Sample Dissertation on Analysis of Action films

Literature review

In the aftermath of World War II and then the Communist Revolution, the Hong Kong film industry essentially had to build itself up from scratch again. Facilities that had been destroyed during the war had to be rebuilt or refurbished, and film production and culture itself had to modernize. In the late 1950s, what would become the two major Hong Kong production companies emerged, the Motion Pictures and General Investment  Film Company (MP&GI) and Shaw Bros.[1] In particular, Shaw Bros. became the leader in the production of Cantonese blockbusters, and was instrumental in starting the mid- 1960s craze for “new-style martial arts” films on the Asian market. The choreography of these early martial arts films grew in part out of the acrobatic style of Cantonese opera and became extremely popular in East and Southeast Asia.[2]

The Big Boss is a rather flat film from a modern perspective, but the simplicity of the plot and the characters’ motivations were common to Hong Kong action cinema at the time, and the film was the perfect vehicle to carry Bruce Lee’s incredible martial arts style. Audiences who weren’t familiar with Lee from The Green Hornet were by all accounts mesmerized by his fight sequences and his magnetic presence onscreen—the film broke all previous Hong Kong box office records, grossing 3.2 Hong Kong Dollars during its initial nineteen-day run.[3] It carried none of the weightier themes of Lee’s films, particularly Fist of Fury, but the fame it provided gave him the opportunity to do more. “With any luck,” he told an interviewer after the film’s release, “I hope to make multi-level films here—the kind of movies where you can just watch the surface story if you want, or you can look deeper.”[4]

Warner Brothers was particularly interested in producing or co-producing kung fu films, and Golden Harvest’s Raymond Chow wanted to produce a big budget, Hollywood-style film. Together with Bruce Lee’s Concord, they turned out what is still one of, if not the most popular kung fu films of all time. Despite being his highest- grossing, though, Enter the Dragon is not typically regarded as Lee’s best film by those who consider themselves experts on the star. Indeed, for all the improvement in production over Lee’s earlier films and the addition of Western star power in the form of John Saxon, Jim Kelly was a relative unknown at the time, Enter the Dragon seems somewhat lacking when compared to The Big Boss or Fist of Fury. The plot, while original, brings to mind the exploits of James Bond: Lee’s character, also called Lee, travels undercover to the mysterious private island of Han at the behest of an international intelligence organization, ostensibly to enter Han’s martial arts competition, but in reality to find out what has happened to an intelligence agent who disappeared while investigating Han’s island drug racket. Lee has an additional motivation: Han’s bodyguard, Oharra, was the cause of the death of Lee’s sister, who committed suicide rather than be raped by Oharra and his thugs in Hong Kong.

“Read More: Directive Leadership

American producers were clearly interested in adapting kung fu for the American market as quickly as possible, with as much widespread appeal (and garnering as much profit) as possible. In the course of churning out new kung fu films with such rapidity, the Chinese characters onscreen were often exoticized and presented as Others, rather than presented as realistic characters with recognizable, familiar motives. The aforementioned entertainment scene in Enter the Dragon is a classic example: the women are beautiful in their traditional Chinese garments, but also deadly, demonstrating their skill with hand-thrown darts while gongs are occasionally beaten in the background. The women serve no purpose but to present an image reminiscent of the Dragon Lady—gorgeous and erotic, compelling in her exoticism, but ultimately deadly. Oharra, too, is almost a caricature, and it is surprising that Bruce Lee—who considered turning down the role of Kato, whom he initially considered too much like a typical Chinese houseboy—does not complain about the character in any of his published letters from that year.

The popularity of the kung fu genre introduced other stereotypes as well, including the idea that Chinese (or Asians in general) are experts in the martial arts. Frank Chin—though he was writing specifically about Kung Fu, the television series, and not the kung fu genre in its entirety—argued, “The progress that Asians of all yellows have made in the movies and on television is pitiful compared to the great strides in self-determination made by apes, dinosaurs, zombies, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and other rubber creations of Hollywood’s imagination.”[5] He went on to point out that Kung Fu left non-Asian Americans with the impression that to be Chinese (or Chinese American) meant “doing strange things in the workaday world of white people.” Chinese practice martial arts, adhere to the sage teachings of Confucius and Shaolin monks, and practice “weird candlelight ceremonies.” Chin’s argument, essentially, is that Kung Fu and programs like it present anyone who looks “yellow” as passive, mystical, and anachronistic.

