80s Chinese Secret, eh?
September 7, 2012 12:59 PM   Subscribe

Help me put together a list of 1980s Hollywood films that indulge in faux Asian magic and mysticism. I'm thinking along the lines of Gremlins, Big Trouble in Little China, Little Shop of Horrors, and The Golden Child. Bonus points if the plot kicks off with a wise old shopkeeper selling weird things.
posted by roger ackroyd to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Does Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon count?
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:01 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Damn, reading fail. Sorry.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:01 PM on September 7, 2012

I am immediately reminded of Treehouse of Horror II, The Monkey's Paw.

From the Simpson's.

"The frogurt is cursed"
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:02 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Kitty, I haven't seen The Last Dragon, but oddly enough, it was this image from that film that got me thinking about this question.
posted by roger ackroyd at 1:05 PM on September 7, 2012

Kung Fu: The Movie. Made-for-TV feature version of the old show. The story, seemingly influenced by Beverly Hills Cop, was about people smuggling opium into a Wild West town. But there was also this strong element of mystical Asian dimension travel, and it did not feel too authentic.
posted by steinsaltz at 1:13 PM on September 7, 2012

The Last Dragon is great for pseudo-mystical Asian powers. I believe there is a side plot about magical fortune cookies.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:14 PM on September 7, 2012

Hellraiser, parts I and II, for the way the Chinese(!) Puzzle Box is introduced. I seem to recall an odious Eastern-ish gent who hawks it while cackling, "what's your pleasure?"
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:14 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Remo Williams, with a guru in fake Asian makeup, played by white Joel Grey, teaching the hero how to dodge bullets like in The Matrix.
posted by steinsaltz at 1:14 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

And probably every Cannon Films movie about ninjas.
posted by steinsaltz at 1:15 PM on September 7, 2012

Conan the Barbarian might count, but it's not Asian-focused; Mako totally stole that movie for me, though. You know, feel free to include Mako's Sidekicks afterward. Jonathan Brandis brings all the magic in that one. (Sorry, Chuck.)

I didn't think anyone knew about The Golden Child but me. Bless you.
posted by Sayuri. at 1:18 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I immediately thought of two films when I read your question...

The first is The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Man Chu from 1980 starring Peter Sellers in horrible Asian makeup.

The second is Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen from 1981 starring Peter Ustinov in horrible Asian makeup.

Even as a kid, I wondered how in the world anyone thought either of those films were a good idea.
posted by BrianJ at 1:19 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Temple of Doom of course, has a lot of faux South Asian mysticism.
posted by steinsaltz at 1:23 PM on September 7, 2012

The Karate Kid? Not magic, not as over-the-top assome of the other films mentioned, but lots of "ancient Chinese Japanese" wisdom from Mr. Miyagi.

Flash Gordon has Ming the Merciless -- not literally, but certainly morphologically Asian.

And speaking of Fu Manchu, Charlie Chan and other retreads, don't forget Peter Sellers as "Sidney Wang" in Murder By Death -- although that was a parody (and from 1976).
posted by PlusDistance at 1:34 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and this is also from the 70's rather than the 80's, but what about the Tiki idol in The Brady Bunch Hawaii episodes?
posted by PlusDistance at 1:36 PM on September 7, 2012

posted by Sunburnt at 1:39 PM on September 7, 2012

The Master - whitewashed Super-Ninja claptrap TV show. I remember it, because my folks let me watch it after I begged, because, hey, Ninjas! And the episode was titled "Juggernaut."

A ninja was gonna fight the Juggernaut! Yes!

No, it was interminable and boring about a rich property owner being mean or angsty or both or something. The Juggernaut didn't show, and I never asked to see it again. Airwolf and A-Team and McGuyver continued to reign supreme.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:45 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and continuing in the "trained on a mountaintop by master of the ancient [asian] art of _____" there's "Bloodsport," starring Jean Claude Van Damme.

I don't recall if there was any mysticism involved in Mickey Rooney's culturally-sensitive portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi, an ordinary Japanese National in a foreign city, saddled with an annoying downstairs neighbor, in "Breakfast at Tiffany."

Also, I thought that "Chosen One" and "Mysticism" would be a fruitful IMDB keywords for this, but mostly my search reminded me, unfortunately, of "The Bulletproof Monk," from 1997, in which acclaimed martial-arts and high-action actor Chow Yun-Fat is partnered with acclaimed moron/bully character-actor Seann William Scott.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:48 PM on September 7, 2012

Okay, I see I overlooked the "1980s" bit of the request with some of my films, but.. but...
posted by Sunburnt at 1:49 PM on September 7, 2012

James Hong was the guy who filled this role in the 1980s.
posted by hooray at 1:51 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also see: Al Leong.
posted by hooray at 1:52 PM on September 7, 2012

Just out of your time range: Alice.
posted by ylee at 2:16 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Since we're all interested, you may be equally shocked as I to realize that Numspa in The Golden Child was played by young, completely terrifying Tywin Lannister aka Charles Dance. I am villian-crushing so totally hard right now.
posted by Sayuri. at 2:19 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

A couple o' decades too early but, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao.
posted by DaddyNewt at 2:30 PM on September 7, 2012

All of Me
posted by Daily Alice at 2:33 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

1988's classic Vice Versa, a male take on the Freaky Friday trope starring Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage.
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:48 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm putting Zoltar from Big on the list.
posted by roger ackroyd at 2:54 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not 80's, but...

The "Freaky Friday" remake starring Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis has them switch bodies due to a mystic fortune cookie. The staff at the Asian restaurant they get it from seem to know something will happen.
posted by tacodave at 2:57 PM on September 7, 2012

Came here to mention Vice Versa. IIRC, the swap was caused by some sort of vase bought at a market in Bangkok.
posted by lunasol at 5:58 PM on September 7, 2012

Despite being a little off-question, I feel like the book The Cricket In Times Square (1960) deserves a mention in this thread.
posted by spbmp at 9:45 PM on September 7, 2012

I feel compelled to mention Gymkata, because I almost always feel compelled to mention Gymkata when discussing bad 80s movies. It's within your time frame, and it's martial arts! And it has tiny Kurt Thomas on a pommel horse in the middle of fictional Parmistan Town Square!
posted by clone boulevard at 10:21 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

How about The Forbidden Kingdom? From imdb.com: "An American teenager who is obsessed with Hong Kong cinema and kung-fu classics makes an extraordinary discovery in a Chinatown pawnshop: the legendary stick weapon of the Chinese sage and warrior, the Monkey King. With the lost relic in hand, the teenager unexpectedly finds himself traveling back to ancient China to join a crew of warriors from martial arts lore on a dangerous quest to free the imprisoned Monkey King."
posted by Lynsey at 11:53 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

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