Illustrations by Matt Huynh.
It was only when a one-dimensional yellow man stepped out of a cinema screen and into a plush red theatre on George Street that audience members began to blink rapidly behind their 3D glasses.
The film from which the man had emerged was Return of the White Ninja 3D. Although the film was in 3D, the yellow man only appeared in 1D. He had been playing Stand-offish Ninja #13, part of a gang of 1D Stand-offish Ninjas led by a 3D white boy who had been raised by ninjas from birth.
In the middle of the closing scene, in which the ninjas had formed a circle and were bowing to the white boy with new-found respect, Stand-offish Ninja #13 had glimpsed light from the movie projector falling onto the heads of the audience. Curious, he had stepped towards the light and into the lap of a blond-haired woman – one foot landing in her supersized popcorn and the other on the spare seat beside her.
The newly three-dimensional yellow man stretched his limbs and tossed his hair. The audience gasped. He had a luminescent quality about him, having just stepped out of a celluloid dream.
He looked around.
Maybe life will be better, he thought, in three dimensions.
At first, the cinemagoers were calm. They shook his hand, starstruck, because they assumed he was a white actor doing yellow face. They thought his slit eyes, flat nose and jet black hair were just the work of a good make-up artist.
But when the man shed his ninja costume, strolled out into the foyer and began walking the streets of the island naked, they saw that he was yellow all over.
This could not just have been make-up, they concluded, because he had been clothed in the scene he had just exited. There would not have been, from a filmmaking perspective, any practical need to paint the balls of a white actor yellow.
Having realised that an actual yellow ninja was on the loose, the cinemagoers started screaming in horror.
The yellow man cleared his three-dimensional throat and began to speak.
The first word that came out was “Fellini”.
Incredible, he thought, I have a three-dimensional vocabulary.
He had previously grunted and roundhouse kicked his way through films, his only two speaking lines being: You die now and Boss Man velly angly.
The yellow man acquired a smart jacket and trousers. He decided that, with his new-found three dimensions, he would spend his time on intellectual pursuits, with a focus on the study of the representation of women in Italian neorealist cinema.
The yellow man wrote a book on the subject. Consequently, he was invited to participate in a panel discussion at one of the island’s arts festivals. The other selected panellists were also yellow men, who were visiting from abroad to promote books they had written on diverse topics such as Olympic shot put and the history of chemical warfare.
What is it like to be yellow? asked the interviewer of the yellow man.
That’s not necessarily the only thing I’m interested in talking about, he replied. After all, the book I’ve written is about Federico Fellini and how women are represented in his films.
I see, said the interviewer. But how has your yellowness impacted on your work? For instance, have you ever thought of forming a Yellow Man Group, similar to America’s iconic Blue Man Group?
With my fellow panellists? asked the yellow man. No, that hasn’t crossed my mind, particularly since this is the first time we’ve all met.
It’d be quite a novelty, though, said the interviewer.
Would it? asked the yellow man.
Being yellow yourself, continued the interviewer, why are you not writing about being yellow?
Because I wanted to write about Italian neorealism, said the yellow man.
A long silence filled the auditorium.
The yellow man sighed.
Do you really want to know what it’s like to be yellow?
The interviewer nodded.
Well, said the yellow man. He crossed his legs, clasped his hands together and rested them on one knee. Being yellow is like being the colour of sunflowers, or of lemons, or of pretty yellow ribbons in the hair of a young girl. It’s like being the colour of a dishwashing detergent labelled with a picture of the morning sun bursting through the kitchen window and alighting on a gleaming, freshly washed wine glass.
How fascinating, said the interviewer.
It is quite an interesting colour to be, nodded the yellow man, and it is, I believe, a hue that is somewhere on the colour wheel between green and orange.
My God, he can speak English well, murmured members of the audience. And without any sort of accent.
Yellowness, continued the man, gives one a certain je ne sais quoi.
My God, they thought. He’s speaking European. These yellows can really blend in when they put their minds to it.
I’ve been wondering, said the interviewer, about the faraway places where all the yellow people come from. Why is it that I’m so afraid of going there?
That’s something for you to work out with your therapist, said the yellow man. He turned to the audience. For those of you interested in my next book, he said, I will be embarking on a study of Shakespeare and debt, with a focus on The Merchant of Venice.
Many of the audience members, as they left the auditorium, wondered why he had to be so combative.
