Sometimes, I read RPG rulebooks just for fun, which to me is imagining what kind of character I would make if I could play in a campaign. Just now, I finished skimping through Blue Dragon, White Tiger, which I guess is a supplement for Hong Kong Action Theater! (HKAT!). I don’t know and don’t really care.
I have not read HKAT! yet but I assume it is based on roleplaying scenarios where the player characters shooting gangsters with a pistol in each hand like Chow Yun-Fat, jump from building to building while fending off relentless thugs like Jackie Chan, or being just damn fucking cool like Michelle Yeoh. Well Blue Dragon, White Tiger is supposed to be based on wuxia films.
My debut article here on Ars Marginal talked about wuxia being a uniquely Chinese genre with a long history behind it and why non-Chinese should not claim to write wuxia. With a special focus on white people because, well, what other group of people can proudly claim such a high track record of cultural appropriation.
Let’s look take a look at the book cover.
Oh yay, Asian font! That’s exactly how my handwriting looks! Also, I can’t tell if the dude on the bottom right just has a receding hairline or if the artist is trying to give him a samurai hairstyle but failing at it.
Next page, let’s look at the names of the people who worked on this. Hmm, so the only Chinese name there belongs to the translator. Well, that’s a possibility rather than a certainty. The surname “Lee” could also English, yes?
In any case, this is a Chinese setting and not one of the writers appears to be of Chinese descent.
Moving on to the introduction:
“…have turned kung fu into oriental superpowers…”
“…thus infusing the games with the exoticism and authenticity of Asian cinema.”
Wait, we’re moving beyond just Hong Kong action movies now? Cool! I’ve always wanted to roleplay in a chanbara style setting and be a maiko who had a dark past before she entered the her apprenticeship. Oh, I would also like a game system which embraces the physics-defying action sequences in a lot of Tamil action movies and tries to understand its places in the–
“Without this basis, Hong Kong films exist as nothing more than eye candy than as the storyteller of myths — old and new alike.”
Huh? But you just said we’re doing Asian cinema! Are you going back on your word?
“Approaching HKAT! games with this level of understanding can therefore only enhance the cinematic role-playing experience.”
The oriental, exotic, and authentic level of understanding? I’m not quite sure I’m with you.
“China has long protected and kept alive the traditions of the past, adopting new interpretations on age-old themes while still maintaining the authenticity of the original legends.”
You mean like how we long protected and kept alive the tradition of having homosexual actions being a normal part of life and how we adopted new homosexual-erasing interpretations on age-old homosexual themes while still maintaining the authenticity of the original homosexual legends? Sorry, I’m still very sore about Western imperialism forcing us to adopt heterosexism.
Let’s go to the first chapter proper and oh, what’s this, they have this image on all their chapter covers:
The women has her legs bared instead of wearing pants? Wow! This is really fucking authentic instead of being a historically inaccurate rendition of pre-Modern Han clothing taking liberties to show some skin!
Blah blah blah, some decent description of what wuxia is and then this:
“These tales, in turn, stem from the religions and faiths of the region, some of which predate Christianity.”
Honey, the only major faiths and religions in China which don’t predate Christianity are Christianity itself and Islam. And I don’t see you giving Islam a mention even though it has been more popular than Christianity for centuries… And Jin Yong’s wuxia novel The Book and the Sword has Chinese Muslim women making up the main cast.
Also, why do Westerners continue to classify Confucianism as a religion? What the fuck is Confucian alchemy? No seriously. They have a small subsection called “Confucian Alchemy” under “Magic” and the text does not say anything about alchemy supposedly being a part of Confucianism.
Hey game book, while you were going through a brief history of Chinese martial arts cinema, you mentioned Burning of the Red Lotus Temple for pioneering special effects in wuxia cinema in 1928. That’s cool. But could you have also mentioned Swordswoman of Huangjiang? Why would you not want to mention that? After all, it most probably gave us film’s first female action hero in 19-fucking-30. It’s really important, game book, since women warriors have a long-standing place in Chinese folklore. And history. Also, maybe you can give Michelle Yeoh more than just “Jet Li was supposed to film this with Michelle Yeoh but because Jet Li’s manager got assassinated, the film was on halt and other stuff happened.”
