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?

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Jackie Chan Atrocity: Rumble in the Bronx

Here's the thing about these kung fu ass-kicking movies: they tend to have no plot at all. Rumble in the Bronx is no exception. 

See? Even the trailer admits it (sort of) - plot is not necessary! At all! This movie is not a story - it's a montage of Jackie Chan kicking biker-gang-butt with a little bit of plot thrown in. And honestly, the plot only moves the story onto the next fight scene. It's kinda like the producer, director, and writer had a montage of fight scenes but couldn't figure out how to turn it into a movie - so they added this very weak and quite unbelievable plot. 

Jackie Chan plays Keung, a recent immigrant from Hong Kong who has come to the Bronx for his uncle's wedding. His uncle (Bill Tung) also owns a small supermarket in the neighborhood, but he is planning on selling it to a girl named either Elaine or Elena (Anita Mui) - the summary, subtitles, and dubbed versions were all different - who thinks Keung is cute. D'aww. Keung's uncle gets lent a nice shiny car for his wedding. He parks it outside of his apartment where Keung is also staying. That night, a super stereotypical biker gang has a race on their street. One of the cyclists is about to run over the nice shiny car when Keung deflects it! Unfortunately, he has now earned the wrath of the very 90's biker gang that coincidentally has been harassing Elaine/Elena at her supermarket. Then Keung shows up and does some ass-kicking and the biker gang leaves the supermarket alone. Keung also made friends with a little Chinese-American boy named Danny (Morgan Lam) who sits in a wheelchair and is being raised by his older sister Nancy (Françoise Yip), an exotic dancer in a sleazy club who also happens to be dating the leader of stereotypically 90's biker gang (Marc Akerstream). They seem to be falling in love, but that plot line isn't important. What's important is that the Number Two Guy in the biker gang, who goes by the name of Angelo (stuntman Garvin Cross) gets mixed up in a diamond theft that's organized by a big-time gangster dude called White Tiger (Kris Lord). Angelo is running away with the diamonds and hides them in Danny's wheelchair cushion. Two of the White Tiger's associates vandalize Elaine/Elena's supermarket and kidnap two of the biker gang dudes to interrogate them about Angelo, who has since gone missing. One of them gets shredded in a tree shredder (gross) to send back to Angelo to threaten him with the return of the diamonds. Keung then goes to biker headquarters and fights the bikers in retaliation for trashing Elena/Elaine's supermarket. Then Keung decides to ally with the bikers to get the diamonds and return them to the White Tiger. God this plot is tedious. "Keung convinces the street gangsters to reform, then brings the big-time criminals to justice after another long-winded street battle. The syndicate and Keung work out the diamonds are in the boy's wheelchair, and the handover is botched after Nancy and Tony are held hostage by the syndicate; the diamonds are lost after the syndicate uses towtrucks to pull the supermarket apart and the diamonds are spilled as Keung is in the building and knocked over. A long battle occurs in the Hudson River after White Tiger's men hijack a hovercraft and are pursued by Keung and the New York Police Department. The hovercraft finally ends up running through the streets, causing much damage to property. Keung ends the chase by stealing a large sword from a museum and clamping it onto a sports car window and driving into the hovercraft, shredding the rubber undercarriage and immobilising the vehicle and capturing the syndicate men. After shooting one of them non-fatally to force them to reveal White Tiger's location, Keung drives the hovercraft, with the rubber implausibly re-patched with tape, across town to a golf course where White Tiger is playing with subordinates. He runs them over and squashes them non-fatally into the ground. The film ends with White Tiger being squashed, his clothes ripped off his back, leaving him naked." (from the Wikipedia article

