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More "Oriental," like the one in Seinfeld
January 20, 2013 7:25 AM   Subscribe

Why Everybody Films at the Same Damn NY Chinese Restaurant. You know, the one that doesn't actually exist.
posted by Mchelly (93 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
So the other day, I finally saw Men In Black III

Why?
posted by goethean at 7:34 AM on January 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Well, the low lighting and lanterns everywhere are definitely not reality, but hanging ducks in the window, that was a standard feature of LOTS of the Chinese restaurants I used to patronize in NY Chinatown. But... maybe they don't do that anymore? (It's been a good 17 years since I lived in NY.)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:36 AM on January 20, 2013


I don’t know anything about the history of Chinese restaurant decor in America, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, early on, part of the draw was in presenting patrons with an EPCOT-like level of intense orientalism. Not only are you dining, you’re also going on an exotic vacation.

And the same thing is true for Japanese, Mexican, Greek, Italian and pretty much all "ethnic" restaurants. The ubiquity of decor in ethnic restaurants is like McDonalds without the franchise fee.
posted by three blind mice at 7:37 AM on January 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I wonder whether an Indian restaurant could be an option? It's a different culture, yeah, but the people who are insisting on that kind of stereotypical "exotic asian thing" may not know the difference.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:38 AM on January 20, 2013


I thought for a second that the place with the tree in the back was that Asian Pub place on Cooper Square (now closed, Google tells me), but now that I think about it it could never have been that nice looking.
posted by invitapriore at 7:46 AM on January 20, 2013


But... maybe they don't do that anymore?

They do in Toronto! (gaak)
posted by goethean at 7:48 AM on January 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wonder why they want the dragons, the ducks, and the dark red walls so badly.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:48 AM on January 20, 2013


Why?

Josh Brolin, mainly.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:48 AM on January 20, 2013


And the same thing is true for Japanese, Mexican, Greek, Italian and pretty much all "ethnic" restaurants.

Tentatively agreeing here, but admittedly I don't think it is typically quite to the scale the article talks about. I was going to just make that point and move on, but then I started to think of two of the Mexican restaurants I frequent and had to sort of rethink that notion. Those places are decked out with murals on the walls and stuff hanging from the ceiling and everything. I feel like every city has a couple of these. You know the place I'm talking about.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 7:50 AM on January 20, 2013


Back when it was open the chinatown brasserie had that kind of movieish, over the top " oriental" decor. China Fun over on 72nd has some pretty lavish decor for a neighborhood dim sum place but no red wallpaper.
posted by The Whelk at 7:55 AM on January 20, 2013


I can find you a dozen stereotypical Mexican restaurants to film in without trying very hard; it's just that when you want your characters to go to dinner you don't want them going to a Mexican restaurant.
posted by Curious Artificer at 7:57 AM on January 20, 2013


Emoress, everyone wanting an Indian resteraunt just films at that place over on 1st ave with all the lights and the really agressive touts.
posted by The Whelk at 7:57 AM on January 20, 2013


I'm not really sure what to make of this article and this guy's opinion though. I mean he acknowledges this:
That isn’t to say that New York doesn’t have some really neat Chinese restaurants. Some of the epic dim sum places sort of have the right decor we’re being asked for – but they’re ridiculously massive in size and very pricey to film in, if they’d even consider it.
But I suppose his main point is this:
But I really wish they’d realize that the reason they think New York is filled with MIB-style Chinese restaurants is not because of reality, but because of what they’ve seen in the movies and on TV. For a city that has nearly everything, there’s a LOT of alternatives to choose from, and I really hate having to fake the few things it doesn’t have just to do the same cliche over and over and over and over…
Unfortunately I haven't seen a lot of the films he's talking about (or just don't remember them well enough) but I think it's a perfectly reasonable choice to use a fake restaurant in this style depending on the context. Do the characters intend to go to a really fancy place? By all means, use the fake restaurant. If the plot doesn't call for (or allow for) a trip to a fancy restaurant then... well, then I guess you have a legitimate complaint.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 7:57 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder why they want the dragons, the ducks, and the dark red walls so badly.

Pretty much because they immediately identify the location as a stereotype "Chinese restaurant". Much of set design and decoration is about communicating an unambiguous location. Something the viewer will see and immediately set in their mind without any thought.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:58 AM on January 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


I was going to suggest Tommy Toy's Cuisine Chinoise in San Francisco, which definitely has over the top decor. But it's mostly green silk, not lucky red wallpaper.
posted by Nelson at 7:59 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Has anyone filmed at Li Po's in San Fran? i keep thinking the place is a damned Tarentinto set allready.
posted by The Whelk at 8:01 AM on January 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's an opportunity for the enterprising NYC restaurateur; have the decor as knowing kitsch and make money renting out the location to film makers too.
posted by jaduncan at 8:09 AM on January 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Pretty much because they immediately identify the location as a stereotype "Chinese restaurant". Much of set design and decoration is about communicating an unambiguous location. Something the viewer will see and immediately set in their mind without any thought.

Yup, which is what the blog post pins down, too: Chinese restaurants don't have to look like Oriental stereotypes in NYC to draw customers.

