Archive for March 24, 2009

American/Hollywood Martial Arts Films (cont).

It’s not possible to talk about this topic without mentioning a few key actors. The ones who are actually Asian American (and not Asians who perform in American films) are mostly contemporary. Here is a list of some actors and their roles.

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee was both an American and Chinese actor, and also produced/wrote/directed a few things. Technically he is Asian American, as he was born in San Francisco though raised in China. He started his acting career doing small roles as a child in Hong Kong films. Later, he performed as supporting characters in some martial arts in American TV shows and movies before returning to Hong Kong and doing several movies there. He became a cultural icon in both China and America, and many of his movies promoted Chinese nationalism.

In the early 1970s there was some controversy that may have led to Lee leaving the country for Hong Kong. Wikipedia states: “According to statements made primarily by Linda Lee Caldwell after Bruce’s death, Bruce would later pitch a television series of his own tentatively titled The Warrior. According to Caldwell, Lee’s concept was retooled and renamed Kung Fu, but Warner Bros. gave Lee no credit.[18] Instead the role of the Shaolin monk in the Wild West, known to have been conceived by Bruce,[19] was awarded to then non-martial artist David Carradine because of the studio’s fears that a Chinese leading man would not be embraced by the public.[20] Books and documentaries about the show “Kung Fu” dispute Caldwell’s version. According to these sources, the show was created by two writers and producers, Ed Spielman and Howard Friedlander, and the reason Lee was not cast was in part because of his ethnicity but moreso because he had a thick accent.[21]

His first major movie produced by Hollywood was “Enter the Dragon” (1973).

His knowledge of kung-fu made Bruce Lee seem quite exotic and menacing, especially considering the fact that he beats prominent, white martial arts masters such as Chuck Norris.

Random note: Here is an article which briefly talks about a stereotype that has been propogated by Bruce Lee films. In an audition, an Asian American actor was presented with a script which instructed him to “wail like Bruce Lee and get into a martial artist’s fighting stance”.

Brandon & Shannon Lee

Son of Bruce Lee, Brandon was an Asian American actor whose 10 roles were all in martial arts contexts. His sister, Shannon, also did some movies, including “Blade”, “High Voltage”, and “Lessons for an Assassin”.

Lucy Liu

Lucy Liu plays many “dragon lady” roles, even if not in a martial arts sense. Her first major role was as a “feisty” lawyer Ling Woo on Ally McBeal, which had so much fan support changed from a  temporary role to a permanent member of the cast. Since then she has played martial arts experts, hitwomen, mafia members, and more.

Compilation of Lucy Liu roles.

Marc Alan Dacascos

He was discovered by Wayne Wang and his film and television career are mostly centered around martial arts (“Cradle 2 the Grave”, “Instinct to Kill”, “Serbian Scars”, etc) . He also plays the chairman at Food Network’s Iron Chef America, and isn’t actually related to the old chairman. His father was a martial arts instructor.

Quality isn’t the best, but here is a compilation video:

Kelly Hu

Kelly Hu is started acting after winning Miss Teen U.S.A. 1985 and hasn’t been in that many major motion movies. Her roles include a sorceress in Scorpion King (2002) and Lady Deathstrike in X-Men 2 (2003). Dragonlady roles.

I thought that the long fingernails was an interesting idea (though logistically wouldn’t ever alow her to move her knuckles, but anyway), considering that part of our discussion of stereotypes of Fu Manchu/Asian villains in Hollywood included longer fingernails. There is an unrelated clip at the end of the video.

Jackie Chan and Jet Li are both purebred Chinese (Jackie Chan was born in a British Overseas Territory, actually). In the media, both are often referred to when discussing Asian American martial arts actors, however. Michelle Yeoh also acts in many Hollywood films, but was born in Malaysia.

-Posted by Liana Engie

March 24, 2009 at 12:21 am Leave a comment


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