Monday, March 3, 2008

Enter the Dragon

The relatively sparse dialogue (pretty typical of action and martial arts films in general),contains implicit challenges to the white man's orders. For example, in the very beginning of the film, Lee reprimands his student, "Don't think, feel!" This sort of historically essentialist dichotomy highlights the belief that the West venerates rationality while the East favors a spiritual or emotive style of thinking. Also in Lee's briefing Braithwaite states, "Any bloody fool can pull a trigger" and thus implicitly highlights the contrast between the West's reliance on technology and the East's disciplined body.

Other scenes contain more explicit challenges to the sociopolitical order, much like the Asian American pulp fiction Shinn addresses. Williams uses kung fu to defend himself against two white cops who try to manhandle him. I think that Han, in fact, represents the "white man" which in itself may be a trope for "evil masterminds economically benefitting from the oppression and exploitation of Third World peoples." He sells heroin and opium (a drug which the British introduced to China)and is attended by men (Oharra and Bolo) whose moves contain more brawn than finesse. Is it significant that Han also kills Williams, the only African American competitor?

In spite of its seemingly progressive portrayal of the Asian man, I was bothered by the portrayal of every single woman in this film. It is obvious that prostitution-like lineup of women available to service the competitors is crude and harmful even if this was a representation from the "bad" side. However, I was more unsettled by the fate of Lee's sister, who kills herself with a shard of glass (supposedly because she cannot defend herself against the group of men) instead of being raped by Ohara. Having seen many contemporary martial arts films in which females take on large gangs of burly men, I was shocked to see that her only escape from this situation was suicide. This seems to uphold Bruce Lee's sexist statement, cited by Prashad: "they are no match for the men who are physiologically stronger...my advice is if they have to fight, hit the man at his vital points and then run. Women are more likely to achieve their objectives through feminine wiles and persuasion." And what is left if "wiles and persuasion" are useless?

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