When Shawn Wong first penned his novel American Knees way back in 1995, he may or may not have realized that he was writing what would become a classic of Asian American literature. As an undergrad, Wong looked for works by other Asian American authors, and was astounded to realize how few there were. Ultimately Wong, along with some fellow Asian American scholars, edited a compilation called The Big Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers, which became as noted for an essay by editor Frank Chin about what was and was not true Asian American literature as for the astonishing collection of writings compiled therein.
This background is important to know because American Knees was far more than a steamy tale of relationships between people who happened to be Asian American; beneath that sexy surface, the book is about conflicts and misunderstandings between Asian Americans of different backgrounds, the subjugation of Asian Americans, and the subtleties of racism. Writer-director Eric Byler's film adaptation of the book, titled Americanese, because Byler felt that more people would "get" the intended meaning of the film with the title spelled that way, loses much of the steaminess of the novel, while focusing more strongly on the underlying themes.