Teen Vogue has stated that Liu’s O-Ren Ishii is a contemporary example of the “Dragon Lady,” but Liu doesn’t quite see it that way.
Lucy Liu used her recent editorial in the Washington Post to push off Teen Vogue for calling her villainous “Kill Bill,” frontman Yakuza O-Ren Ishii, a recent example of Hollywood’s nefarious Asian Dragon Lady stereotype. In an essay titled “Hollywood played a role in the hypersexualization of Asian women,” writer India Roby defines the Dragon Lady as “cunning and deceptive” and a character who “uses her sexuality as a powerful tool for manipulation, but is often emotionally and sexually cold, and threatens masculinity. Roby then cites O-Ren as a contemporary example.
For Liu, calling O-Ren’s character a Dragon Lady doesn’t make sense when writer-director Quentin Tarantino populated a lot of “Kill Bill” with like-minded female assassins. As Liu asked, “‘Kill Bill’ features three other professional slayers besides Ishii. Why not call Uma Thurman, Vivica A. Fox, or Daryl Hannah a dragon lady?”
“I can only conclude that it is because they are not Asian,” Liu wrote. “I could have worn a tuxedo and a blonde wig, but I still would have been called a dragon lady because of my ethnicity. If I can’t play certain roles because mainstream Americans still see me as Other, and I don’t want to be only in “typically Asian” roles because they reinforce stereotypes, I’m starting to feel the walls of the metaphorical box that we AAPI women stand up.
Liu wrote that she “feels lucky to have moved the needle” for Asian and Asian-American actresses in Hollywood. “Hollywood often imagines a world more progressive than our reality; that’s one of the reasons ‘Charlie’s Angels’ was so important to me, ”she said. “As part of something so iconic, my character Alex Munday normalized Asian identity for mainstream audiences and made a piece of Americana a little more inclusive.”
The actress noted “there is still a lot to do,” adding, “Progress in advancing perceptions of race in this country is not linear; it is not easy to shake off nearly 200 years of reductive images and condescension. Liu ended the test with a call to arms: “Exit the Dragon. “
Visit the Washington Post website to read Liu’s editorial in full.