Me, I'm thinking more films should be filmed in Wo Hop.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:09 AM on January 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I love this guy's blog, but the directors aren't looking for an overlit Chinese dumpling joint with formica on the walls because the place will be murder to light, will look terrible on camera, and will not convey the dark mood of mystery and danger that the scene requires. Here in LA--Formosa Cafe fits the bill most of the time. I know location scouts go crazy with these sorts of requests, but if this guy wants to direct, he might think about why those requests are made in the first place--it's not just to promote a stereotype.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:23 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


wonder whether an Indian restaurant could be an option? It's a different culture, yeah, but the people who are insisting on that kind of stereotypical "exotic asian thing" may not know the difference.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:38 AM on 1/20
[+] [!]

Why would you want to encourage crass ethnic stereotyping ? Also yes, much different culture.
posted by sweetkid at 8:30 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


but hanging ducks in the window, that was a standard feature of LOTS of the Chinese restaurants I used to patronize in NY Chinatown. But... maybe they don't do that anymore?

Lots of Cantonese places still do that. Manhattan Chinatown has become a bit more Fujianese and less Cantonese than it used to be, but you'll be relieved to know it's still not running a shortage of Cantonese restaurants with siu mei hanging in the window.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:35 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's the difference between a talented filmmaker (finding what reality is like, making things work out within its boundaries) and a lazy one who'll just repeat shorthand plucked from previous movies. That's where clichés such as a dapper hitman in a muscle car, or a Mafia overlord who listens to opera, come from. The airplane scene in "North by Northwest" came from Hitchckock's deliberate intention to build tension and danger around peaceful, sunlit cornfields, instead of sticking to obvious dark alleys, with rainy puddles and shadows in the corners.
posted by jcolombo at 8:43 AM on January 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


If your directing assignment is "Men in Black III", I think "over the top" trumps reality, design-wise.

Relatedly, the Quality Cafe in Los Angeles is such a perfect "stereotypical diner" that it eventually stopped being a restaurant and is now s full time television and movie set.
posted by ShutterBun at 8:54 AM on January 20, 2013


that Asian Pub place on Cooper Square (now closed, Google tells me)

Not just closed. They tore the building down. Free edamame. $3 noodle soup. $4 Dark and Stormys. Sigh.

Sigh...
posted by davidjmcgee at 8:57 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's the difference between a talented filmmaker (finding what reality is like, making things work out within its boundaries) and a lazy one who'll just repeat shorthand plucked from previous movies.

This is kind of ridiculous. Not all filmmakers are interested in reality. And some great filmmakers are interested in reflexivity and film shorthand. Tarentino comes immediately to mind but also Godard, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Nicolas Winding Refn, Lars Von Trier, etc.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:58 AM on January 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


that place over on 1st ave with all the lights and the really agressive touts.

Panna II! All movies should be filmed entirely in Panna II. Not just the restaurant scenes.
posted by davidjmcgee at 9:00 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


The SEA Thai location in Williamsburg was good enough for Garden State.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:02 AM on January 20, 2013


but the directors aren't looking for an overlit Chinese dumpling joint with formica on the walls because the place will be murder to light, will look terrible on camera, and will not convey the dark mood of mystery and danger that the scene requires.

He acknowledges these points in the article.
posted by edeezy at 9:05 AM on January 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


And the same thing is true for Japanese, Mexican, Greek, Italian and pretty much all "ethnic" restaurants.

Yeah, but it doesn't seem to occur for cliche Americana. Like, if a director wanted to find an American restaurant with things like barn stars and cowboy hats and six shooters hanging on the walls, then they'd have no trouble finding that. And of course, there's no end to 50s style diners with jukeboxes, gumball machines, and checkerboard tiles available.

If your directing assignment is "Men in Black III", I think "over the top" trumps reality, design-wise.

True, but even in a movie like Drive, the Chinese restaurant they filmed at also had a lot of the cliches the blog article mentioned.
posted by FJT at 9:12 AM on January 20, 2013


I'm baffled by his assertion that, because there is not a restaurant in New York City that looks like that, the only other possibility is that it must be a sound stage. Can someone let him know that there's a place called Los Angeles and that movies are filmed there?
posted by The World Famous at 9:23 AM on January 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


...when you want your characters to go to dinner you don't want them going to a Mexican restaurant.

If I were filming, say, an Elvis Cole novel, you bet I'd want a Mexican restaurant. Or at least a taco stand.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:32 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can someone let him know that there's a place called Los Angeles and that movies are filmed there?

Mostly we pretend it doesn't exist.
posted by elizardbits at 9:55 AM on January 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


There's a club/bar in Seattle that fits the description he's talking about called Chop Suey. It was never a restaurant, but designed to fit that "oriental" stereotype look to a T. I have a friend who is Chinese and when it first opened he took one look inside and declared it to be offensive, racist bullshit. And years later he still bemoans it's continued existence. Mostly for the reasons put forth in the article. Chinese restaurants just don't look like that. Also, "Chop Suey". His family happens to have run a chinese restaurant for the past 40 years. It mostly looks like a 70's coffee shop/diner
posted by billyfleetwood at 9:57 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aside from the ducks in the window, just about every Chinese restaurant I've been to in the metro Detroit area has that stereotypical decor - dark red walls, golden dragons, intricate (fake) carved woodwork, etc. Mr. Adams and I enjoy trying new Chinese restaurants to find a new favorite and we often joke that there must be some factory churning out all this authentic "ancient" decor...hopefully that factory is in China.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:59 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


The most realistic-looking Chinese restaurant in film is the one at the end of A Christmas Story.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:04 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


True, but even in a movie like Drive, the Chinese restaurant they filmed at also had a lot of the cliches the blog article mentioned.
posted by FJT


But Drive was set in L.A. not in New York, so we'd have to hear from the L.A. scout how unlikely that is.



