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The Female Caricatures of Wayne Wang and Spike Lee: A Thousand Years of Good Prayer

by Michelle Robinson

This clip from director Wayne Wang’s A Thousand Years of Good Prayer (along with clips from Wang’s Smoke and Blue in the Face and director Spike Lee’s Bamboozled and Inside Man) will be used to explore how the two directors, who have created both Hollywood and independent films, negotiate and employ stereotypes in their films, particularly in their representations of women. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2012)

Caricature of Generational Differences

by Danielle Balderas


Wayne Wang’s characters explore the tension between multiple generations.  He accomplishes this through the caricaturization of female roles.   This clip encompasses the interaction between Mr. Shi and the American blonde woman.  The blonde is a stereotype of an all-American woman—blonde hair, sunbathing, not working yet still educated, innocent, and sweet. Moreover, Wang is able to portray this caricaturization in less than three minutes. 

            The marginality of the woman enhances the effect of the caricature. The scene focuses on Mr. Shi’s response to the caricatured woman.  It serves as a scene of comic relief and light-heartedness as Mr. Shi tries to avoid eye contact with the scantily clad American woman. Wayne separates the two characters in the majority of the shots, implying that Mr. Shi is inherently uncomfortable with the immodest dress and friendliness of a younger generation.  The harmless dress and inquisitive behavior of the woman that provokes an embarrassed reaction from Mr. Shi provides a concentrated dose humor as a result of her brief stint as a caricature.

Moreover, Wang is focusing on a caricature of the American blonde woman to portray a generational gap between the two characters—Rachel S. Park of the Harvard Crimson notes that “the central conflict is ageism, not racism”[i].  Hence, Wang’s message is an emphasis on the generational differences that can plague a relationship—a central theme to the film with Mr. Shi and his daughter’s struggling relationship. Although the two primarily appear in separate frames, the brief shots of them in the same frame heighten the visibility of generational differences between the two characters. Her lack of clothing and bubbly personality contrasted with Mr. Shi’s modesty and embarrassment further progresses Wang’s caricature that serves a central theme of ageism.

The primary purpose of the caricature of a barely clothed and overly friendly woman is to emphasize generational, not gender, differences. Wang accomplishes this realization through the humor and brevity of the interaction of the protagonist with the caricatured woman.

[i] Park, Rachel S. ""A Thousand Years of Good Prayer"" The Harvard Crimson. 17 Oct.

2008. Web. <>.

Response: Gender Creating Caricatures

by Madelyn Cory

Danielle expands on the argument raised by Rachel S. Park of the Harvard Crimson that Wang employs generational not racial stereotypes in A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. Though the generational gap between Mr. Shi and the blonde woman is visible, gender is the vehicle for her caricaturization. 


Mr. Shi's timidity during the two-minute clip is centered around the female's "exposed" body. Not once do his eyes or body face the woman. Though she is talking about something of interest to him, her body is at the forefront of his and the viewer's brain. Her youthful demeanor and "sunny" disposition is not what creates the humorous discomfort in Mr. Shi. The sexualized female body drives his discomfort and awkwardness.


This female caricature is the source of comic relief, as many side female characters are in Wang's films (e.g. Smoke). Considering his reoccurring themes of difference, this female side character could serve a larger subversive critique or potentially fall into hegemonic representations.


On the other hand, when not looking at the scope of themes common in Wang's oeuvre, the blond woman can easily be perceived as an offensive stereotype. Young sexy blonde women dominate the wide representation of women in America. Within a mainstream context, this image has the potential to reinscribe dominant notions of gender difference. 


Within A Thousand Years of Good Prayer, as Danielle points out, the central narrative follows Mr. Shi's struggling relationship with his daughter. She explains that the generational gap is the main hurdle keeping them from a close relationship. While this is true, gender also is a hurdle. As amplified by the blonde woman at the pool, many differences and boundaries are set up by dominant notions of gender. Mr. Shi was not allowed to interact with the young woman - because, according to dominant patriarchal discourse, young women serve male sexual desires. These prevalent ideologies governing American society are a plausible source of conflict for Mr. Shi connecting with his daughter. 



Mr. Shi meets a scientist

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In this sequence from director Wayne Wang's film A Thousand Years of Good Prayer (adapted from the work of Yiyun Li), Mr. Shi, a trained scientist who has come from China to visit his daughter in the United States, encounters a young white woman who also identifies as a scientist.

from A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (2007)
Creator: Wayne Wang
Distributor: Magnolia Entertainment
Posted by Michelle Robinson