Representation in media: Asian Media Part I: Martial Art Films

Every week I’ll do a segment of the The Representation of Marginalized people in Media. This week is Asian Media.

Long as I can remember, as a child I wasn’t a big fan of Martial Art films. It was the same Van Damme and Segal films. At the time it was a big thing, because it was years since Bruce Lee’s death. Since then there have been copy cats in Hong Kong and Japan alike. In Hollywood, a sometime after Lee’s death, there were Martial Art films. Some were ninja flicks and others were just a bunch white guys fighting. To me it was more like another action flick. White guy fights a bunch of minorities, fights the evil Asian guy, fights bad guy unless it’s Asian Guy, get’s the girl, usually a pretty white girl or native Asian girl.

But there were two films that made me look twice. Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon and Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx. It wasn’t like the pervious Martial Art films of the time with flawed fight scenes and stunt doubles. They actually used real stunts. I know that Jim Kelly and a few others were in the Martial Art Scene but I’ll get to that later. With The Last Dragon, from the start it was homage to Bruce Lee with the mix of the Warriors. The story was simple, a Martial Artist trying to find a master, meets the girl and finds out that he was the master all along.  It wasn’t anything deep; it was a simple movie with a POC cast, although the white people were the villains or minor characters. It was a very progressive movie, but it didn’t do too well in the box office, but the sales VHS and rating in network shows went up. Every Black and Latino person knew what the Last Dragon was about. As usual in Hollywood, only movie at the time was raking in the money was The Karate Kid, and the 80’s Martial Art films were dominated by white people again.

Until…..This:   Rumble in the Bronx

When I saw this in movies, I was speechless. No human being ever has done this type of stuff. Their Own stunts, choreography and everything within the movie.  No one has ever done this in America. People became interested in Jackie Chan. Although he didn’t get his breakthrough with Rush Hour, he was gaining fan base in America with his other films that was made in direct to video (Supercop, Who am I, Gorgeous, Mr. Nice Guy, etc) . In his movies during the credits he showed his stunts. As time went on, other people were coming into the scene, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen, and many others. Then White people came along. Now at this time Jackie Chan was getting tired of doing the same thing over and over. So along with many others he made his money here (before the stock crashed) and went back to Hong Kong to do more serious roles. Mind you he’s pretty good in non-martial art films.

But to get this out of the way, both Chan and Jet li did something STUPID. Now there are blogs and articles on this so I’m not going to go over this. Long story short, originally Chan and Li wanted to work together, then Hollywood wanted to add a white kid and the movie was craptacular.  After Chan spent some time doing his films in Hong Kong, he did the Karate Kid with Jayden Smith. Although I didn’t like it, I’ll give credit when credit is due. It was the first movie that Chan did that was out of his character. Plus he sounded like he knew what he was talking about and applied it. Unlike the old Karate Kid, where it focus on a white whiny teenager, it Chan and Smith worked off each other. Chan helped him to fight and Smith helped Chan with his personal problems. The funny thing about the movie was like The Last Dragon stared and all POC cast. It was Will Smith that gave Chan a serious role. If you look in his Hong Kong films, he is mostly doing dramas. Other white producers would of type cast Chan like there was no tomorrow.

Since the other Asian martial art actor left Hollywood, there wasn’t anyone to fill that void. Most of the martial art fans would buy movies directly from Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea. So Hollywood used that as an excuse not to hire any Asian actors with the exception of Ninja Assassin. So once again white people are used for until someone steps up to the plate.  Don’t get me wrong you have some POC Martial Artist, like Michael Jai White, Taimak, Darren Shahlavi, Donnie Yen, Wu Jing, the late Anita Mui and many others, but Hollywood is not really interested in POC unless it makes money. I mean after Romeo Must Die was a hit you have knock off of urban theme Martial arts flicks which killed any plans for POC Martial Artist to make it into the big screen. Next time I’ll talk about Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury and the relation of the Civil rights. Along with other Martial Art films.

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12 thoughts on “Representation in media: Asian Media Part I: Martial Art Films

  1. Good post. Boy, TLD takes me back; I loved that movie. Sho’nuff was the shiznit.

    Every time I hear/see anything about a MA movie that has white people at the core, I call shenanigans. How many times will Hollywtf throw millions of dollars at these recycled, tired old plotlines and characterizations only to have it swirl down the drain because most people are sick of that shit. Answer: Indefinitely, because the only people that matter to most white people are white people.

  2. Oh man, my sister when she was little had a crush on Taimak in “The Last Dragon”. I loved the film as it introduced me to Martial Arts on film.

    So far, from what I’ve seen of white people at the core of Martial Arts movies, they do poorly in theaters or are just plain box-office bombs. Street Fighter was a failure. Dragonball: Evolution was a load of crap. And, The Last Airbender…HA HA HA!

  3. I never heard of The Last Dragon, but I’ll definitely check it out.

    I DID hear of Rumble in the Bronx, and good lord that movie changed my expectations of what an action film with martial artists should be. Heck, it changed my expectations of action movies, period. Hong Kong movie makers had learned the amazing secret of KEEPING THE CAMERA FUCKING STILL.

    It was great to find out about Jackie Chan and then Jet Li and Michelle Yeon, to see these people participate in such, well, beautiful acts of action. And I do mean beautiful, because of how they move and flow.

    I have yet to see The Kingdom, because of the white guy insert, but from what I heard, Chan and Li had a great time on set and it shows through on the screen.

    • “I have yet to see The Kingdom, because of the white guy insert, but from what I heard, Chan and Li had a great time on set and it shows through on the screen.”

      Nah they hated it. That why Li and Chan went back to Hong Kong.

  4. In an interview I read recently, R. A. Salvatore said: “Have you ever seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? There is a great scene in there where the young girl and the old woman master are in a circular armory and they keep grabbing different weapons in their battle with each other. It’s an amazing battle scene. I don’t know where they found the choreographer for this but if we ever do a Drizzt movie I want him or her.”

    My reaction was: 1) Did you just call Michelle Yeoh at the time of Crouching Tiger “old”? (Did he confuse her with Pei Pei Chang who played Jade Fox in that movie?) 2) The choreographer’s name is Yuen Woo Ping and who the eff doesn’t know that. And to ask “where they found” him?? *flails about like an enraged moron*

    Okay, I’m not being fair because Salvatore probably isn’t interested in wuxia, so he doesn’t know any better. But my initial reaction was indignation. Just saying.

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