Sunday, March 2, 2008

Bruce Lee: the model minority?

In spite of bad acting and cheesy one-liners I generally appreciated the entertainment value of Enter the Dragon. As it was my first Bruce Lee film, I finally understood the origins of the martial arts films, and it was in a sense a mini popular culture history lesson for me. While observing the emasculation and de-sexualization of Bruce Lee, I also realized how far more recent kung fu movies starring Asian men such as Jet Li or Jackie Chan have come in terms of a more masculine portrayal (although they are not much better).

The major issue I had with the Asian American men in the movie was that, like Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan, they are inserted into a plot with very extreme roles. Whether it be as one of the villains or the emasculated comedian, these men almost have to compensate for the fact that they are Asian or "different" by being molded into a stereotype. In doing so, they often create or perpetuate different stereotypes of Asian American men that is neither fair nor accurate. Like so, Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon represents the American audience's captivation with martial arts at the time and can be viewed more as a symbol than an actual human being. His uncanny ability to fight and kill dozens of men with mere scratch here and there is not new to an American action flick hero, but unlike 007 or Superman, he does not have a leading lady by his side either. Perhaps Bruce Lee's role as an "asexual" marital arts extraordinaire demonstrates the idea of Asian Americans as a model minority. Without his ability to be a sexual character, the Asian male is not a threat to the sexuality of the White male- an interesting departure from the predatory image of the Asian male that preceded it.

Throughout the film, Bruce Lee is not given much of a voice. After the first half of the movie being a meager attempt at creating a plot, the last half is pure action, perhaps after the realization that an actual plot may never materialize. After a few lines in the first half of the film, the only sounds that come from Lee are the high-pitched noises that have made him so famous. Without all the fighting, one could easily assume that Roper is the leading male, as he was the only person whose character development reached an acceptable level.

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