Prickly, they muttered to each other. Inscrutable.
While the panel discussion was taking place, reports filtered in from around the island that a naked three-dimensional yellow woman had just burst from the same cinema screen on George Street from which the yellow man had emerged.
She, too, had noticed the light beaming from the movie projector while in the middle of playing a 1D character in a 3D biopic. This, her breakthrough role—as the unhinged, manipulative, gold-digging girlfriend of a white social networking entrepreneur—was invented by the screenwriters to serve as a plot device. Her character’s purpose in the film was simply to heighten conflict in a climactic scene in which a hand-held camera followed the entrepreneur as he pleaded into his phone in an attempt to save an ailing business partnership, while she—experiencing a psychotic episode—lured him into a hotel room, locked the door, stripped naked and set the curtains on fire.
This had been her most three-dimensional one-dimensional role to date. Prior to this, her roles had been non-speaking ones – her specialty being silent waitresses and whores. She had also once played a dragon lady whose long, straight hair curled around the necks of men and strangled them in their sleep.
As the yellow woman walked out of the flames and onto the street, men bumped past her as if she were invisible. Others stopped and stared.
Ni hao, they said. Konnichiwa.
Bonjour, she replied. Guten Tag.
When she took the men home, they said, I’ve never tried a yellow girl before.
They ran their hands up and down her limbs and across her stomach.
My God, they said, I’d heard yellow girls have smooth skin.
They cupped her breasts in their hands as if weighing them.
You’ve got big breasts for a yellow girl, they said. Because that’s a problem for yellows. I mean, not really a problem but… breast size is an issue.
I have a beautiful brain, said the yellow woman. One day I’ll be a highly regarded public intellectual.
That’s nice, said the men, pushing her head down. Do that amazing thing you do with your tongue.
I didn’t even realise I was yellow, said the woman, sweeping aside books on Rawlsian liberalism to make room for the men. I thought I had blue eyes.
Be grateful, the men said. You can’t have everything.
Soon after the yellow man and yellow woman stepped out of the cinema, their kind began to multiply.
It was not difficult to ascertain the origin of these new yellow arrivals. A few were escaping Gold Rush dramedies but the majority had been playing non-English speaking Illegal Fishermen #1 to #2,873 in a high-rating border protection TV series. They began to jump out of leaky boats from TV screens and into lounge rooms, shaking their hair and limbs as if reborn.
The yellow people took over whole shopping arcades with their cut-price electronics and two dollar shops, their food outlets with the dead ducks hung up on hooks in the windows, and their grocery stores with racks of strange looking vegetables that looked like weeds.
Human Resources departments implemented Non-Discrimination and Equal Opportunity policies while quietly passing over job applications featuring yellow-sounding names, unless the candidate in question demonstrated sufficient assimilation, outstanding academic achievement, and/or was photogenic enough to feature in corporate brochures demonstrating the cultural diversity of personnel.
Whenever the yellow woman found herself stuck in a train with a crowd dominated by yellow people, she would make a point of speaking louder than usual on her phone. Taking pains to converse in the local accent with the person on the other end of the line, she sought to emphasise to the few white people within earshot that at least one yellow person in the carriage had bothered to master the native language of the island.
This demonstration of her successful integration would always please her initially, then make her feel sick.
In the end, she stopped speaking altogether.
By this point, locals all around the island were panicking at the unprecedented influx of yellow people. The yellows were beginning to amass cash—probably through drug deals—to buy houses in white neighbourhoods. They were infiltrating schools, universities and white-collar workplaces.
It was getting worse than a zombie invasion. The yellows walked like automatons down the street, overpowering people with their kimchi breath.
I can’t tell the difference between any of them, some shouted.
Their yellowness is blinding like the sun, others screamed, clawing at their eyes.
Commentators blamed the first yellow man. He had failed to warn them that yellow people could be yellow like the sun. He had only said that they were yellow like pretty ribbons in the hair of a little girl.
Out of a fish and chip shop appeared a tight-lipped, flame-haired woman.
I don’t like it, she said. We’re in danger of being swamped by yellows. They stick to themselves and form ghettos. They’re stealing our jobs. Political correctness is ruining our island. Please explain, she said, because she really didn’t understand.
The flame-haired woman became an island-wide sensation. She was offered a spot on a local TV show in which celebrities performed routines such as the foxtrot and tango, and were voted off according to public opinion.
