Monday, March 3, 2008

Evaluating a Classic

After watching Enter The Dragon for the first time, I finally understand why this movie had such a strong impact when it first came out. Even growing up with a decent number of acceptable Asian American figures in the media, I felt that after watching the movie, I understood some of the impact that Bruce Lee had on the American public, especially the Asian American public, when the movie first came out. I think to any viewer, it was inescapable that Bruce Lee was independent, masculine, strong, and inescapably cool: characteristics that were not, and often still are not, associated with Asians, who were often typecasted as reclusive, weak, alien, and other characteristics. I feel that this movie must have definitely altered the perception of Asians in the United States.

However, that being said, this movie may have made Asian Americans more respectable in the media, but it didn't do away with many stereotypes about them. Bruce Lee's character was still a distant character, easy to admire, but difficult to connect or relate to, leaving viewers still with a sense that Asian Americans are enigmatic and alien. His character also continued to portray the image of Asian Americans as a model minority, especially when compared to Williams, who as a black character, defied the law (by assaulting the police in the beginning and stealing their car), indulged in women (arguably prostitution), and ultimately died in an unglamorous way, compared to Lee, who fought for justice throughout the movie, abstained from women, and won very glamorously. People could admire Asian Americans, but in the context of comparison to other more lawless minorities, is the message I got. In addition, Lee's hypermasculinity made him inaccessible to women as well, though in a different way than the typical portrayal of the emasculated Asian American is. Lee’s character at times was portrayed as possessing a wisdom that seemed beyond that of normal humans, which while impressive, still stems from the stereotype of the wise “sage” type characters that Asian Americans are often cast as, an often alienating role. Shifting gears a bit, the portrayal of Asian women in the movie drew largely from stereotypes as well. For example, all of the Asian women were subservient to and dependent on Han, and were led by a token white female who was portrayed as more charismatic than her subordinates. It was hard not to think of the dragon lady stereotype when the women functioned in the movie only as objects of sex and fighting. Then there was Lee’s sister, who was unable to escape from the grasping dominance of men except in death.

Ultimately, there were issues with this movie, like there are with every movie we watch in class of course, but for me, this was my favorite movie so far, maybe because it tapped into the young boy inside me who loves a good martial arts movie, but also because I felt that though flawed, this movie helped inspire a new sense of respect for Asian Americans from American as a whole. While some may say it only helped perpetuate a different set of stereotypes from that of the emasculated Asian male, it is much easier to change people’s perceptions of you if you start from a position of respect.

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