The Ling Thing

'Ally McBeal' Uses Ancient Oriental Secret

Helen Wan, an attorney in the New York offices of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, & Garrison, attests to people's inclination to confuse images with individuals. "Surprisingly," she has not been compared to Ling at work, but says she has been compared to other Asian Americans, fictional or otherwise. "Any time there is any 'new' Asian American female face in the media, there are going to be morons out there who ask me if we're related, do I know her, you look so much alike, etcetera," she complains. "I am not making this up," she assures, "a coworker once asked me if I was an ice skater. Once, in a bar, this guy was convinced I was an evening news anchorwoman, and would not go away until I signed his cocktail napkin. And when Joy Luck Club came out, I heard so many ridiculous comments: 'Do you really cook soup of your own blood when your parents get sick?' Answer: 'Um . . . no.' "

Kelley's decision to make Ling Ally's kissing partner shows just how much of a traditional fantasy figure she ultimately is. The kiss with Ling was not Ally's first same-sex lip-lock—she once kissed another female character in an attempt to convince an unwanted male suitor she was a lesbian. Yet, even though the more recent kiss was born of real desire, it in a way still convinced viewers that Ally was straight. Had she passionately kissed one of the white female characters, the moment might have seemed too real—less outrageously titillating than the encounter with exotic Ling and perhaps too close to an everyday, and therefore threatening, attraction. As it was, Ally could claim she temporarily fell victim to Ling's supernatural sensuality and unstoppable ambition. It will be no surprise if the bad guys in Liu's Angels do, too.

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