In the King of the Hill thread, some people mentioned it's the most accurate portrayal of East Texas ever on T.V. And I started to figure if being animated instead of live-action helped that, since if you see a location, you can use it by drawing it, no compromises.
posted by RobotHero at 10:09 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


there's no end to 50s style diners

Google "Quality Cafe." It can be surprisingly difficult to find a place that reads immediately and clearly to an audience as "oh, that kind of place." Throw in affordable, available, lightable etc. and the pickings get surprisingly slim.
posted by yoink at 10:11 AM on January 20, 2013


So what I'm hearing is there is a business model that you make a diner of this chinese style and have lighting/electrical that will handle filming and then your actual profit comes from renting it out to film makers.

The daily food/service just covers the bills.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:21 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


My hometown has a place that bills itself as the oldest Chinese restaurant in Wisconsin (est. 1922), and while the decor may not be movie-ready, it certainly shows why that look is considered evocative.

I think at least until the 1950s or so they were considered as much ethnic theme park as food supplier.
posted by dhartung at 10:41 AM on January 20, 2013


there certainly were places like that in the midwest 30 years ago, although i don't ever recall ducks in the window - but everything else, yeah
posted by pyramid termite at 10:45 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


ctrl-f buffet

WTF? You can get tons of great Chinese food in an American diner atmosphere and nobody here has heard of this ubiquitous restaurant concept?
posted by DU at 10:56 AM on January 20, 2013


I've been to Chinese restaurants resembling most of the film scenes on that page, it's really not that unusual.
As for the MIB scene, it's from a deliberately dumb fantasy movie about a wacky range of space aliens, it's not a guide to reality.
posted by Bwithh at 10:57 AM on January 20, 2013


So there aren't enough ridiculously decorated Chinese restaurants in New York to cater to the racist filmmakers who want to make racist movies. And this means they have to put extra effort in to creating their racist sets.

Good to know that racists aren't lazy.
posted by medusa at 11:14 AM on January 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Or it's less expensive to shoot at one of the many restaurants not in New York than to shoot on location in New York, and most movie viewers are unaware that New York apparently doesn't have any of the stereotypical Chinese restaurant decor that is fairly common in the rest of the country.
posted by The World Famous at 11:36 AM on January 20, 2013


Why would you want to encourage crass ethnic stereotyping ? Also yes, much different culture.

Sorry, my sarcasm wasn't quite clear enough....I wasn't so much trying to encourage ethnic stereotyping as I was trying to give the location scouts of the world a way to make clueless producers shut up:

"Okay, you want a crazy decorated restaurant? Here's one."

"Great, yeah, that's more like it - wait a minute, this isn't a Chinese restaurant!"

"Exactly."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:38 AM on January 20, 2013


There's a club/bar in Seattle that fits the description he's talking about called Chop Suey. [...] Chinese restaurants just don't look like that. Also, "Chop Suey".

It's actually a pretty clever name. Chop Suey is not a Chinese dish, but rather an American "Chinese" dish. So the "Chinese" decoration fits well with the "Chinese" name for a venue that is in fact very American.

I guess it's still racist, but... I suspect the name and theme was chosen by someone with a fair amount of humor and wit.
posted by tychotesla at 11:39 AM on January 20, 2013


Can someone let him know that there's a place called Los Angeles and that movies are filmed there?

You make that sound so simple, but have you ever tried to have the Los Angeles conversation with an actual New Yorker? They make it about to where you try to explain that there is a place in California that is not San Francisco and their eyes start glazing over.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 11:55 AM on January 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


One thing in the article that jumped out to me was this line: "That classic over-the-top Chinese restaurant you used to go to on the highway as a kid!!"

Is this one of those subtle differences between the US and Canada? Because in my corner of the world pretty much every single small town has at least one Chinese restaurant. Most of them look like little dive-y dinners or what might have been a nice steakhouse 40 years ago (but is now really showing its age, just like everything else in town).

The only places I've ever seen restaurants that looks even remotely like the Hollywood cliche are big cities (and, typically, the place is quite deliberately going for a gimmicky look).
posted by asnider at 12:30 PM on January 20, 2013


I really like fakes that become real, as it seems like such a quintessentially human thing to make happen.

My grandfather moonlighted as an art forgery expert. If memory serves he said that a key way to recognize forgeries was to look for characteristic exaggerations from particular periods. Painters and audiences from the period the painting was forged wouldn't be as able to notice the exaggeration because the exaggerated characteristics were contemporary and blended into the context. All was revealed with time.