No, game book, having one woman in your list of pre-made characters doesn’t mean you’re being feminist. Wuxia novels written in the 1950s have more badass women than you do so don’t start using the whole “we’ve progressed” excuse.
(Yeah, I’m no longer picking at the book’s contents sequentially now because it was at this point that I started skimming.)
Seeing all these white male names under writing credits, I expected it to be full of that nonsense. No matter, I can still look at the game mechanics for ideas. So let’s go to the magic section. Hmm, I wonder why they only have a magic section and not a martial arts one. I mean, it is wuxia after all.
Let’s see, a flaming palm spell. I can easily have a Flaming Palm skill which channels hot energy into flames. But whatever. Can’t say I know of a wuxia where magic and the otherworldly is a focus but hey, maybe we’re keeping our options open. Moving on to the abilities.
“Gun Fu Abilities.” “Sword Fu Abilities” “Wire Fu Abilities: Attacks” “Block Fu Power”
What’s up with all the Fus? Blah people throwing the word “Fu” when not knowing what the term “gong fu” actually means and not able to comprehend how silly it sounds to have everything be a something fu.
Moving on to sample adventures.
The Winter Queen. Main character is a woman. Okay, game book, so you have two badass women in your sample stuff. So what? Anyway, so she goes to reclaim lost lands of her empire and finds people settled there and prepares to go to war but then she makes a nature spirit and ends up fucking things up for her empire so she goes to the spirit realm to negotiate with the spirit lord.
Three scenarios later which seem decent.
The Tomb of Guolong. Tyrant wanted immortality and was buried strangely. A bunch of people go to raid his tomb to get some legendary stuff but then discover that the tyrant really did achieve immortality and rules over an undead underground kingdom.
What is this? The Mummy 3: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor? No wait, this one came before that movie.
So, this book would have short bios of various actors and directors significant in the wuxia genre and they have one for Brigitte Lin! Because I love Brigitte Lin so much, I’m always happy to see her being mentioned. I bet they’re going to mention her role as Dongfang Bubai in Swordsman 2 and The East is Red, the latter being a sequel to the former but unlike it, it is not based on the source novel The Smiling, Proud Wanderer and had Dongfang Bubai as the protagonist because Lin’s potrayal of the character was so popular.
Yes, it is mentioned! Wait, who is this General Fong character she played– Oh shit! I can’t… I don’t…
Okay. “Fong” is the Cantonese pronunciation for the “fang” in “Dongfang”, which is in Mandarin. Dongfang is the surname of the character and you do not simply just take one character from a two-character surname and treat it as a standalone. I really have no idea where they even got the “General Fong” name from. The (rather poor) English subtitles tend to translate “Dongfang Bubai” as “Asia the Invincible” and the damn text in this bio even mentioned the latter name. What the fuck is even going on?
Moving on for the last time. There are even more adventure outlines and these are from the core HKAT! book. Because I don’t feel like going through all of them, I’ll just say that these adventures are all firmly within fantasy. To be fair, they say it’s there to provide inspiration. But as I go through this last segment, my attention is drawn to an NPC for one of the adventures. Why? It’s because of the name. This NPC is called “Fu (Manchu Enforcer)”
Why do I get the feeling that the writers invoked that Yellow Peril caricature on purpose? And probably laughed and high-fived each other. Oh wait, it’s because you do not call a Chinese person by just one syllable and the way this book has consistently avoided giving a single syllable Chinese name implies they at least know that much.
And that’s about all I’m willing to cover. Next time, I’ll be poking fun at the Kindred of the East supplement for Vampire: The Masquerade. That one’s going to be a lot of fun, what with it trying to tackle Southeast Asia and South Asia in addition to East Asia. And it would be quite a joy personally, what with me having both an East Asian and a Southeast Asian heritage, living in a Southeast Asian country. All my sides are guaranteed to be exotified!