Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Orientalism and the Illusion of Third World Solidarity in Enter the Dragon

Despite being filmed in Hong Kong and the presence of Bruce Lee at all stages of the production, Enter the Dragon is a film that pays no respect to anything Chinese. The China of Enter the Dragon is no more than a bastardized pastiche of Orientalist tropes, starting with the very beginning with Lee’s character at the Shaolin temple. Despite ostensibly being a monastery, complete with bald Buddhist monks in orange robes, Bruce Lee speaks of only of the trite “philosophy” of combat. Throughout the film, Lee displays a thoroughly cocky attitude and a crypto-fascist fascination with violence (recall the scene of the mantis fight). Despite his little spiel about the art of fighting without fighting, at no time does Lee even give an opportunity for Han’s minions to turn tail and flee.

The scene of the banquet is travesty. Complete with sumo wrestlers, acrobats, caged birds, and a Chinese orchestra, the banquet is nothing more than a mythologized white Asia, an Asia that is commodified for foreign consumption. Even Chinese people are commodified—it is implied through the body language the white Roper and the two Chinese women servants who flank him, that the women are available for sexual favors. Compare this to the representation of Chinese men, who basically huddle to themselves. In the cases where Chinese men and women are together interacting, as in the brief scene at the 36:30 mark, they are actually engaged in friendly conversation instead of nonchalantly smiling like Roper. Note the difference in body language as well. The woman that the two Chinese men are conversing with stands over them, while Roper sits above his women in a clear display of dominance.

Like the other two protagonists, the character of Williams is equally problematic. Introduced as an inner city martial artist linked to pan-Africanism and black power, he is potentially the most politically radical character, and he makes several moves in this direction. First, he fights the racist cops in a physical act of standing up for his community. Later, as he enters Hong Kong, he goes on foot instead of being taxied around on rickshaw like Roper. And he even makes a comment about the misery of the Hong Kong slums, seemingly a show of solidarity. However, this veneer quickly wears transparent. When he is offered the predominantly-Asian gaggle of sex slaves by Han’s assistant, he does not hesitate for a moment and becomes the buck mandingo of white fantasies. In one swoop, he uncritically replicates the exploitation of women, of Asia and the Third World, and of the underclass. His sense of class solidarity and consciousness of exploitation either does not extend to women or is dropped the instant he can turn an advantage and become an exploiter himself. Later, as Williams watches the execution of the poor guards, whose leniency towards his violation of Han’s rules invited a death sentence, his face does not betray the slightest bit of shock or compassion. In the end Asians, and by extension the Third World, are faceless, voiceless, and serve as nothing but fodder to the West.

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