I'm not convinced the artists didn't know though. Maybe it was like when Giovanni Bastianini's broker or Han van Meegeren made forgeries. They sold to art historians who wanted to see (nonexistent) works with such demanding desire that supply was sure to follow.

But in this case we are being sold a vision of a Chinese restaurant. A deliberate misrepresentation meant to cater to our desire for flawed views of reality. I guess all will be revealed with time.

In a few minutes I'm going to walk past Chop Suey to Pioneer Square for Berliner Döner Kebab Sandwiches. Started by an Asian American guy who owned a Quiznos and then, while feeling disgruntled on a trip to Thailand met a German girl he fell in love with. He visited her in Berlin and she got him some Döner Kebab, which apparently became a German street food in the roaring 60's when Turks emigrated there. He loved it so much he decided to bring it back with him to Seattle, where he decorated the store according to his memories of joints in Berlin. He just opened a second storefront and married the German woman (a lawyer for airlines I believe, so free travel).

There's no way it's authentic, and yet with a story like that, and with love involved, it's as authentic as can be. Perhaps the difference is simply that it doesn't try to be anything other than what it is, although I'm sure somewhere there's a pissed off Turk.

P.S. I'm sad I've never had Chop Suey.
posted by tychotesla at 12:39 PM on January 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've been in a fair number of Chinese(-American) restaurants with the dark red walls - just not in NYC. I remember going to such restaurants as a kid in Albany and Hartford. The problem, though, is that nobody films in places like Albany and Hartford.

Tons of Chinese restaurants in NYC have the hanging ducks in the window. It's weird that anyone would think otherwise.

Lots of places in NYC have huge golden dragons, too - just no dark red walls that I've seen. Come to Bay Ridge if you don't believe me. It's weird to think otherwise, and it's doubly weird to think that there's anything ridiculous about having them.

True, but even in a movie like Drive, the Chinese restaurant they filmed at also had a lot of the cliches the blog article mentioned.

Drive takes place in a heightened reality, as most movies do. It's a different kind of heightened reality than MIB3, but it's a heightened reality nonetheless. I don't remember the restaurant from Drive all that well, but I don't remember it being all that unrealistic.

...

By the way, you know what recent movie featured a surprising amount of Chinese stereotyping? Premium Rush. The movie was otherwise fun, but in addition to your garden variety shifty Chinese villains and damsels-in-distress, Jamie Chung's character speaks with an insultingly bizarre accent. I have no idea where it came from. Maybe it was invented for the movie, like the N'avi language for Avatar. It made her sound as if she'd learned of the Chinese primarily by watching the villains from the Phantom Menace.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:39 PM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Tons of Chinese restaurants in NYC have the hanging ducks in the window. It's weird that anyone would think otherwise.

Lots of places in NYC have huge golden dragons, too - just no dark red walls that I've seen. Come to Bay Ridge if you don't believe me. It's weird to think otherwise, and it's doubly weird to think that there's anything ridiculous about having them.


I don't think the author is saying that it is weird or ridiculous to have these elements, just that there is no restaurant in NYC that represents the perfect storm of Orientalism that Hollywood director's apparently want to see and that, in fact, many Chinese restaurants don't have any of them.
posted by asnider at 12:46 PM on January 20, 2013


I really like fakes that become real, as it seems like such a quintessentially human thing to make happen.

It's more complicated than that, though. Chinese-American restaurants with that decor really do exist, more or less. They just don't exist in NYC, and they're apparently going out of fashion as a general trend. If there begins a resurgence of the dark red fancy-kitschy Chinese restaurant, then it will come from (presumably white) nostalgia for those kinds of restaurants, but that doesn't make it any more inherently fake than, say, Italian-American restaurants with tons of Frank Sinatra photos, or diners with round barstools and mini-jukeboxes. Like it or not, that kind of restaurant with that kind of decor is an iconic "thing," at least in the US.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:46 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Over-the-top red-wallpaper-and-golden-dragon Chinese restaurant sets serve the same purpose as ridiculous-looking computer UIs in films: they'd be ridiculous in the real world, but they're there to convey an idea to the audience.
posted by acb at 12:52 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a place in LA's Little Tokyo called the Chop Suey Restarant that has (or had) the intricate wood carvings mentioned (but no red wallpapaer). You can see Philip Marlowe there in the 1975 Robert Mitchum Farewell My Lovely. The scene was filmed at this place because it was thought it was so authentic. But it's nothing like this Wu's in "Men In Black".
posted by Rash at 1:02 PM on January 20, 2013


I'm totally baffled by the suggestions that the linked article points to racist representations of Chinese restaurants
posted by Bwithh at 1:20 PM on January 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't think the author is saying that it is weird or ridiculous to have these elements, just that there is no restaurant in NYC that represents the perfect storm of Orientalism that Hollywood director's apparently want to see and that, in fact, many Chinese restaurants don't have any of them.

I wasn't being clear, which is my fault, so I'll rephrase.

Nobody is surprised that not every Chinese restaurant looks like the one in MIB3. Nobody seriously thinks that. That is not what the article's about.

The thing that the author is actually talking about, the thing that surprises many people, is that there is not a single restaurant really like that in NYC.