It's Jackie Chan playing... Jackie Chan! But what's weird is that I only thought it was Jackie Chan playing Jackie Chan because I've seen other Jackie Chan movies that came out after Rumble in the Bronx. Because this was Chan's Hollywood debut, American audiences didn't know that he could be capable (cough) of handling different roles - roles that weren't just bumbling badass buffoons. Because that is exactly what Charlie - excuse me, Jackie Chan's role as Keung is. He's a kid who could definitely kick your ass if you cross him, but he's a smiling, good-natured, clueless FOB at the same time. And I say FOB because he is. Keung's character arrives in America (fine, an airplane - technicalities, yeesh) and begins speaking in Chinese when his uncle tells him that he should speak English because he's in America. Did I mention that this was Chan's debut film in America? Yeah. FOB. A badass FOB, but an FOB just the same. The fact that dear old Jackie hasn't even tried to develop as an actor until the remake of The Karate Kid (which wasn't even much of a departure from all the other crap he's put out) shows that he's very comfortable being the same character all the time. So he just plays Jackie Chan. All. The. Time. 
Buffoon. Yeah.
Now would be a good time to quote my previous "Jackie Chan Atrocity" post on The Spy Next Door:
"While it's great that Asians/-Americans have someone like Jackie Chan as a familiar/extremely famous face in the media, it's awful that he portrays the same characters over and over again, and that he really doesn't do anything other than beat up bad guys. It's all that he is really "good" for, and it's shameful. Has Jackie Chan been typecast as a slapstick-y foreign ass-kicker? Unabashedly, yes. He's made some attempts to get out of that stereotype, but unfortunately, he can't. It's too hard to imagine this "yellow Uncle Tom" as anything other than a slightly dumb, slightly FOB-y martial artist. That's it. All brawn, no brain. Maybe a tiny hint of a brain. But no emotional depth. A perpetual foreigner whose only purpose is to bust out some karate chop hands and take down a group of evildoers. Disappointment abounds."

Jackie Chan often gets compared to Bruce Lee. The only similarity that they have is the ability to kick some serious ass. Jackie Chan is the humble, bumbling, odd FOB who just so happens to be able to take you down without breaking a sweat. Bruce Lee, on the other hand, is the "noble" warrior - he fights alone and in order to avenge his sister's death and take out a traitor of the Shaolin Temple! God, what a guy! Jackie Chan just fights because biker gangs are coming after him for some reason. Which portrayal is better for Asian Americans? I vote Bruce Lee. At least Bruce Lee showed that Asians can be cool and collected and have a mission in life, as opposed to... Jackie Chan. 
Dummy? Yeah.

I watched the New Line Cinema version, which was dubbed and re-edited for international distribution. Dubbed? Yeah, dubbed. The most irritating thing was that the dubbed track was half a second off from the visuals - disorienting, much? I really think that it made the entire film more laughable and annoying - a feeling that wasn't helped by Chan's portrayal of himself and the horrid plot and dialogue. 17 minutes of original footage got cut as well. What does that mean for the story? Was there 17 minutes more of a cohesive plot? Who knows?
Alright, I'll admit it. Jackie Chan is a badass. He jumps from one building to the other. Cool. That still doesn't excuse his poor representation of Chinese/Asian/-Americans! 

1 comment:

  1. Does this not make him simply the Honk Kong equivalent of Jason Statham- not a very good actor but someone who will produce a good return at the box office? You're not really comparing like with like- Jackie Chan made his name in Hong Kong cinema before being introduced to the US audience- so surely there are other, better actors in richer, more complex films being made in Hong Kong? To go back to the earlier comparison, Jason Statham is a dreadful actor who plays one role in every film- Jason Statham. I wouldn't suggest that he's a bad role model for British kids though, he's just a bad exemplar of acting.
    Why should Jackie Chan be a good role model for Asian American kids- he's not American. Why should he gear his career towards providing life lessons for kids who can't or won't or just don't watch other, better actors from Asia in Asian made films? There are plenty of these films out there. Is Sylvester Stallone a bad role model for Italian-Americans because he cannot act his way out of a paper bag? I'd argue he's a worse role model because he constantly advocates violence as the only solution to life's problems. In short, you seem to hold it against Jackie Chan that he's a poor actor who fails to fulfil a role you think he should have, one which ironically is less orientated towards Asia and more towards the U.S.