The most recent Mission: Impossible film highlights the continued presence of the ‘quiet Asian’ stereotype.


There are numerous issues with Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, including its implausible plot involving AI, excessive length, and major inconsistencies. However, the most glaring flaw is the transformation of Pom Klementieff’s character Paris, a fierce assassin, into a tired stereotype of a silent Asian who barely speaks in the film.

Paris is a member of the crew led by villain Gabriel (played by Esai Morales). She appears in many of the fights and action scenes, including an exciting car chase in the streets of Rome. With her fearless enthusiasm and aggressive nature, she poses a formidable challenge to Ethan Hunt, the agent of the Impossible Mission Force played by Tom Cruise. However, despite being half Korean, the French actor has very few lines in the entire film.

It is true that people do not watch Mission: Impossible movies for the dialogue. Instead, they are drawn to the impressive action scenes and daring stunts performed by Cruise in stunning locations – and in those aspects, this film does not disappoint. However, the connecting scenes between these action sequences feature well-respected actors struggling to maintain a serious expression as they repeatedly utter words like “key”, “open”, and “the entity” in different combinations, all while the plot reveals a rogue ChatGPT on a large scale.

However, it appears that the writers did not allocate much dialogue for Klementieff’s character. Her only significant speaking moment is when she says “See you soon” in French, until the final scene where she is given a few more lines to convey crucial information to Hunt. It is strange that she was mostly silent prior to this.

At one point, Denlinger (Cary Elwes), the director of National Intelligence, directly asks her a question. However, instead of responding, she resorts to her preferred method of communication – intense violence, mercilessly taking down anyone in her path.

Despite the success of Asian-led films such as Everything Everywhere All at Once, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Crazy Rich Asians in breaking Hollywood’s outdated stereotypes, I had hoped that the portrayal of silent Asians would no longer be prevalent. However, it continues to persist stubbornly.

Michelle Yeoh (centre), Stephanie Hsu and Ke Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All at Once

You don’t have to look too far in the past to see how it has permeated western films and TV. Take Hana Mae Lee in the Pitch Perfect films. The Korean American actor plays Lilly Onakuramara, a painfully shy student who speaks in a barely audible whisper for most of the three comedy films. Sonoya Mizuno, a British actor of Japanese, English, and Argentinian descent, gets to boogie on down with co-star Oscar Isaac in the cerebral sci-fi thriller Ex Machina, but says nothing as Kyoko, a mute, sexy robot.

Equally, Rinko Kikuchi, a Japanese actress, brings a burst of happiness to the comedic adventure The Brothers Bloom as Bang Bang, a key role in the film. However, her character only utters a few words. This sends a clear message to Asian actors: you can be included in our movies, even in significant roles, but don’t anticipate having significant dialogue.

Jimmy Wong, known for his role as Ling in Disney’s Mulan remake, recently addressed a common trope in the entertainment industry. In a tweet, he shared images of two characters – Kimiko in The Boys and Ben in The Umbrella Academy – both portrayed by attractive Asian actors with minimal dialogue, seemingly for the sake of being enigmatic. This has been Wong’s least favorite aspect of watching shows during the pandemic.

The common belief that Asians, especially Asian women, are passive and obedient is perpetuated by the quiet Asian stereotype. Paris, however, defies this stereotype with her bold and confident appearance, reminiscent of Harley Quinn. Her white face powder may even be made from the bones of her enemies, further emphasizing her strength. She joins the company of other silent Asian assassins in Hollywood, such as Miho in Sin City portrayed by Devon Aoki and the Mysterious Woman in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow played by Bai Ling. These powerful women are limited to using physical force instead of their sharp tongues to assert themselves.

Klementieff’s character brings attention to the franchise’s sometimes problematic portrayal of women. Who can forget Thandiwe Newton’s role as Nyah in the second movie? Despite her skilled abilities as a thief, it is evident that she is only recruited by Hunt to use her past relationship with a rogue agent (Dougray Scott) to complete their mission. “She’s not trained for this,” Hunt complains to his superior (Anthony Hopkins). He responds offensively, saying, “To sleep with a man and deceive him? She’s a woman, she already knows how to do that.”

Do not misunderstand, there have been exceptional female characters throughout the years, particularly Vanessa Redgrave’s portrayal of Max, a clever and calculating arms dealer, in the initial movie. However, numerous of these women were only present in one film and then never appeared again, such as IMF agents Claire (Emmanuelle Béart), Jane (Paula Patton), and Zhen (Maggie Q).

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Julia, portrayed by Michelle Monaghan, made appearances in both Ghost Protocol and Fallout following her role in the third film. However, in the Mission: Impossible universe, women are often treated as expendable compared to Hunt’s steadfast companions, Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames).

In recent movies, we have witnessed the recurring roles of Alanna Mitsopolis (also known as the White Widow) played by Vanessa Kirby and Ilsa Faust, an MI6 agent who can keep up with Hunt’s fighting skills, portrayed by Rebecca Ferguson.

It is likely that Paris will also make an appearance in Dead Reckoning Part Two, but her future is uncertain, much like Hunt on a motorbike hanging on a cliff’s edge. Will she make it through to the second half and have more dialogue? We will have to wait until 2024 to find out. In the meantime, Hollywood, please remember to give Asian actors a voice – it’s not as difficult as it may seem.

On July 17, 2023, this article was revised to fix incorrect information in the caption of the second photo. The photo features Michelle Yeoh with Stephanie Hsu and Ke Huy Quan, not Jenny Slate and James Hong as previously stated. It was later updated on July 18, 2023 to specify that Michelle Monaghan has actually appeared in three films in the series, not two as originally reported.


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