However, my point is that more than a few Chinese restaurants in NYC really do have everything on the list, except for two critical elements: dark red (or red-and-gold) walls, and seating that is more closed-off and intimate than simply a huge array of tables.

That's why I'm bemused when people talk about "ridiculous, over-the-top" Chinese restaurant decor, citing things like hanging ducks and golden dragons. What's so ridiculous about having ducks in the window? Nothing. What's so ridiculous about having myriad fish tanks? Nothing. What's so ridiculous about having gold Chinese characters on red wall hangings? Nothing. What's so ridiculous about huge golden dragon carvings? Nothing. Absolutely nothing about those things is ridiculous or unrealistic, even in restaurants which serve primarily Chinese clientele.

Hell, at least two of the big dim sum places in that border area between Sunset Park and Bay Ridge even have the red walls: they're just not dark red walls, and of course all of those places have bright, even lighting and the "huge array of tables" manner of seating.

I mean, are people going to stomp down to J. King Seafood Palace and complain that they're being ridiculous for having decor which is completely normal for a Cantonese restaurant of its size and price category?
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:45 PM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why?

Josh Brolin, mainly.


This.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 2:07 PM on January 20, 2013


I've actually been in the kind of over the top, red wallpaper and gold dragon place described the post, but in was in Liverpool, not NYC
posted by The Whelk at 2:10 PM on January 20, 2013


And by over the top i mean like, huge ornate six foot paper lanterns and gigantic faux jade statues just chilling out in a rounded niche, my hometown stripmall chinese place had a similar aesthetic but not my local chinese place in NYC, its much more steamlined and brown.
posted by The Whelk at 2:14 PM on January 20, 2013


I'm totally baffled by the suggestions that the linked article points to racist representations of Chinese restaurants

I mean, this is MetaFilter after all...
posted by MattMangels at 2:38 PM on January 20, 2013


One thing in the article that jumped out to me was this line: "That classic over-the-top Chinese restaurant you used to go to on the highway as a kid!!"

Is this one of those subtle differences between the US and Canada? Because in my corner of the world pretty much every single small town has at least one Chinese restaurant.


Sure, now they do. When I was a kid, you had to go into the city to eat Chinese. Hell, we had to drive through two other towns to get pizza. Maybe the author is old like me.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:46 PM on January 20, 2013


three blind mice: "And the same thing is true for Japanese, Mexican, Greek, Italian and pretty much all "ethnic" restaurants."

I love Italian food. I've been in a ton of Italian restaurants. There's only one restaurant I've ever been to with a shrine to Frank Sinatra (or, really a shrine to anything). It was a Buca de Beppo.
posted by Apropos of Something at 3:30 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Me, I'm thinking more films should be filmed in Wo Hop.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:09 AM on January 20


There's a glimpse of downstairs Wo Hop in Outasight's Tonight's the Night, starting at about 0:38.

(I used to frequent Wo Hop in college - so when my kid showed me this video, it about knocked me out of my chair: both as the canonical "Chinatown" restaurant, and for the fact that it hasn't changed a bit in the intervening decades. My god, waiting for friends in front of Wo Hop - people still do that, yay!)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 3:34 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm always baffled too. Don't all Chinese restaurants have those yellowing lighted pictures of the dishes, pencils stuck into containers of uncooked rice in the counter for marking down your order, and a $5 fried chicken wings and fried rice combo? Plus who eats there, the tables are for deliver people to lounge at while in the streets attempting to murder people with their bikes.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:38 PM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hell, we had to drive through two other towns to get pizza. Maybe the author is old like me.

Did you call it "pizza pie?"
posted by RobotHero at 4:39 PM on January 20, 2013


I find it strange that Hollywood directors somehow presume that having clear walls and not dark red ones make these restaurants unsuitable for filming, when just about every Hong Kong movie has at least one mafia-related fight scene in precisely such large, open floors. In fact, the yellow wall with a single Ming-style painting is such a cliche that I always feel I'm in an equally pervasive movie trope, albeit on this side of the Pacific.

Directors might want dark Orientalist walls for whatever reason, but let's not pretend the *camera* has anything to do with it.
posted by the cydonian at 4:40 PM on January 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's not that they aren't suitable it's just without the dark red walls and chopped up seating you don't convey the short hand "Chinese restaurant".

It's just like how in movie when someone off screen hangs up a phone you hear a dial tone. Even though that doesn't happen in real life (the only time you get a dial tone is when you first pick up the phone).
posted by Mitheral at 6:17 PM on January 20, 2013


I'm always baffled too. Don't all Chinese restaurants have those yellowing lighted pictures of the dishes, pencils stuck into containers of uncooked rice in the counter for marking down your order, and a $5 fried chicken wings and fried rice combo?

Calling those places "restaurants" is a bit of a stretch. I would even argue that the words "chinese" and "food" are also questionable terms in reference to one of those places.

Don't get me wrong, I have probably eaten 48% of my life's meals in such places. And the only reason I don't anymore is because I can no longer afford it due to now having to spend all of my money on blood pressure medication. Personally I think they should sell BP meds and insulin right along with the General Tso's chicken.
posted by billyfleetwood at 6:21 PM on January 20, 2013


It's not that they aren't suitable it's just without the dark red walls and chopped up seating you don't convey the short hand "Chinese restaurant".

