So right off the bat, I want to say that Arthur Chu of Jeopardy-winning fame has already done much of the groundwork for me with his [spoiler-filled] article “Not Your Asian Ninja: How the Marvel Cinematic Universe Keeps Failing Asian-Americans“. In it he recounts his primary disappointment with the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil, namely that the Asians presented in that show are generally villains across the board.
Not only are they of an evil persuasion, they’re also, as the title of his piece implies, mostly ninjas. In terms of sheer volume the vast majority of Asians seen on screen during the season’s 13 episodes are that particular brand of martial artist. The rest are, in terms of representation, gangsters, white collar criminals, and crime lords. It is, as Chu says, “Not a good look.”
He picks the Kitchen Irish, a gang of an obvious ethnic background, as his primary example of the show using nuance with a people group. Matthew Murdock, the titular crimefighter himself, is of Irish descent, and another character nicknamed “Grotto” is a former member of the mob who elicits sympathy from both the show’s cast and its audience. While I understand that Irish heritage is unique and distinct from many others, and that people of Irish descent suffered extreme racism in early American history, what shouldn’t be ignored is the fact that on the surface they are White. As are the members of fellow gang the Dogs of Hell. As are Murdock’s friends Karen Page and Foggy Nelson. As is Frank Castle, the Punisher, as well as newspaper editor Mitchell Ellison. Television is full of White people, and with Daredevil being no exception simply stating that there are varied roles within even one subgroup feels like a given.
Unfortunately, Asians fail even when stacked up against other racial minorities. Continue reading →
“…Iron Fist is Daniel Rand, who at age of 9 travels with his family from New York to a lost mystical city called K’un-L’un. After some tragic twists of fate, Rand is adopted by the city’s ruler and taught advanced martial arts and the mystical power of the Iron Fist. As an adult, Rand returns to his native New York and begins a career as a superhero.”
In the comic books Danny is, much like his silver screen compatriots Captain America and Thor, White, blonde-haired, and blue-eyed. Ever since it was announced that he would be headlining his own show there has been a discussion over what race he should be, with Keith Chow over at Nerds of Color making his stance clear with his article “Marvel, Please Cast An Asian American Iron Fist“. As soon as the news hit my tumblr feed was flooded with like-minded individuals, with one post in particular that caught my eye, presenting the following two tweets-
-labeled “Point” and “Counterpoint”, respectively.
Now I have no intention of dedicating a large portion of this post to Liefeld, known in many comic book circles as being a man incapable of drawing feet [though now probably vastly more famous for co-creating Deadpool]. He also had just the two words to share, as opposed to a full article that Wheeler penned on the subject, so instead I’ve chosen to have Albert Ching of Comic Book Resources take his stead. Continue reading →
Disney’s Mulan came out when I was 12, and you’d better believe I was excited about it. I was the girl who reacted to dresses and stockings with outrage and got big heart eyes at the sight of swords, so a girl dressing up as a guy and going to war was exactly my jam. Shortly after watching it, I remember climbing on a playground after church with a friend, while my brothers and I quoted the funny parts at each other. I asked her if she’d seen it yet.
“No…” she replied. “I heard it promotes ancestor worship and stuff.”
This caught me up. Yes, in the movie Mulan prays to her ancestors for help and protection, and in true Disney fashion, the ghostly ancestors are seen discussing her plight. 12-year-old-me wasn’t sure how to respond. It did…but it hadn’t occurred to me that it did.
“I guess…” I said. “Kind of.”
I’ll convert for the parties.
I found myself thinking about this exchange recently, while my husband and I watched through Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix. I realize we are WAY behind the times, but wow did we enjoy it, despite neither of us really being anime fans. It was such a great story, with excellent characters, and it was deeply refreshing to see a fantasy series that wasn’t set in pseudo-medieval or pseudo-viking times. The show also depicts a variety of ethnicities and cultures, most of which are based on eastern civilizations. It’s great.
Of course, there are references to various elements of eastern spiritualities… reincarnation, qi energy, a spirit world, and – featuring heavily in one episode of season two and recurrently through season three – chakras.
During that chakra-heavy episode, I couldn’t help but hear my friend’s voice “No… I heard it promotes eastern mysticism.”Continue reading →
EVAN: Last week you all voted for us to talk about the popularity of kung fu movies, so that is what we’re doing. The question that’s been on my mind being, why aren’t they popular anymore?
GORDON: See, I’m gonna have to butt heads with you right out of the gate. I just don’t think that kung fu movies are unpopular- at least, not anymore than at the supposed height of their glory…
EVAN: But there’s definite evidence of a time when they were all the rage. There were the dubbed martial arts films in the 70s and 80s, as well as the immense popularity of actors like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and now Jet Li.
GORDON: No argument there.
EVAN: Recently, all that really comes to mind is Li’s role in The Expendables 2. Which is by no means a large one, considering the immensity of its cast.
GORDON: Well, that’s part of the problem- movies have developed since the 70s and 80s- none perhaps more dramatically than the action flick. Take The Matrix, for example.
EVAN: Definitely a revolutionary flick.
GORDON: Amazing stunts, choreography, and so on- and all hugely influenced by kung fu movies. In fact, Wikipedia goes right ahead and lists it as a “King Fu” movie.
Now look at an action film from the 60s or 70s. At the very best, you get Dirty Harry pistol-whipping some thug, and more often than not, you get Captain Kirk doing some weird slap-fight with a man in green spandex.
EVAN: Hey, that man in green spandex had it coming.
GORDON: This is true. What I’m driving at here, I guess, is that kung fu movies haven’t gone away- they’ve been incorporated into every major action flick made since the 80s.