Audiences also were drawn to Lee’s physical presence itself, rather than the struggle his fights embodied, but far from representing a simply narcissistic appeal, Jachinson Chan argues that this carried a great deal of importance in terms of the way that Chinese American men were perceived in mainstream American culture. Though Asian men and Chinese men in particular, were historically perceived as effeminate, docile, and asexual, Bruce Lee presented an unmistakable image of male strength and virility contained in the distinctly Chinese package of kung fu. No longer were Americans faced solely with the image of a desexualized Charlie Chan or effeminate opium-smoker, but with a Chinese man who clearly embodied all the things that Westerners value as masculine and strong.

Statement of the problem

Film historians have, of course, already refuted racist notions that seemed popular at the time, specifically the idea that low-budget action and horror films held some inherent attraction for “ethnic” audiences solely on the basis of the violence they contained. Gina Marchetti has explained the appeal of kung fu films to black urban audiences as initially being a simple result of access: when the first Hong Kong films were exported to the United States, they were usually screened in Chinatown theaters, or else shown in inner-city “ghetto” theaters, as a way of providing less expensive entertainment.[6]  Going further, however, both Marchetti and David Dresser argue that Bruce Lee was particularly appealing to young black audiences because he was one of the only non-white heroes they saw on the big screen, and because of the anti-imperialist, anti-racist themes of some of his work.

The fights are designed in such a way as to be visual representations of the overall narrative of the martial arts film—resistance against a foreign oppressor or the struggle for filial vengeance, for example—and these narratives, Ongiri argues, “readily spoke to an African American audience’s history of violence and violation in which acts of spectacularized violence would become the central visual metaphor for African American cross-identification.”[7] While Ongiri’s analysis is fascinating, her interpretation of martial arts fight sequences is a fairly abstract one—she is arguably reading too much into these scenes. While Lee himself probably felt that his fight choreography evinced a cultural narrative in and of itself, the idea that that narrative could have been read by an audience in any concrete way, without the surrounding framework of the films’ plots and characters, is dubious.

This is not to say that the Chinese American struggle for identity has been in vain but it is, in the words of Iris Chang, an ongoing struggle. The role of kung fu in that struggle has been an interesting one. As kung fu itself has fallen out of vogue, Chinese produced and wuxia swordplay films have become popular among mainstream American audiences and have influenced American film production. Bruce Lee’s role in the presentation of Chinese and Chinese Americans in pop culture, too, has been mixed, his legacy sometimes confusing, but one thing is certain: he was one of the first Asian Americans who mainstream audiences ever saw on television in the 1960s, and he was the first Chinese American superstar. For better or for worse, he changed the way Chinese Americans were received by the mainstream.

Sample Dissertation on Pros and Cons of Death Penalty

The kung fu craze of the 1970s peaked in about 1974 and never truly recovered after that point. The attempts of Robert Clouse and Fred Weintraub, among others, to capitalize on Bruce Lee’s popularity probably did more to hasten the decline of the genre than to shore it up. Certainly the meager offerings of Lee impersonator films smack almost of desperation, and give the impression that major studio producers never truly understood Lee’s appeal within the context of contemporary culture. Kung fu had been more than a fad, it was part of the protest culture of the 1960s and 1970s. By the late ’70s, that culture was dwindling, and so was kung fu’s relevance. While Hong Kong cinema did enjoy an upsurge in net profit and popularity on the international market following the 1970s explosion of kung fu, the kung fu genre itself was never the same after the peak in late 1973 and early ’74. “With [Bruce Lee’s] death,” writes Suhel Ahmed, “Asian cinema and its growing internationalism fell into a deep coma.”[8] Particularly on the American market, the genre never seemed to regain the momentum it had experienced just before Lee’s death and the release of Enter the Dragon. Moreover, the major US studios’ failed attempts to domesticate kung fu to package and present to mainstream American audiences had an ultimately negative impact on the way the genre was received. Critics at the time rarely gave higher praise than Stephen Sansweet’s, that kung fu offers little depth, but “when you’re looking for just a snack, it can be quite satisfying.”[9] It is also pertinent that the peak of the kung fu genre occurred at roughly the same time as the United States was pulling the last of its troops from Vietnam. Surely it can be argued that the American public, for years bombarded with images of the Orient in popular culture and with images of the war on the evening news, simply wearied of seeing Asian faces on their television sets. While  this may not have been the major factor behind the decline of the genre, the tendency of the public to quickly discard a phenomenon that it had only months before embraced wholeheartedly is one that should be considered when analyzing pop culture trends.