It's just like how in movie when someone off screen hangs up a phone you hear a dial tone. Even though that doesn't happen in real life (the only time you get a dial tone is when you first pick up the phone).


It's weird to compare something that has a distinct and possibly negative cultural reference to something that has no cultural reference at all.
posted by sweetkid at 6:33 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Apparently this guy doesn't know about the PF Chang's right over in West NY, NJ.
posted by capricorn at 8:01 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are some tourist trap places in San Francisco's Chinatown that look like that, like the first place you encounter on Grant Street (I think it's Far East Cafe).
posted by mike3k at 8:43 PM on January 20, 2013


Is this one of those subtle differences between the US and Canada? Because in my corner of the world pretty much every single small town has at least one Chinese restaurant.

Sure, now they do. When I was a kid, you had to go into the city to eat Chinese.


Your profile indicates that you're in the USA. Again, I'm talking about Canada and wondering if this is one of those subtle differences. Most small towns around my parts have a Chinese restaurant. Partly, this is due to past racism: the only way Chinese folk could make money was to go into business for themselves, typically by opening a restaurant or a laundry. The stereotype of the Chinese laundry exists for a reason, and that reason is racism.
posted by asnider at 9:43 PM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Your wonderment does not seem to be taking into account the author's time-framing of his remark as "when you were a kid." If you are old enough to be able to say with assurance that every small town in Canada has had a Chinese restaurant for 40 or 50 years, then I will concede that your question is meaningful. Otherwise, not. Your "past racism" is not different in the US; the same forces and trends were in effect here.

If you like, I'm saying, "No, it's not one of those subtle differences."
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:35 AM on January 21, 2013


The article has a good point, but I find it chooses entirely the wrong example: isn't the whole point of the "Wu's Chinese Restaurant" scene in MiB III that "Wu" is not Chinese (or even an Earthling) at all?!
Maybe I'm giving too much credit to that movie, but I thought that the whole scene was a rather neat joke about the "Chinese restaurant" Hollywood cliché. You know, the sort of thing that educated scriptwriters, trying to get over the sad fact that they are working on yet another crappy comedy sequel, may insert in the script to convince themselves that their film studies education wasn't entirely worthless after all, and which gets greenlighted only because the joke flies right over the heads of the studio executives...
posted by Skeptic at 5:09 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm trying to convince my wife that we should remodel the basement as an opium den. It's something I would like. But my wife is worried that all my friends will show up and just hang around and she doesn't want that.

I try to convince her that an opium den would be a valuable addition to our home. Opium dens can be tasteful. But she's not into the concept.

"Why don't you just build a man-cave and watch football?" she asks, hopefully, completely ignoring the whole reason to have an opium den.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:02 AM on January 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


If you are old enough to be able to say with assurance that every small town in Canada has had a Chinese restaurant for 40 or 50 years, then I will concede that your question is meaningful.

I actually didn't mean to imply that this was the case across the entire country. I was speaking more specifically to Alberta, but didn't make that clear. Nevertheless, you've got a point.

Your "past racism" is not different in the US; the same forces and trends were in effect here.

I'm completely aware of this; looking back, this point was an unnecessary tangent.
posted by asnider at 9:18 AM on January 21, 2013


I'm trying to convince my wife that we should remodel the basement as an opium den. It's something I would like. But my wife is worried that all my friends will show up and just hang around and she doesn't want that. [....]
"Why don't you just build a man-cave and watch football?" she asks, hopefully...


....Why does your wife think that your friends wouldn't show up and just hang around and watch football in a "man-cave"? What exactly does she think the point of a man-cave is?

And can I just say that the phrase "man-cave" has always seemed really stupid to me?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:33 AM on January 21, 2013


Why does your wife think that your friends wouldn't show up and just hang around and watch football in a "man-cave"?

Clearly, his friends are all opium addicts who hate football.
posted by asnider at 9:41 AM on January 21, 2013


but hanging ducks in the window, that was a standard feature of LOTS of the Chinese restaurants I used to patronize in NY Chinatown. But... maybe they don't do that anymore?

They still do that; I walk past one of those places almost every day. The thing about restaurants hanging barbecued meat in the windows is that's their specialty, you go there pretty much to eat siu mei in noodle soup or over rice, they don't have many other options. These tend to be cramped hole-in-the-wall type places where you might go for a quick lunch by yourself. It's analogous to old-school delis where they carve up meat for your sandwich; you wouldn't really go there for anything else.

The more upscale restaurants where you'd go as a big group, or for a full dinner, tend to be big, brightly-lit boxes filled with tables, sometimes with a stage at the back for when it's booked out for weddings and the like. This is the type of place where you'll see the fish tanks and the like, and they'll usually have 100+ menu items, but notably, you usually can't order barbecued meat at these places. That's not their specialty, and that's why it would be uncommon to find a big family-style restaurant with barbecued meats in the window.

