‘How I Became Russian’ Movie Pits Shanghainese Man Against Future Russian Father-in-Law

Years ago, when Philip Wong of Wongfu Productions cited Meet the Parents as a movie that should have starred Asians in one of the major roles, the universe must have heard his plea. That’s because a new Sino-Russian collaboration How I Became Russian (Как я стал русским), set to hit the theaters here in China on Jan 25, stands as a perfect example of a Meet the Parents-style tale, with a Sino-Russian twist.

The movie’s Chinese name Zhandou Minsu Yangchengji (战斗民族养成记), which roughly translates to “Notes on Battling Nationals”, pits a young Shanghainese man engaged to a Russian woman against his future Russian father-in-law, a nightmare of a man determined to put the newcomer through the wringer to prove his love for his fiancée.

Philip Wong would definitely approve of the casting, as he once stated “the basic premise [in Meet the Parents] of the “outsider” boyfriend meeting his fiancee’s ‘all-American’ family would be even more strengthened if said boyfriend was really ‘different’ i.e. Asian.” In this case, there’s no doubt who’s the outsider — the Shanghainese fellow met and proposed to his Russian fiancee in China, and then they travel to Russia, a foreign country, to meet the family.

And if the trailer is any measure, How I Became Russian also has lots of comedic potential with the hurdles the gun-toting Russian father throws at the Shanghai boyfriend. These include drinking duels with vodka, sweltering in saunas, shivering in the frigid cold and a showdown with an armored tank. The bottom line, like Meet the Parents, appears to be the same — it’s yet another father who doesn’t trust his daughter’s fiancee and will make him fight for the right to love her.

The movie stars Dong Chang (董畅) as the Shanghainese boyfriend, Elizaveta Kononova as the Russian girlfriend, and Vitaliy Khaev as the Russian father-in-law. Learn more about the movie in Chinese on Baidu (where you can also see trailers).

What do you think of How I Became Russian? Would you like to see this film?

How should we feel about Shanghai men being great husbands?

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A few years ago, I discovered one of the most striking headlines about Asian men as marriage partners: “China surpasses the world in yet another category: Quality husbands/Shanghainese husbands are renowned as the best in China, and maybe the world.”

Yes, Shanghai boasts more than just the Bund and that stop-till-you-drop insanity on Nanjing Road. It’s also supposedly home to outstanding husbands:

1. The versatile ma da sao

Ma da dao is Shanghainese slang meaning, “shop, wash, cook.”…

The exception is when the term is used to describe men in Shanghai — guys who don’t just shop, wash and cook, but famously do so without complaint….

2. The professional ‘bag carrier’…

When shopping with her Shanghainese boyfriend or husband (yes, Shanghai men shop, remember “ma” from point number one?) the Shanghai female doesn’t need to carry any bags, including her own petite purse….

3. Family pride

Chatting with a married Western man, you may need to wait hours before he mentions his wife. Chatting with a married Shanghainese man, you may need to wait hours before he stops talking about his wife….

4. Tolerance

The relationship between mother and daughter-in-law is like an active volcano in the Middle Marriage Kingdom. But the Shanghai husband’s legendary tolerance can single-handedly turn a lava flow into a pile of dead ashes, or a volcano to be enjoyed and admired like Mt. Fuji….

5. Masculinity in disguise…

Shanghainese men simply see it as their responsibility to provide their families with a wealthy life. Their outlook is, “I’ll make all the money and deal with all the ‘bei ju,'” a trendy Internet phrase in China meaning “everything tragic.”…

As much as I’m fascinated by this idea (when was the last time you heard anything positive about Asian men in the world of dating and marriage?) I find myself torn about how to feel about it. After all, the superiority of Shanghai husbands rests on some reasons that come across as potentially emasculating – the last thing any group of Asian men needs in this world.

Being renowned for, say, your prowess in the kitchen and doing housework doesn’t exactly scream “macho man”. While my feminist side loves a man who shares in the chores and kitchen duty – like John – I know it’s not going to boost the image of Asian men around the world. Asian men have been shackled with some of the most degrading racial stereotypes (particularly that one about a man’s, well, you know), casting them as the sexless pariahs of the dating world. As Alex Tizon wrote in his powerful memoir Big Little Man, “In the America that I grew up in, men of Asia placed last in the hierarchy of manhood.” Doesn’t the supposed supremacy of Shanghai men – based on their talents in the home, kitchen, and carrying women’s bags – just make things worse?

Then again, should we measure Shanghai husbands against Western ideals of what makes a man a man? After all, it’s the Chinese who first noted – and praised — the greatness of Shanghainese husbands. I’m reminded of how Alex Tizon wrote about the Chinese ideal of Wen Wu (文武) regarding masculinity in Big Little Man:

For the past two thousand years in China, you could not be merely a tough guy to be considered an ideal man. You also had to be scholarly, poetic, and wise. The manliest of men were philosopher-warriors, and more philosopher than warrior. A cultivated mind was more highly esteemed than big biceps or deft swordsmanship.

Or, in the case of the Shanghai husband, a cultivated man who cares for his wife, family and home in very practical and tangible ways.

I oscillate between both of these sides, never quite satisfied with either – and ultimately, never 100 percent a cheerleader for the superior Shanghai husband.

However, there is one husband whose side I’ll always be on – mine. John is from Hangzhou, not Shanghai. Sure, he does his share of the housework, helps in the kitchen, and always carries my bags when we shop. But he also lifts weights, is really sexy, and has an awesome sense of humor (he tells better jokes than I do, even in English). He defies categorization. And to me, he’ll always be the greatest husband in the world.

What do you think?