Monday, July 11, 2011

In Defense of Short Round and the Temple of Doom

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.


  1. I'm with you in that I don't think Short Round is a particularly racist character, although I think the film as a whole skirts pretty damn near to the line.

    I think what saves Short Round is the charm of the actor playing him and the skill Spielberg has in directing children.

    As a whole though I feel the movie, while still great, is the weakest of the trilogy.

    Oh, and thanks for the plug man!

  2. Ah, man, The Blind Side was such overly sentimental crap in my opinion. As for the Temple of Doom, I enjoyed this film a lot, not my favorite of the series but still a fun film. Nice work!

  3. I agree. The Blind Side is without a doubt, one of the worst films I had ever seen. It's so sentimental and filled with blech.

    And you know something, I like Short Round. I grew up watching Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom and love it. Sure, it's the weakest of the three films (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull doesn't count) but I'll watch it any day of the week.

    Plus, Short Round can kick ass. Hell, that kid played my favorite character in The Goonies, Data! I wanted to be that character. Always coming up with lots of gadgets and such.

  4. Just curious, what did you find offensive in Pleasantville? ;)

  5. Yeah, I'm curious about that too.

    Short Round actually does stuff, as opposed to Willie, who just screams a lot. That's why I liked the character as a kid, and still like him.

  6. @Dan- Spielberg does have a way with child actors. I agree that the film drifts toward the brink at times but those moment usually involve Willie Scott. Her character is ignorant beyond belief.

    @Matt S- The Blind Side was indeed sentimental rubbish. Still cannot believe it was nominated for best picture.

    @thevoid- I loved Data in The Goonies as well growing up. Granted he is more of a stereotype than Short Round, but he is fun character regardless.

    @Castor- I would probably have to write a separate post on all the things that bothered me about Pleasantville. The condensed version is that the film takes place in the all white sitcom world of the 1950s. Yet it has the nerve try to teach us the importance of equality by showing the divide between the whites and the colours. The thing is, the "colours" are still essentially white folks. Joan Allen even has the option of hiding the fact she becomes coloured via the use of make-up. I just found it insulting that a film featuring an all white cast is teaching us about the evils of racism.

    @Rich- Willie is by far the worst thing about Temple of Doom. She slows the film down and has no depth whatsoever.

  7. I, too, was going to say, "Pleasantville?"

    I can certainly understand where you're coming from given your point of view, but that's just not at all what I took the film to be about. I always saw the colorization as more of a Scarlett Letter-type symbolism (specifically as it pertains to innocence and sexuality) than about races. Interesting.

  8. @Dylan – Some see the film as a statement about life in the suburbs, others as a commentary on personal repression, etc. I can see the Scarlet Letter angle as well, though I think too many characters are affected to have the same impact as that story. I actually think Easy A is a far better interpretation of that particular tale. Again, I am probably alone in my interpretation of Pleasantville as my wife absolutely loves the film.

  9. Don't mean to be snide, but...yeah, Easy A is a better interpretation of The Scarlett Letter, since it IS an interpretation of it. With Pleasantville, I meant more the themes its playing with. Seemed to have a lot more to do with sexuality than with race. Don't get me wrong, I like your interpretation of it, I'm just not entirely sure that it's fair to the filmmakers to blast them for something that I think they unwittingly did.

  10. @Dylan – Sexuality is the main catalyst for sure. That, and rage, seem to be the main examples for “passion” used in the film. While I do think the social commentary was intentional, I will concede that they probably did not mean it to come across the way I interpreted it. They were probably going for a “we should accept everyone for their individual passions” type of angle. Regardless, even if I remove my interpretation of the latter half, I still cannot get into why so many people love Pleasantville. I have watched it several times now and it just does nothing for me.


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