In the marooned rehearsal of a school play in an urban comedy, a stuttering student asks their drama coach if he could play Romeo. A young lady rolls her eyes and challenges her classmate: “What makes you think that you can play Romeo? You don’t have the looks, and you can’t even speak properly.” She is quick to point out that the other student, originally cast for the male lead, is eminently more qualified even if he cannot remember his lines: “Nick, on the other hand, looks like Leonardo DiCaprio. That’s why he’s Romeo.” Her protégée promptly supports her cause and leaves the aspiring thespian speechless. Her argument about dramatic verisimilitude is obviously flawed, but her identification with select embodiments of the global “West” (including Shakespeare’s soft power and Tiffany jewelry’s sway in commencing a romantic relationship) compels us to consider cultural globalization from a local perspective. Cheah Chee Kong’s film Chicken Rice War (Singapore, 2000; director known as CheeK) parodies Hollywood rhetoric and global teen culture by commenting on the popularity of Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, which starred Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio and brought the classic tale of power and passion to modern-day Verona beach. The audience of Chicken Rice Warwitnessed globalization at work through witty appropriations of globally circulated, but locally consumed, cultural icons that included DiCaprio’s star power, Romeo and Juliet, and Singaporean government propaganda about the city-state’s identity on the global stage: “New Asia.”
Acknowledgement: Part of this article was presented as a response to five papers on Korean theater delivered at the 19th Hahn Moo-Sook Colloquium in the Korean Humanities at The George Washington University, November 5, 2011. I wish to thank David Schalkwyk, young-Key Kim-Renaud, Director Oh Tae-suk, Richard Nichols, and Esther Kim Lee for their invaluable feedback.