With Chinese New Year on February 18, we must adhere to certain customs in order to avoid bad luck: We should wear red, we should not wash our hair, and we can't say "four" (in Chinese, "four" is a homonym of the word for "death"). As it turns out, it's hard for honkies to follow the time-honored traditions of a venerable ancient race. For proof, check out these films that feature round-eye whities playing Asians. (They go best with some take-out stir fry!)
• Dragon Seed (1944)—Katharine Hepburn takes on the role of a Chinese peasant, without any attempt at masking her Bryn Mawr accent. Her eyelids are pinned back, though, which ultimately distinguishes her from those nasty Japanese who invade her village.
• Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)—In a still-inexplicable casting choice, a "yellow-faced" Mickey Rooney stars as Mr. Yunioshi, the bucktoothed Japanese landlord of Holly Golightly (rather, "Gorightry," I guess). Though producer Richard Shepherd has since apologized profusely for this slur, director Blake Edwards still hasn't.
• My Geisha (1962)—Shirley MacLaine plays Lucy Dell, a famous movie star whose husband (Yves Montand) is a famous director. Her husband, making a film version of Madame Butterfly, doesn't believe his wife has the mettle to play the lead, so Lucy flies to Japan, disguises herself as a geisha, and wins the role. In the Rock Hudson/Doris Day wacky romance vein, this film is the least offensive of this lot.
• Seven Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)—East truly meets West in this farcical fable, as a Chinese circus performer descends upon an Old West town. As seven different characters (including Pan and Medusa), Tony Randall pulls off some "Oriental hocus pocus" and makes the townspeople learn more about themselves.
• New York Minute (2004)—Honestly: This Olsen Twins movie is better the second time you watch it! Andy Richter goes beyond ridiculous and insulting as Bennie Bang, a cracker who's been adopted by a Chinese woman—and is thus convinced he's Asian. Rest easy, though: Blacks and gays don't escape the stereotyping, either.