Just look at fight scenes in a modern action movie- that’s Judo, or Jui Jitsu, or Karate, or Muay Thai, and so on and so forth.
EVAN: Okay, let me come at this from a different angle. Would you say that at this point in time, Jet Li is the go-to guy as an Asian actor who specializes in martial arts?
GORDON: More or less, sure.
EVAN: How many [Western] movies has the guy been in compared to Jason Statham?
GORDON: Couldn’t say. I’m guessing Statham’s got him beat, though.
EVAN: Why is it that more often than not, whenever martial arts are depicted in a movie they’re performed by a white guy?
GORDON: Oof- where to begin? Tacit racism, hiring ease, translation, and so on.
EVAN: I’m just saying that there was a time, mid to late 90s and early 00s where Asian actors could still headline these films. You’ve got the Rush Hour films and Shanghai Noon and its sequel, to name some Jackie Chan vehicles. And you had stuff like Romeo Must Die with Jet Li.
As far as Wikipedia can tell me, all the martial arts films starring Asians in the last few years were made in Asia.
GORDON: And are nevertheless seen by Western audiences. Take The Raid, an Indonesian film, or The Man With the Iron Fists, which people are pretty psyched for, or Tony Jaa’s work.
EVAN: Yes. Tony Jaa.
GORDON: As there did before. I mean, barring certain movies, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Rush Hour, how much appeal did kung fu movies have anyways? I’m not knocking them or anything, but it seems that with certain exceptions for major pieces, kung fu movies (in the West) have always been mostly popular as a sugenre with fans of said subgenre. Much like the monster movie, or the sci-fi horror.
EVAN: At some point they epitomized the action genre, so I’d say they had a lot of appeal. I mean, it rode the trend of dojos and whatnot opening up all over North America.
GORDON: Wasn’t that with the 80s stupid action flick, though? I mean, c’mon. It was the 80s. Get some Aryan guy to face-kick a bunch of minorities, slap on an over-the-top title and you’ve got a hit.
EVAN: I was mostly referring to the fact that Asian martial arts films became so popular that they started creating them in Hollywood, using Asian actors.
GORDON: So the issue here isn’t kung fu- it’s Asians in media…
EVAN: We can concentrate on the genre and its popularity before we follow that train of thought. Why do you think it’s lessened so much? And if it has, what has replaced it?
GORDON: I think that the rise in awareness of martial arts in the West is responsible for that. Suddenly, you can get all the amazing choreographed fights without them being (necessarily) rooted in Asian culture.
The equivalent would probably be the Western/Cop flick and it’s influence on Hong Kong action movies.
EVAN: So what you’re saying is that Western culture has realized that this isn’t a genre that solely the East can lay claim to.
GORDON: Not entirely, anyways. Depends on how you define a “Kung Fu Movie.” I was just going with a movie that’s heavily rooted in martial arts.
EVAN: I mean, I’d say that it’s because the Asian actors that we [Westerners] can relate to are getting old. Jackie Chan is 58. Jet Li is 49. No one has really stepped up [or has been able to] and taken their places.
GORDON: Well- no argument there. Barring perhaps Tony Jaa. Who will **** you up if you so much as look at his elephant the wrong way.
EVAN: ช้าง อยู่ ไหน [chang yuu nai]?! If you saw the movie, you’d get it.
GORDON: Go see the movie. Now.
EVAN: Watch it please. Tom Yum Goong as it was released in Thailand, but retitled The Protector for an American release.
GORDON: Also, eat tom yum goong. It is the best thing ever.
EVAN: Anyway. I just think it’s interesting, the fact that there’s clearly still an interest in Asian martial arts.
Using two panda-related examples, Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda movies, and Blizzard’s upcoming expansion for World of WarCraft, Mists of Pandaria.
GORDON: This is true.
EVAN: Pandarens had existed in WarCraft for years before those movies, by the way. Just for everyone who’s saying that Blizzard ripped the concept of anthropomorphic martial arts fighting pandas from a Jack Black movie.
GORDON: And with that, we’re out of time.
EVAN: Don’t we have ten more minutes? We started at ten past.
GORDON: Oh. I thought we started on the hour.
EVAN: Nay. And we’re keeping all of this dialogue.
GORDON: To assure our readers that we too are flawed mortals?
EVAN: Well, that one of us is.
Back on the subject- let’s not forget that thanks to Netflix and piracy, it’s easier and easier to get movies from out of the country anyways. Just look at Red Cliff.
EVAN: Red Cliff?
GORDON: Epic action movie. Based on ancient Chinese history, and a text called “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” if I recall correctly. Some sort of an Eastern equivalent to “swords and sandals” flicks. Which are awesome, by the way.
EVAN: Yes. We do love our “swords and sandals” movies.
GORDON: Go watch Ironclad. Watch it now.
EVAN: If only to watch Paul Giamatti’s veins pop out on his neck as an angry King John.
GORDON: Words cannot describe how irritated he is in that movie. It defies logic. Also, a man gets beaten to death with his own arm.
EVAN: Actually, I am fairly sure the severed arm belonged to a different guy.
Back on topic one last, time, before we run out of it- It seems that Asian cinema continues to chug on, producing martial arts movies even if Western Cinema has since moved past that. In a way, what was popular for a period of time in Hollywood never stopped in Asia. Though those movies still changed the action genre in a huge way.
GORDON: Absolutely. From The Bourne Identity to Batman Begins, the blood of Kung Fu movies still pumps strong. And with that, we’re out of time. Be sure to swing in next week for our discussion on the upcoming season of Community.
EVAN: Nooooooooo. That’s next-next week. The day before the new season starts.
GORDON: Why must you make a fool of me?
EVAN: Why must you make a fool of yourself.
GORDON: Anyways. Be sure to vote for our discussion topic next week.