In a paso doble, the flame-haired woman was dragged awkwardly across the dance floor by the chief of the island, a little frog-mouthed man with thick eyebrows, who was dressed as a bullfighter.
The crowd cheered. The punters at home texted her name each week to keep her in the competition.
She’s a bit of all right, they thought, as they watched from pubs and couches as she was awarded runner-up.
Unwilling to bend to this cultural climate, the yellow man decided he would no longer give way to locals walking in the opposite direction on the street. Expecting him to stand aside, they would charge forth and have to dodge him at the last second.
He often wondered what his father would have done in the same situation.
The yellow man’s father had also been an actor, although, career-wise, he had not done as well as his son. He had been a disciple of Stanislavski’s system of method acting and his tendency towards complex portrayals of the Human Condition had prevented him from succeeding in a career as a typecast, one-dimensional actor.
In fact, he had been fired from his only proper film role for refusing to take off a New York Yankees baseball cap for a scene. According to him, the cap signified not only the character’s childhood fondness for watching the Yankees with his father but also the ultimately fraught nature of that father-son relationship, which had been a key factor in pushing the character to the breaking point he was reaching in the scene.
You’re just a guy carrying in a briefcase of cash so the white guy can check it out, the director had said. You put down the briefcase, stick a knife in the white guy, laugh maniacally. No need for a backstory. You’re yellow. You’re evil. That’s the scene.
The yellow man’s father became a drunk. He gave up acting and took a job with an office cleaning company. Every night at dinner, he told his son war stories about losing yellow roles to white men, including one career-making part to Mickey Rooney. Although there was never any proof that it had happened, he always said it was the beginning of the end, losing that part to Mickey.
Such a failure, he once shouted after recounting that story. He threw a bottle of vodka against the wall. Can’t even act my own race.
Why didn’t you just take off the hat for that first movie? his son asked.
You’re right. He grabbed his son by the shirt and breathed into his face. Never aspire to be more than a token yellow. That’s how you stay out of trouble. You hear me? One-dimensionality will save your life.
One day he took off his Yankees cap and left it on the kitchen table with the brim facing his favourite chair. Then he walked to a cliff on the edge of the island and stepped off it into the three-dimensional air, as if the cliff were a flight of stairs and he had failed to notice there were no more steps.
Soon after the yellow man had resolved to stop giving way, he and the yellow woman were leaving a McDonalds on George Street, opposite the cinema from which they had first emerged. The two had become friends, having met through an association for refugees from 3D cinema.
They were sharing a box of fries and discussing their families when a blond man, neglecting to pay attention to where he was going, walked straight into the yellow man.
Angered by the yellow man’s aggression, the blond proposed a fight.
The yellow man refused. Having only ever been a one-dimensional ninja on screen, he knew much less about ninjutsu than about Fellini – an imbalance of knowledge suitable for panel discussions but not for street fights.
Yellow cunt, said the blond man. Where are your kung fu buddies?
The blond man king hit the yellow man. Golden fries—in slow motion—flew into the air and scattered all over the bitumen. The skull of the yellow man split against the kerb.
The blond man spat on the yellow man’s face and disappeared.
The yellow man’s last thoughts, as his eyes turned to glass, were of a man stepping off the edge of the island, and of a baseball cap abandoned on a kitchen table.
The yellow woman batted away the arms of sympathetic passers-by. She scrabbled about collecting the fries strewn around the yellow man’s body, shoving them back into their red cardboard box. She placed the box back into her friend’s hands and closed his fingers around it.
She looked up and saw a crowd staring.
Ni hao, she screamed. Konnichiwa.
No one replied.
She sat on the kerb and cried. A few passers-by perched next to her and rested their hands on her shoulders. Others tried to revive the yellow man, to no avail. Most, however, continued to stare.
Look at how I’ve swamped your country, she shouted at them. I’ve been selling all your secrets to the yellow people. Your secrets of unreliable public transport and circus-like government. I will kowtow at your restaurant table, lead your men into sin and poison your babies with my cheap synthetic milk and my peasant ways.
Listen hard to what I’m saying, she said, because this is the amazing thing I do with my tongue.
J.Y.L. Koh (許瑩玲) is a fiction writer based in Sydney, Australia. The Three-Dimensional Yellow Man is dedicated to Jane Chi Hyun Park and HK Tang.
This story originally appeared in The Lifted Brow’s Digital Edition, Volume Five, Issue One. Get the app now!