That being said, I'm surprised there is no restaurant or lounge in NYC with the kitschy, stereotypical "Oriental" decor that's described in the link, given how popular American-style Chinese food is. I wouldn't look in Chinatown for it, or really in any restaurant that caters to Chinese people, but I would have thought someplace like that exists in Midtown or UES or UWS.
posted by pravit at 11:09 AM on January 21, 2013


I think I understand the blog post now. It's a joke post, right? It's so obvious I don't know why I didn't get it right away. When he says "There’s only one problem: this is what your average Chinatown restaurant looks like," the picture he then shows is of a restaurant with a giant dark red wall with huge golden carvings of a dragon and a bird, with red, gold, and green carpet. He goes on and says "here's another," "and another," putting up two more pictures of ornately-decorated Chinese restaurants with lanterns on the walls, a huge dark red wall with gold carvings, and dark red carpet.

I mean, I get the initial point, which seems to be that he's a New York location scout who has apparently never left New York City in his life so he doesn't know what exists in the rest of the country - particularly in the Midwest, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. I get that. He doesn't realize that there are, in fact, filming locations outside New York City. And he doesn't realize that what most people in the world who have not spent much time in New York think of as "looks like New York" is actually a few blocks of Downtown Los Angeles, some of Toronto, and some of Vancouver.

I get that most of what purports to be in New York City in the movies and on TV is actually in Los Angeles - whether it's Jerry Seinfeld's apartment building, the car chases from The Dark Knight Rises, or episodes from every police procedural and sit-com. And it drives me a bit crazy, just like it apparently does this writer, to watch shows and recognize the locations as clearly not where they're supposed to be. Of course, for me, it's "that's not New York - that's the intersection right in front of my office in Los Angeles!" whereas for him it's "that must be a soundstage, because it's not in Manhattan." Though I can assure you that, although my office, the lobby of which featured prominently in a recent film set in Manhattan, does not exist in Manhattan, it is not a soundstage.

And I do think Skeptic is on to something above by pointing out that the scene in MIB3 is about an impostor - a space alien - running a Chinese restaurant as a front, which makes it make more sense that it would be an over-the-top representation of a cliche.

But ultimately his blog post is just a silly joke, since there's no way he's so blind that he does not notice the dark red walls and giant golden carvings in the pictures he posted of "what your average Chinatown restaurant looks like."

He also posts a screen-grab from a scene in The Fisher King, but I wonder if he has ever watched the entire scene. At the end of the scene, the camera pulls out to show the whole restaurant, which is just like the ones in Manhattan he showed pictures of - where the ornate gold carvings and the red and blue wall are just one wall of the restaurant, which has tacky crystal light fixtures, beige carpet, tables and chairs throughout, and yes, beige walls everywhere but that one accent wall. Sure, it's more dimly lit than the real restaurants in his examples, but come on.
posted by The World Famous at 4:08 PM on January 21, 2013


I'm not an expert on Chinese restaurants in New York, but I do know there was a trend in the 70s of upscale Chinese restaurants trying to compete head on with upscale French restaurants. They played down Asian kitsch and some featured extensive wine lists. For all intents and purposes they were standard upscale restaurants that featured dishes like Slippery Chicken and Orange Beef Shun Lee Palace and Mr Chow are good examples.

I've been to a fair amount of relatively upscale Chinese restaurants in midtown and the UES, and I've never seen a restaurant featuring Asian kitsch. I have however had plenty of Hunan style filet mignon.

I am almost certain I've been to one in Chinatown, I had a bizarre meal selected for me featuring shark fin soup, some sort of conch fritter and sea cucumber. Wish I could remember the name, it was 20 years ago.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:30 PM on January 21, 2013


I mean, I get the initial point, which seems to be that he's a New York location scout who has apparently never left New York City in his life so he doesn't know what exists in the rest of the country - particularly in the Midwest, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. I get that. He doesn't realize that there are, in fact, filming locations outside New York City.

...Okay, I'm calling foul on this point.

Location scouts aren't ignorant of shooting locations outside New York City, but if a film is shooting IN New York City, a location scout's hands are kind of tied towards the necessity of staying in New York City. It would make zero sense to film every other scene in New York City and then airlift the entire production staff, cast, crew, and everything to Flickerstiff, Rhode Island just for that one scene that you found the perfect Chinese restaurant in. Especially since you have to put up the entire production staff, cast, and crew in a hotel for the duration that you're there. (Because most of your production staff lives in New York as it is, because that's where nearly all the work is because the city offers a shit-ton of tax breaks to people who film here....)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:31 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


....Incidentally, I am inordinately pleased with myself for coming up with the name "Flickerstiff" for a small-town name, especially that early in the morning, and I'm going to have to use it somewhere. (as you were.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:03 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Huh. So New York Chinese restaurants look exactly like Houston Chinese restaurants. And, more surprisingly, there are apparently places like Los Angeles where Chinese restaurants don't look like that. I thought it was kind of universal in the US.
posted by Bugbread at 7:32 AM on January 22, 2013


For all intents and purposes they were standard upscale restaurants that featured dishes like Slippery Chicken and Orange Beef Shun Lee Palace and Mr Chow are good examples.

I've been to a fair amount of relatively upscale Chinese restaurants in midtown and the UES, and I've never seen a restaurant featuring Asian kitsch.


Depends on your definition of kitsch, I guess - I mean just look at the gigantic golden dragon snaking across the walls of Shun Lee. Actually it's close to what the director wanted - golden dragons and red lanterns, monkey statues, and booth-style seating - just not the red wallpaper.

