Keep on Wondering...

What are the connections between social and historical forces and the representations we see?
Why is yellowface still acceptable? When and how did yellowface turn into whitewashing?
How do these representations create and/or perpetuate stereotypes that are present in our world? What is the impact?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Enter the Dragon (!!!!!!!!!)

There is no plot to this movie. If there is, please notify me immediately so that I can mention it here.  
Basically, it's got Bruce Lee doing a bunch of ass-kicking and being a general badass. Nothing more, nothing less.

Oh Enter the Dragon! You're so cool!
Lack of yellowface? A leading Asian man? A not-so-weak-at-the-knees Asian man? A badass Asian man? No more yellowface? Scenery and dialogue not poking fun at or being disrespectful to Asian culture? The first Chinese martial arts film produced by Hollywood? Yes, you may stand and applaud! 
What a boss.  

However, it's the beginning of a new stereotype. The semi-mute (except for screaming) Asian man who kicks all kind of ass but abstains from indulging in prostitutes and has an honor code and never fails to stray from his path of do-goodness. After Bruce Lee, the white kids were going up to the Asian kids and saying, "So... do you know kung fu?" Or even worse, approaching them screeching, "WATAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!" with some sort of mangled "karate chop" hands. See what that did? This has lasted even until today! Sure, we're now seen as badass, but dear old Brucie never gets a girlfriend in the movie, so even if we're badass... the Asian men can't get girlfriends? Of ANY race? Are we only good for kicking butt? What does this mean for Asian kids who actually do martial arts? Are they enforcing this stereotype? Are they just learning about their culture, or are they doing it because they want to be the next Bruce Lee? The Bruce Lee stereotype also continues to perpetuate this idea that Asians are full of "Oriental" worldly wisdom. He approaches his martial arts with much wisdom - Brucie's a philosopher! He doesn't only fight to win - he fights because it is right! He "fights without fighting." He fights to avenge his baby sister!
A good fight should be like a small play, but played seriously. 
A good martial artist does not become tense, but ready. 
Not thinking, yet not dreaming. 
Ready for whatever may come. 
When the opponent expands, I contract. 
When he contracts, I expand. 
And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit. 
It hits all by itself. 

However, Brucie kinda set the standards high. To my knowledge, no other martial artist has reached his level of fame or skill (and don't you go throwing a Jackie Chan example at me). Who has matched him? Every Asian actor after Bruce Lee has probably been asked during an audition if they can do martial arts. If they can, they've probably been asked if they are trained in Brucie's own style of martial arts, Jeet Kune Do. Especially after Bruce Lee's death, when producers all over the everywhere were looking for the next Bruce Lee - so Brucie was exploited! New stereotype, hello! 

What's really interesting is the Asian guy attacking Asian guy action. The bad guy in this film is Asian, and most of his henchmen are Asian, but the hero and the good guy is Asian too! And sure, there's that beefy white dude who tries to take down Brucie... but he DIES! (Evil laughter) Everyone who is a main character and not Asian dies - not counting the evil Mr. Han (not of the updated Karate Kid), because he doesn't count. 
Then there's Han, the one-handed, Shaolin-temple-offending, opium-making, inclined-to-torture, reclusive crime lord living it up with his prostitutes and martial arts militia on his private island. Can you say "reincarnation of Fu Manchu?" Han does lack the facial hair, the decadent "Oriental" garb, and the other hand to be Fu Manchu, but the characteristics are there. And then, to top it all off, Han does kung fu - eeeeeeevil kung fu. See the perpetuation of another Evil Asian Man? Yes yes yes. 

And then there was another opium thing. Mr. Han-man is making opium beneath his crazy little island... Eurgh. Opium and Asian people! But Wikipedia says it was heroin! WRONG! Lies and deceit! It was opium, I swear! I wish it was heroin... I wish it wasn't anything at all! I wish he was exporting Cheerios! Everyone likes Cheerios! I dislike the connotations that opium has! I have said this before! Argh! Argh! Argh! 

Even more interesting about Enter the Dragon is that it was only the beginning of the epic kung fu movies that would end up with Karate Kid, Jackie Chan films, and that recent one with Jet Li and the time-traveling white kid. Bruce Lee and Enter the Dragon are the ideal badass Asian movies, but nothing has been able to live up to or surpass it. Bruce Lee is the ideal, and the pseudo-carbon copies that follow only help perpetuate and further the stereotype that we see today. We cannot blame Bruce for starting it - this is one of those deeply reflective moments where we must blame ourselves for our insatiable appetite for badass kung fu movies. 

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