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John Hughes lost, Long Duk Dong found

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Hughes_l_2

Hughes_l_2What are the odds of pieces about John Hughes (still beloved, still a recluse) and his Sixteen Candles character Long Duk Dong (still funny, still a stereotype) running on the same day?

Yesterday, The Los Angeles Times had a story about the impact Hughes (pictured, left, in 1994) still has on Hollywood — which he turned his back on more than a decade ago — because today’s filmmakers, including Judd Apatow, whose latest, Drillbit Taylor, is loosely based on an abandoned Hughes story idea, were reared on his movies. “John Hughes wrote some of the great outsider characters of all time,” Apatow told the Times. “It’s prettyridiculous to hear people talk about the movies we’ve been doing, withoutrageous humor and sweetness all combined, as if they were anoriginal idea. I mean, it was all there first in John Hughes’ films.Whether it’s Freaks and Geeks or Superbad, the whole idea of havingoutsiders as the lead characters, that all started with Hughes…. His great film characters, starting with Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles, were big inspirations. When we were growing up, wewere all like Hall — the goofy skinny kid who thinks he’s cool, evenif nobody else does. Superbad has that same attitude, that mix oftotal cockiness and insecurity.”

NPR, on the other hand, ran a piece on the lasting legacy of Sixteen Candles’ Long Duk Dong, the Asian exchange student (played by Gedde Watanabe, pictured, right, with Candles crush Deborah Pollack) who finds love and a lake (big lake) in which to park Grandpa’s automobile…

addCredit(“John Hughes/Sixteen Candles: Everett Collection”)

Proving how naive I was, growing up in a one-stop-sign town in central Pennsylvania, it never occurred to me that Long might be a character that wasn’t universally embraced. The founders of the Asian and Asian-American pop culture magazine Giant Robot tell NPR it wasn’t fun to be called “Bruce Lee” at school, but it was better than being called “The Donger”; Watanabe, who obviously laughed at the character, recalls working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and being accosted by irate women who wanted to know how in the world he could have taken such an offensive role.

Why do we still talk about John Hughes’ movies with so much passion twenty years after they were made? Why is he still, for better or worse, the most trusted voice in teen cinema? I asked Jon Cryer that when Pretty in Pink got its “Everything’s Duckie” special edition release in 2006. (Sorry, Blane.) “John had a real need to believe in teenage icons and create teenage iconography — that’s what he was doing with Breakfast Club,” Cryer said.”I think he was really tortured in his high school, and [movies] were away of him psychologically coming to terms with his youth and sort ofreordering it in his mind as a storyteller. I think kids will alwayslatch on to people saying,’Your experience is important. What you’regoing through right now is not trivial. We care about it, and we’reright there with ya.'”

Which of Hughes’ films had the greatest impact on you?