Data analysis

Additionally, Hong Kong cinema in the 1980s and ’90s began to move toward “more cerebral, edgy, and experimental films” that were popular on the international market, as young filmmakers educated in the West began to return to their native Hong Kong and make more cosmopolitan films. Aside from Jackie Chan’s comedy kung fu, the action genre moved away from hand-fought martial arts and in the direction of thewuxia swordplay epics that had been popular decades before. As Hong Kong directors “wove Western standards into Hong Kong productions,” Western filmmakers began to take notice of the artistic quality of wuxia‘s fight choreography and the romance of its settings and stories. When Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was released in 2000, it exploded onto the international scene, eventually winning several Academy Awards and BAFTAs. Crouching Tiger‘s graceful—at times almost magical—martial arts style and wirework, combined with the appeal of stars Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat, both ethnic Chinese actors familiar to Western audiences at that time, as well as the contribution of popular cellist Yo-Yo Ma to the soundtrack all acted to make the film incredibly popular in the United States. Hero, released in China in 2002 and in the United States in 2004, was given a similar reception by American audiences. Stylistic features from these new style martial arts films were also incorporated into a number of American films produced later, including the acclaimed Matrix trilogy

In addition to marginalizing Asian men who do not fit into this stereotypical role, the success of Chinese films may have had another inadvertent result. Americans are drawn to films like Crouching Tiger largely because of the mystery and the exoticized glamour of ancient China. A number of American-produced “Asian” period films have also been popular in the United States in recent years, including The Last Samurai and Memoirs of a Geisha. Asian faces may be more prevalent on American television and movie screens now than they were in the 1960s and ’70s, but one cannot help but notice that many of these faces are kept carefully constrained to their “native” settings.

 

CONCLUSIONS

The evolution of Chinese America has seen one of the most hated (and regulated) immigrant groups in American history gradually transform into an integrated ethnic minority that plays a strong role in American society while still maintaining its unique identity. Few ethnic groups in the nation’s history have endured the level of restrictive legislation that the Chinese faced during the Exclusion Era—not only the Exclusion Act itself, but also related labor, housing, and citizenship laws, as well as such xenophobic minutiae as restrictions on the wearing of queue hairstyles. Even after World War II and the end of Exclusion, Chinese Americans—many from families that had been in the United States for generations at that point—found themselves the continued objects of suspicion and mistrust. The popular culture of the era reflects mainstream American attitudes of the era; China’s involvement in the Cold War only added a new dimension to derogatory stereotypes presented in popular media, including print and film. Some early Chinese American stars, such as Anna May Wong, attempted to mitigate the negative portrayal of Chinese and other Asians in the US media, but, as was the case for Wong, they often found themselves relegated to playing supporting roles or characters that only shored up existing stereotypes. Not until the 1960s and 70s were mainstream Americans exposed to media that truly countered these negative images on a widespread basis— television shows and films that not only altered the way that Chinese Americans were viewed by non-Asians, but also how they defined their own identity at a time when modern ideas of ethnic identity were just emerging.

The Orientalist images of the Dragon Lady, the coolie, and the servile houseboy persisted for more than a century before Bruce Lee delivered one of the first blows to them that actually resonated with mainstream Americans. In a relatively short period—from 1966 to 1973—Lee was a recognizable national figure, not just to the Chinese American youths who were engaged in a struggle for self-identity, but to non-Chinese Americans as well, to some of the same people who, only decades earlier, had not only bought into Orientalist stereotypes, but had actively supported anti-Chinese legislation.

Despite Lee’s impact, however, it is also true that the image he nearly single-handedly created—that of the carefully controlled martial arts master—is one that is just as dated today as the image of the coolie was in the 1960s. What is important, then, is not Lee’s image, viewed in a vacuum, but what that image did to alter the way that Chinese are treated in American popular culture. What is important is that Bruce Lee helped open eyes to the fact that stereotypes can be challenged, altered, or struck down. The struggle of Chinese Americans now, then, must be to follow in that tradition of challenging stereotypes—even if it is a Lee-created stereotype they challenge—just as the struggle of non-Chinese Americans must be to challenge their own perceptions of the “accepted” roles played by Chinese.

1 COMMENT

Comments are closed.