American/Hollywood Martial Arts Films

March 23, 2009 at 10:20 am 2 comments

Since we don’t discuss any of these in class, I thought we could start a discussion up here on the blog regarding a popular film genre that was insipred from the Far East: martial arts films. I think it becomes a new version of the “Yellow Peril” stereotype. This particular post discusses films from the 1980s.

In most of these films, Asian Americans are supporting fighting characters or mentors. The protagonists are all Americans and the villain is often an Asian fighter (but not Asian American).

Some films:

The Karate Kid (1984)

Daniel (Ralph Macchio) is a bullied kid who is taught the art and discipline of martial arts by Miyagi (Pat Morita). He must defend himself and eventually compete against students of violent Vietnam veteran John Kreese (Martin Kove). An underdog story. Three sequels.

Miyagi rescues Daniel:

American Ninja (1985) Also known as American Warrior.

Tagline: “The Orient created the world’s deadliest art. Now there’s an American master!”

Joe Armstrong (Michael Didukoff), and American orphan, serves in the army. During a mission in the Phillipines, his entire platoon is killed and the colonel’s daughter, who for some reason was riding with them, is kidnapped. Joe single-handedly takes on the mercenaries, gets the daughter back, and holds off the army of ninjas that is sent to kill him. Has a bunch of sequels.


Bloodsport (1988)

Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is introduced to the super-violent, dangerous underground world of fighting (Kumite) by his teacher, Tanaka (Roy Chiao). He evades his military superiors and goes to Hong Kong to fight and face his ultimate opponent, Chong Li (Bolo Yeung). Dux wins many fights, and is the up-and-coming fighter “from the Western Hemisphere” but has yet to face Chong Li, a vicious fighter who has killed opponents in the past.

Bloodsport in 10 minutes:

Best of the Best (1989)

An American team is assembled to compete at the International Taekwondo championships, needing to rise above their personal conflicts before fighting Team Korea. Underdog type story. Had 3 sequels. The fighting in the movie is labeled as either karate or taekwondo, though is actually neither fully either of these (a mix of many different styles) and the tournament doe not follow the rules of any standard competition.

Kickboxer (1989)

Kurt Sloan (Jean-Claude Van Damme) witnesses his brother, U.S. kickboxing champion Eric Sloan, be maliciously paralyzed in the ring by Thailand champion Tong Po (Michel Qissi). Kurt vows revenge and finally gets help from Xian Chow (Dennis Chan), a kickboxing trainer who lives in a remote area of Thailand.

This video is the only relatively comprehensive, okay quality one I could find. Music plays over the entire clip.


-The wise old teacher/mentor

Mr. Miyagi of Karate Kid is an Okinawa immigrant with an interesting/sad military past who agrees to train Daniel. He becomes somewhat of a surrogate father to the boy. Frank Dux’s teacher is Tanaka, who also eventually adopts the boy. In “Best of the best” the coach is actually James Earl Jones.

-The crazy-good, pain absorbing Asian opponent

In ‘Bloodsport”, Frank Dux must face Chong Li, who has badly hurt Frank’s friend in the Quarter Finals. As well as killed other people in the past. In “Kickboxer”, Tong Po continued to beat and eventually paralyzed Kurt’s brother after Kurt had thrown in the towel. in “American Ninja” Joe battles against armies of Phillipino mercenaries and ninjas. “Best of the Best” puts the American team against the Korean champions.

-Rebel protagonist(s)/underdog(s)

In “Karate Kid”, Daniel’s father has died and he is constantly being bullied. In “American Ninja”, Joe fights off Phillipinos and ninjas by himself, while also getting in trouble with his superiors. He was also an orphan who was forced to enter the military by legal ruling. In “Bloodsport”, Frank Dux was a miscreant until he learned martial arts. He also evades his military service. In “Best of the Best,” the American team has no chance of beating the Korean Team, who train all year and are known for being the best in Taekwondo.

-Americans versus other races/international competition

The protagonist is usually American (in another Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, he is a French military man who travels to America to fight) and often travel to

-“Asian martial arts” and lack of distinctions between styles

None of the movies actually (only) uses the style as billed. “Karate”, “taekwondo”, and “kung fu” are often used as blanket style names.

-Posted by Liana Engie

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: .

Chan Is Missing Presentation American/Hollywood Martial Arts Films (cont).

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. asianamericansinmedia  |  March 23, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    This is also a bit random, but here is a clip from the old Playstation Game, Parappa the Rapper. He wants to learn how to defend himself and goes to a dojo to be taught by a character with a Fu Manchu moustache and thick accent. Starts at about 1:12.

    -Posted by Liana

  • 2. asianamericansinmedia  |  March 24, 2009 at 6:23 am

    I guess I would like to expound/discuss the stereotype of the wise old asian mentor here.
    -Why (and when) did the stereotype appear?
    -Is there anything in real life that seems to support this stereotype?
    -Have we seen or discussed anything in class so far that resembles this type of stereotype?
    -How does it differ from some stereotypes that we’ve seen?

    Discuss if you would like to.

    -Posted by Liana


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