soundtrack, and everyone’s acting abilities, so I won’t go into it too much. What I DO want to talk about though – because I haven’t seen this discussed in too many places yet – is how the film actually does a semi-okay job of portraying an Asian woman through the character of Knives Chau (played by Ellen Wong).

Okay, perhaps changing that ridiculous name could’ve been a huge improvement in making her portrayal semi-okay to okay. I also realize this is not the screenwriter’s fault, but rather the original graphic novel writer’s. Now, onwards with more in-depth commentary! SPOILER ALERT.

When Knives was introduced onscreen, I couldn’t help but groan at another Geeky and Asexual Asian Girl and whispered to my movie companion, “not again!” Yes, she is a token Asian character in an exclusively white Toronto-scape. Yes, she starts out in the movie as an annoyingly chaste and innocent girlfriend, the only person in the whole world who is blind to utterly loser-like characteristics of Scott Pilgrim. Then again, we could attribute her blinding and irritating naivete (I almost typed “knivete,” true story) to her young age and not her ethnicity, as she is the only teen in a film (although everybody else behaves like a teen I knew in high school).

I was totally ready to lose Knives after Scott Pilgrim appropriately used her to get over his too-cool ex-girlfriend then dump her once he spotted the even-cooler-than-his-ex girl (whose name I cannot remember for the life of me. That must be a bad sign for the screenwriters in selling that girl’s character as “cool,” no?) But then the movie pleasantly surprised me by a) having Knives stick around and b) giving her a pretty central role in defeating the Ultimate Bad Guy of the movie. She even gets to say to Scott Pilgrim: “I’m too cool for you anyway”!

Some of you might say: well, the writers make her say that so Scott Pilgrim can continue his “real romance” with the white girl as he was always meant to. And that is probably true. It’s kind of sad to see Asian women be the “exotic in-between” girlfriends who aren’t even real girlfriends, but pure ego boosters for the main character’s lack of masculinity. However, I think the film at least tried to break away from that flat characterization by evolving Knives’ character by giving her a chance to grow up into a more substantial person on her own.

(note: I have not read the graphic novels so I have no idea how much of this is from the books themselves, or the screenwriters’ adaptations. )

Am I praising this movie for making its only Asian character stick throughout the whole story? Have my standards dropped this low?

(By the way, I think Scott Pilgrim’s character is what irritates me about “nerdy boys” coming back in style. First of all, the guy is all self-involved and more whiny than my 16-year-old brother, then he manipulates and deceives Knives all the time. Dear media: these are not “cute, nice guys” – these are just douchebags with youthful-looking faces. Stop conflating the two categories.)

[Photo from Slashfilm.com]

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “knives chau: the pleasant surprise of scott pilgrim

  1. David

    You need to read the graphic novel.

  2. David

    Also, did it not bother you that the two Asian male characters were brushed to the wayside? These two characters had no speaking lines and barely any screen time, where in the comic they were just as important as any of the other evil exes. Hollywood still has yet to give Asians the spotlight that we deserve.

    • jroselkim

      David, thanks for your comment. I will definitely have to read the books and see how I feel about Knives’ characterization. As for the Asian males, my first honest reaction to the question was: “there were Asian guys in the movie?!” until I thought further, which proves your point. Yes, Hollywood loathes giving Asian (or any other minority) characters the complexity they deserve. I also hate the lack of dialogue between Knives and her friend – the only subject I remember her discussing with the friend is, of course, about Scott Pilgrim.

  3. Pepp

    Well the first evil ex was Indian so he was Asian too. But I totally dig what you’re saying about Knives role in the film. I liked her the best and she clearly deserves a better guy than Scott who was a total doucebag anyway.

  4. …don’t forget that the graphic novel itself is a big fat homage of Asian culture :D

  5. Kitana Lee

    In the film, Knives still ultimately remains – a deluded weak pissant.
    All that martial arts potential gone to waste, afterall she got bitch slapped (gamers prefer the term “pwned”) by 2 white men: figuaratively by Scott Pilgrim and literally by that Vegan dude.
    From zero to minus zero, the innocent-virgin-schoolgirl grew a pair of balls only to turn into a scary stalker and to lose out in the end to “some fat-ass white girl”. While we’re counting the blows, 2-on-1 is hardly a fair fight and her final boss tagteam combo was still nothing more than a Scott Pilgrim assist, so it hardly deserves any mention here. As for the “I’m too cool for you anyway” line, oh c’mon! She’s got the words D-E-N-I-A-L written all over her face that’s why the producers saw it fit to give her an alternate ending where she ends up with Scott. (-Insert- Knives Chau fans touch penis and squeak “Yay!”) Let’s not forget the annoying fact that the “fat-ass-white girl” virtually handed Scott to her on a plate when she started to walk away, thus nullifying her struggle and everything she fought for. So much hidden potential but all Knives seems to successfully do is collect our pity. I think Asian American viewers are tired of recieving cheese when what they really want is steak. Hollywood quit screwing them around, and give them the winning KO!

    P.S.
    Scott Pilgrim is a douche of douche douchiness and Knives Chau is an even bigger douche for letting him treat her like a douche.

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