Movie Night: Marco Polo

Last month, an acquaintance of mine raved about Netflix's new series, Marco Polo. He's one of the leaders in the DC Asian-American and Pacific Islanders community and he told me that Asians and Asian Americans are prominently featured in this show and given very three-dimensional roles. Well, as an Asian-American somewhat unhappy about the way Asians are portrayed in the media, I decided to give this show a shot. 
Long story short: I didn't like it all that much.

I wanted to. I honestly tried to give it the benefit of the doubt and watched it all the way to the end but I just couldn't bring myself to like it. I wish I did - this acquaintance had implied I was a race-traitor before (albeit jokingly but it still stung a bit) so I didn't want to give him more ammo by disliking something that, well, gave Asians a chance at being stars for western entertainment. I don't want to get into a big discussion about race relations in America (that's a topic for another time) but let me first run down the things the show got right at least:

  • Interesting characters portrayed by people of color: While Asians are one of the fastest-growing segments of the US population, they're never really given big main-character roles in media unless it's in some sort of comedic setting or action setting. I'm funny sometimes but I'm not always a sidekick to my Caucasian friends. I also know I'm not a ninja. So the Asian-Americans I grew up watching weren't very relatable to me. I think Marco Polo did a great job with casting Asians and Asian Americans in complex roles. I think Benedict Wong, who plays Kublai Khan did a phenomenal job. The acting is done quite well and everyone played their roles perfectly.
  • Stunning cinematography: I can't get over how beautiful the visuals are in this show! I think they shot a big portion of this in Mongolia and I'm so impressed with every scene. It's simply amazing. 
  • Lorenzo Richelmy is gorgeous: Marco Polo himself is a beautiful-looking man. 
That said, I had a couple issues with the show that  prevents me from truly liking it:
  • The story isn't compelling enough for me: I keep getting a vibe that they're sort of going for an Asian Game of Thrones epic but it just doesn't work. I know I said that the casting was perfect and Lorenzo Richelmy is easy on the eyes, but he's not gorgeous enough for me to forget that this is just not that entertaining to me. While the characters are certainly interesting, they're not so interesting that I actually care that much about what's happening to them. The story moves at such a sluggish pace as well. It's just not entertaining and I find myself simply waiting for a battle sequence to occur so that I can feel like something is actually happening. 
  • The cliches are so annoying: While I really came to like Tom Wu's character, Hundred Eyes, I couldn't help rolling my eyes when I found out he would be Marco Polo's martial arts instructor of sorts. He's a blind warrior. Whose name is Hundred Eyes. Come on! Can you get any more stereotypical? I don't think I would have minded if the whole movie was one big comedic cliche (there's a scene where a Chinese concubine kills two soldiers completely naked through use of acrobatic martial arts. Again, come on!). There are such serious and historically moving moments in the show that just doesn't balance out these horrible cliches very well. I threw so much shade at my computer while watching this. As if we really need to be encouraging the stereotype that all Asians are martial arts masters. 
In the end I can't help but feel like this acquaintance only liked the show because of the casting. It's kind of a shame because I can tell the budget for this show was pretty high and it's one of those things I wanted to like because I know so much effort went into it. I couldn't though because it was all glitz and glamor with little substance (or at least false substance). I will give this show a soft pass to those who were thinking of watching it. 


  1. I have a few friends who watched this and liked it- I have it on my to-watch list. But that's interesting you mentioned the Game of Thrones feel- that's exactly what I thought when watching a preview!

    Le Stylo Rouge

  2. Haha threw so much shade. I actually read an article recently on this! It talked about how it really wasn't all too stellar of a show and will most likely not be renewed, but what's important is that Netflix took a step to portray Asians and Asian Americans in a serious way in media. Just like you said, not as a side kick, not as a stereotype, but as an actual character of substance. I studied communications in college and the way Asians were portrayed in movies was a huge section that we studied- especially how women were included. The article mentioned that Netflix knew it wasn't going to be a hit, but it was important for them to do it. Because someone needs to start.

    This was an awesome post- I was sort of jonesing to talk to someone about this!

    xo marlen
    Messages on a Napkin

  3. I don't think I would be very interested, but after reading what you wrote, I'm even less interested :p

  4. I always see this when I sign into my netflix account, but didn't know anything about it. It's always a bummer when a show has a great cast, but fails in terms of content :( At least it's a step forward in breaking down stereotypes for Asians and Asian americans-- minus the terrible cliches (hundred eyes, really?)


  5. interesting. thanks for the review!

  6. I watched most of the first episode but turned it off before it finished. Pace was really slow. Too bad too because I usually like this type of historical/adventure/intrigue type stuff.

    Northern Beauty

  7. Great review!!

  8. Really interesting to read your perspective on the show! I've been thinking of watching but haven't got around to it yet, not sure if I will to be honest. It's a shame to hear that the story isn't very compelling, the premise of the show looked/sounded promising! Great to hear that it's created some interesting/complex roles for Asian/Asian-American actors though - it is appalling how rarely this happens in mainstream western TV.

    Helen xx

  9. The friend of mine recommended it to me, but I doesn't think it would be interesting. Thank you for review!
    Margo Raffaelli


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