Posts tagged ‘martial arts’

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

American/Hollywood Martial Arts Films

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

March 23, 2009 at 10:20 am 2 comments


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