Monday, July 11, 2011
In Defense of Short Round and the Temple of Doom
Posted by Courtney Small
He is small, obedient, a New York Yankees fan, and drives cars barely being tall enough to see over the wheel or reach the pedals. His name is Short Round and he is the definition of sidekicks who, to paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield, “gets no respect”. To this day many consider him a racial stereotype that is a stain on an otherwise stellar franchise. Yet I have always thought that Short Round, and the entire Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom film for that matter, is far better than people give him credit for.
As the Lee and Dan’s Midnight Movie Club podcast, which you should be listening too if you do not already, is currently covering the original Indiana Jones Trilogy I decided to revisit them myself. While I admit that nostalgia has played a role in my love for Short Round in the past, as Temple of Doom was my earliest memory of Indiana Jones, I find that his character still holds up well upon recent viewing. In many ways I would take Short Round over Mutt Williams, Indy’s son from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, any day. When Short Round attempts to save Indiana Jones, by racing up the ladder and uses it to sail across the sky to grab the rope hanging from a hole in the ceiling, it is far more believable than when Mutt is swing from the trees with the monkeys in the fourth installment.
One of the appeals of Short Round is that he is a useful character, rather than one whose sole purpose is to be rescued. Short Round not only serves as Indy’s getaway driver at the beginning if the film but he single handedly saves Indiana Jones on three separate occasions. Not only does he come to Indy’s rescue, be he is the perfect buffer between Indiana Jones and the annoying love interest Willie Scott. Without Short Round, the character of Willie Scott would be more grating than she already is in the film.
Now I know that many may point out that Short Round plays into offensive stereotypes; however, I did not find the stereotypes any worse in Temple of Doom then any of the other films in the series. Like several other productions where George Lucas is involved, most cultural groups are reduced to one-note stereotypes. For example Germans are evil Nazis, Indian’s are sadistic bug eaters, and the British are stuffy and arrogant. I am by no means condoning these short sighted views but, in the context of Indiana Jones, I did not find them as offensive as films like The Star Wars prequels, Pleasantville, The Blindside, or even Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
Again, maybe a lot of my views are a result of being exposed to Temple of Doom at an age when I was unaware of the stereotypes and just enjoyed the film as a thrilling adventure. Sure, looking back on it years later, Raiders of the Lost Ark is the best overall film of the series both from a technical standpoint and its story, though my wife would argue in favour of The Last Crusade being the best; but Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is still my personal favourite. Every time I watch it, I immediately get that childhood glee again at the craziness of it all. Whether it is the plane scene near the beginning or the bridge scene at the end, it just works for me. I know I am probably in the minority in this line of thought, but that is just fine with me.