The obscure pop culture enthusiast’s guide for the discerning Asian American in your life (You’re welcome)

By Pamela K. Santos

If you’re reading this because you haven’t started your holiday shopping, I have bad news for you. You’re late. Black Friday has come and gone, along with Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. I suspect many of you only found this post after realizing the company holiday party is next week and you got stuck with the only Asian American in your department.

Fret not, gentle procrastinator. I’m here to help. You see, once upon a time I was a student in Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies and a Filipino American since birth. In other words, along with many hours of watching Tarantino-reappropriated Asian cultural pastiches, this is kind of my thing.

Here is my first pick in my Top 12 List of Gifts Referencing Obscure Asian-Flavored Pop Culture: “The Fighting Fists Of Shanghai Joe”

Must Buy Why?

The holidays aren’t the holidays without chop socky cowboy wannabes with Fire Lotus tattoos who just want a job, dangnabit.

Every good comedy fan has watched “Blazing Saddles” at least once in his or her life. (If not, stop wasting your life and pick it up.) Mel Brooks must have had someone up there watching out for him because Richard Pryor was among his writing staff for the movie starring the first black sheriff in the Old West (who wasn’t Will Smith).

Why do I mention one of the AFI Institute’s comedy greats in a review of a film that basically transports Chen from “Fists of Fury” to Texas circa 1882?

Because the number of times the despicable N-word is said onscreen in “Blazing Saddles” does not even compare to the almost laughable number of poetic variations on the slur “chink” in Shanghai Joe. Evil bosses, hired contract killers with names like Burying Sam and Scalper Jack and especially bit actors listed only in the credits as “Racist” — they all had a turn in calling our fine hero some kind of “Yellow Bastard.” Italian filmmakers might as well have called it, “Howdy, Chink” after one of the spoken lines in the movie. It makes it all the more rewarding when every last one who uttered a racist epithet gets his comeuppance by film’s end.

Lucky Bastard Who Gets This:

Consider this the perfect joke gift to get that ultra-serious Asian American Studies/Community Organizing double major in your family who has been trying to boycott “Family Guy” for nine seasons.

Or that friend who loves Bruce Lee and spaghetti westerns but never dreamed of having both of them at the same time (you cheeky monkey, you). Or it could be that necessary salve for anyone (Asian or otherwise) sick of recent tweets by Red Dawn fans who suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to kill some “slant-eyed bastards.”

The Very Special Message Implied By This Gift:

Like any good exploitation flick, Shanghai Joe, a.k.a. “My Name Is Shanghai Joe,” a.k.a. “The Dragon Strikes Back,” is sure to remind anyone that, as Watts would say, “When you mess with the bull, you get the horns.” Or in this case, when you try to whip Chen Lee after he just hammered down a nail with his bare palm, say goodbye to that whipping hand.

Where To Find This Gem:

Buy the digital copy for $7.99 on Amazon Instant Video under the alternate title “The Dragon Strikes Back.” Also available as a bargain two-fer on the “Double Feature DVD World Exclusive East Vs. West Action Pack” for $7.55 on Amazon.

Pamela K. Santos is a woman with a very particular set of skills; skills she has acquired over a very long career in nonprofits and government projects with really awesome codenames. Skills that make her a nightmare for people who are still petitioning to see Obama’s birth certificate or those who used to confuse Lucy Liu with Lisa Ling. She dares you to piece together her origin story on Twitter@pamelaksantos. If you find her ultra-secret geekgirl Twitter account, she will look for you, she will find you and she will make you watch Home Alone 4 with the sound on.

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