Reading the comments of that post, actually Ruby Foo's in Times Square is quite obviously the place they were looking for, and just the part of town where I thought you'd find such a place. It's the perfect storm of over-the-top "Oriental" decor with red walls, hanging lanterns, and golden Buddha statues all over the place.
posted by pravit at 10:01 AM on January 22, 2013


This whole thread gave me an enormous craving for dumplings today at lunch. ....thanks, I think?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:43 AM on January 22, 2013


...Okay, I'm calling foul on this point.

The point may have been a little bit facetious. Nevertheless, the article says quite plainly:
And of course, I immediately knew that Wu’s was fake, built from scratch on a soundstage.

Why? Because this location does not exist in Manhattan.
Was the MIB3 Chinese restaurant a soundstage? It looks like it to me, sure - mostly because of the fish tanks and because it looks too "perfect." But not because it's ornate or because it has red wallpaper (it doesn't) and golden carvings (it doesn't). Just glancing at the filming locations listed for the film on IMDb (which is, as always, pretty sparse on details), I see Central City Studio, Los Angeles and Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, as well as Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens. It's not some big secret or surprise that MIB3 was not all shot on location.

Would it be annoying, as a location scout in New York, to be asked over and over again to find a location that you know exists only in the fake New York City of the movies? Sure.

But the article is very strange when you really look at the pictures he's including and read the words he's writing. The pictures of real NYC Chinese restaurants almost all have red wallpaper and golden carvings. Almost all of them could be made to look like the cliche given the right lighting, additional props, and the right cinematography. And the one from Men In Black 3? Look at the pictures he's posting of it. Red wallpaper? Nope. There is not a single red wall in any of those shots. The tablecloths are red - that's it. I don't doubt that he has worked with some very difficult directors and that they have rejected his various photos of locations for the reasons he's putting forth. But I mean come on.
posted by The World Famous at 10:47 AM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ruby Foo's in Times Square is quite obviously the place they were looking for

But it's a Japanese place! Or at least some kind of pan-Asian place! Look at all the photos of sushi and odon noodles! THEY HAVE A SUSHI BAR!!!
posted by asnider at 10:51 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's what I mean - I'd expect to find that combination of over-the-top Orientalist decor at an "Asian fusion" type of place rather than an actual Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. Not saying it's impossible, but I can't think of one off the top of my head and I live here. Jing Fong (which is in the post) maybe, but it's more of a gigantic dim sum / Grand Prospect Hall sort of place.

There was another place I once ate at down in the Financial District that did Asian-inspired French food. The decor had a lot of those elements (moody lighting! dark red walls!), but a tad less wild than the Times Square place. SHO Shaun Hergatt.
posted by pravit at 4:06 PM on January 22, 2013


pravit, what about this place, this place, or this place, which are examples of real NYC Chinese restaurants in the linked article? Don't they all have those elements, with the exception of fish tanks? I'll grant you that the last one I linked has reddish-brown wood walls instead of dark red wallpaper. But, as I noted above, the restaurant in Men In Black 3 also does not have red wallpaper. The moody lighting is the responsibility of the film crew - they're not going to just leave the lighting to whatever is already in the restaurant, are they?

Unfortunately, the ScoutingNY blog does not tell us what restaurants those are, so I can't easily look up other pictures of them. But I'd be willing to bet that the right angles and lighting would make those look every bit as cliche as what the blogger is saying does not exist in NYC.
posted by The World Famous at 4:15 PM on January 22, 2013


The middle one is definitely Jing Fong, the left one looks like Sunshine 27 (though there are a ton of dim sum places that look exactly like that), and the right one isn't in Chinatown.

With the right angles, props, and lighting, I'm sure they could make it look like the cliche. I think his point was that most NYC Chinese restaurants are far from the stereotypical image of a "Chinese restaurant" that movie directors have, and there's no place that looks like the MIB or Seinfeld place "as is", without having to pick certain angles and set up extra props. Most of those places are essentially just big open boxes with only one red decorated wall.
posted by pravit at 4:54 PM on January 22, 2013


I agree, pravit. But change the angles around just a little bit and it looks to me like he chose pictures that intentionally minimize the elements he's claiming those restaurants don't have.

Let's look at what he actually says in the blog post:
“Are you SERIOUSLY telling me,” they will ask incredulously, “that there isn’t a single Chinese restaurant in all of Manhattan with red wallpaper and crazy ornamentation???”

Yes. That is what I’m telling you.
That is clear as can be: He says flat-out that there is not a single Chinese restaurant in all of Manhattan with red wallpaper and crazy ornamentation. Then he posts pictures of Jing Fong and others. Let's look at Jing Fong again. I'm no expert in Manhattan restaurant locations, but look at this picture of Jing Fong from Jing Fong's own website. Then look at the picture of the restaurant from Men In Black 3. Which one has red wallpaper and crazy ornamentation? I mean even the Jing Fong website is set on red wallpaper with crazy ornamentation.
posted by The World Famous at 5:23 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I didn't take the post quite as literally - yes, obviously that place has a stage with a red wall and golden decorations.
posted by pravit at 5:56 PM on January 22, 2013


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