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Movies: Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
Wednesday, 2005 April 13 - 11:42 pm
You'd think this was just another "American Pie" clone, but there's some surprising depth to this movie.

So we've seen the formula before: a couple of guys, a road trip, a seemingly-meaningless goal that turns into a Real Adventure, and it's all topped off with a big heap of personal growth. Admittedly, we've had way too many movies in this genre in the past decade. But I'm going to comment on this movie just because it features an Chinese guy and an East Indian guy in the lead roles, and it highlights a lot of Asian stereotypes that no one usually talks about.

Harold (John Cho, primarily known for his roles in the "American Pie" series) is a Chinese-American who works as a junior analyst in a financial firm. He's too timid to talk to his beautiful neighbor, too weak to stand up to his bullying co-workers, and too buttoned-up to break any rules. He's also ashamed of his heritage: people call him a "Twinkie" for being "yellow on the outside, white on the inside". You know, it's pretty rare for an Asian-American slang word like that to make it into a mainstream movie.

Kumar (Kal Penn, seen previously in "Van Wilder") is a son of a prominent doctor. Despite having aced his MCATs, he despises the idea of going to medical school and being a typical Indian overachiever.

The main story line is that, after getting high, Harold and Kumar get a craving for White Castle hamburgers, and embark on a road trip to find them.

There's a lot of pretty ridiculous stuff that goes on in this movie. I mean, really ridiculous. They give some weed to a cheetah to calm it down, and then try to ride it into town? Ummm.... I'm not sure how much weed the writers smoked before they decided that would be a good scene for the movie. Oh, and of course, there were a few gratuitous boob shots thrown in, because without them, I guess this would be Harold and Kumar's Big Gay Adventure.

But I liked some of the underlying themes. The movie points out how some people think it's okay to make fun of Asian stereotypes because Asians are so passive. It shows how we Asian-Americans are sometimes our own worst enemies, because sometimes we try so hard to shun our Asian-ness in order to fit in with white society. (There's an opposite term for "Twinkie", and that's "FOB", for Fresh Off the Boat. Both terms are thrown around as insults.) See, Asian-Americans as a whole have a big identity crisis. We don't want to be just the stereotypical overachievers and martial-arts masters, but we're not sure how to define ourselves otherwise. Sure, it would be nice if people would just see us as individuals, but what are the odds of that happening?

So the good thing about Harold and Kumar is that ultimately, they are just two ordinary, everyday guys, looking for some burgers. In the end, it doesn't matter that they're Asian. I think that's a good message, and a good lesson for Hollywood.

Rating: 3 / 5
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Posted by Ken in: moviesreviews

Comments

Comment #1 from Nicholas (Guest)
2005 Apr 14 - 12:54 pm : #
NPR reviewed it when it was in theatres. I remember them saying it was the only (one of a few?) major American film that starred 2 asian american men.

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