In the wake of Bruce Lee, a new kung fu star emerged on the scene shortly afterwards. Now known as the most successful international star from Hong Kong, Jackie Chan started off in a performing martial arts troupe when he was just 7. Appearing as extras in various kung fu films, he worked as a stuntman in the Bruce Lee film Fist of Fury and Enter the Dragon at seventeen. When he entered the scene in 1976 under film producer Willie Chan, he changed his name to Cheng Long, or literally “become the dragon” as a nod to his predecessor Bruce Lee whose stage name meant “Little Dragon”.
The widely acknowledged international success of these two influential martial arts films figures is underpinned by the differences in the ways in which they have portrayed their characters and stories. In order to step out from under Bruce Lee’s shadow and create a style, a name and success for himself, Jackie Chan adapted and evolved the two dimensional portrayal of the stoic Chinese kung fu master to become a far more complex, globalized and comedic character that we recognise and love today.
transnational, multicultural consciousness
Firstly, Jackie Chan embodies a uniquely cosmopolitan perspective in his experiences of globalization and displacement stemming from a native Hong Kong background combined with a transnational media production based in Hollywood. The cultural clashes of many of his experiences (Chinese nationalism, Western Orientalism etc.) have shaped a complex film persona that has to navigate multiple temporal, spatial, historical and geopolitical positions. His martial personae have crossed various ethnic/national boundaries, not only existing within the film but adapting and growing through the interactions between cultures.
Unlike a stark separation that exists in Bruce Lee films between the different races and cultures, the characters in Jackie Chan’s movies experience an active intercultural crossover, learning from each other and adapting to fit new people and new circumstances.
In Rush Hour, at the end of the film on their way to Hong Kong, Carter surprises Lee by speaking some Mandarin to the stewardess, and in return, Lee jokes back in black slang, “We can hang in my crib – I’ll show you my ‘hood'”. By expressing and demonstrating an interest and exchange in each other’s languages and slangs, this goes beyond being a gesture of comedy, and points towards a larger example of cultural diffusion and integration more consistent with a globalized world of today.
Here, Lee too, embodies a Chinese who has managed to assimilate into the culture and society (America) that he lives in. In the beginning of the film, he surprises Carter by revealing that he does speak English, turning the revelation into a joke in the process. By drawing attention to the fact that he speaks English, and actively subverting the assumption that Chinese people do not speak English and are therefore a separate Other in the community, he represents a cultural assimilation and acceptance. He is not part of an isolated, disconnected Chinese enclave, but rather is an integrated, active member of the larger society.
In Rumble in the Bronx (1983), the storyline is similar to that of Fist of Fury where the protagonist arrives from Hong Kong to find their relative’s establishment under attack from external mobsters or gangsters. They then have to defend and protect this overseas outpost. In Rumble however, instead of a Chinese-only establishment juxtaposed against threatening non-Chinese mobsters, Uncle Bill’s fiance to be is a black woman. Keung (Jackie Chan) is surprised by this revelation and we are thrown off guard along with our protagonist. This entire affair might have been framed as the butt of a casual joke. However, Uncle Bill quickly dismisses this notion by saying affectionately “Your aunt, she is a wonderful woman!”, and even through there was an initial surprise and comedy to it, we are drawn in by the genuine authenticity of this interracial love. Here, Uncle Bill and Whitney’s interracial marriage is a celebration of black and asian solidarity in the face of economic poverty and struggle. The ghetto becomes a place of multiracial and multicultural possibility, where people are brought together despite the frustration of living in a constant crisis.
Unfamiliarity and the Other
However, unlike in Lee’s films where where Bruce is always portrayed as the Other in a world dominated by caucasians, there is a more equal power dynamic within Jackie Chan’s films. It subverts the America dominated world of Bruce Lee, to one where China is a rising global power and the process of globalization and being the Other is an experience that everyone can relate to.
In Rush Hour 2, Carter is put in the experience of being the Other as they are transported to Hong Kong. He fumbles through the streets and unknowingly insults a Hong Kong gang leader, which allows for an alternative perspective of placing Carter in the position of the Other in an unfamiliar location. This reverses the power dynamic and shows a more equal power dynamic where anyone is capable of being the Other in a rapidly developing, highly globalized world. The use of comic reversal succeeds in recontextualizing episodes of unfamiliarity in a global context.
Jackie Chan also constant plays characters who cross country borders, embodying a more global identity. In Shanghai Knights, both Chon (played by Jackie Chan) and Roy are strangers in a foreign land, and this puts their friendship to the test while displacing both of them as a foreign Other. Where other characters might choose to center themselves within a local/national context, Chan’s Asian sheriff/Chinese imperial guard/ kung fu fighter character is set in Victorian Britain, where tourist locations like the Covent Garden and Big Ben are the new transnational locations for stunts and action. He often plays on this dislocation within his action scenes to show his unfamiliarity with the surroundings, and yet playing it off humorously, often using it to his advantage in the end.
As a result, Jackie Chan’s characters often embody a more
Embodies an Ambivalent, Nervous, Vulnerable Identity
In addition to this transnational, multicultural awareness, Jackie Chan’s films and characters often play to subvert the stereotypes and expectations that Bruce Lee established in the decades before, bringing to screen a much more human, much more complex character than before.
Jackie Chan’s comedic and parodic personae often displaces hegemonic types in Hollywood films and undermines the paradigms of Chinese masculinity in Hong Kong/Chinese cinema. By parodying and placing himself in direct opposition to traditionally expected stereotypes, he deploys the politics of comic displacement as a form of tactical resistance that allows him to act across and against power structures. As a result, his characters often reflect a complex, indefinite identity through a humorous language.
However, the fact that the most visible Chinese director/actor in the Western scene today is still an action star (which is the most internationally marketable genre as it is rooted in physicality and therefore has the power to transcend lingual, cultural and national barriers) might reflect a consistent reluctance on Hollywood’s part for the establishment of a
This move away from a simple two dimensional portrayal to a
Coming from a long history of martial arts characters from Fu Manchu to Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan had to create his own personal voice in order to subvert these preconceived expectations of the Asian within Western film. He displaces the ‘martial arts character’, often portrayed as sage, wise and all powerful with a more vulnerable character with the potential to be genuinely injured.
Strength and Invulnerability/Poise
He disrupts the expectation of the patriarchal, masculine kung fu figure, replacing it with a more vulnerable, comic persona that challenge notions of what Chineseness and Asianness mean on the filmic landscape. Chan’s fighting style often rejects Lee’s idealised martial masculinity with a more dynamic model that includes “momentarily being in feminised/vulnerable situations”. In the Drunken Master films, he pokes fun at the patriarchal masculinity of previous martial arts films by clinching eventual victory for the protagonist by posing as a woman and a drunkard to trick his opponents. Hence, by distancing himself from the traditions of heroic masculinity, this comic displacement disrupts rigid notions of (traditionally assumed) identities”, making Chan more relevant in a world with increasingly liberal values and blurred national/cultural lines. Particularly in relation to a China that is characterised by traditional Chinese values of masculinity involving fatherhood, patriarchy and nationalism.
In Police Story, Through comic treatments of escape and flight, as well as reinscribing antagonists as caricatures of serious masculinity, his work hence destabilizes the hegemonic masculinity embodied by his opponents, and also disrupts rigid notions of (Chinese) identity.
In Bronx, he is utterly defeated and only survives by the skin of his teeth because the gang managed to argue amongst themselves so much that they all stormed away. He staggers up the stairs and terrifies a neighbour, covered in blood and collapsed on the floor. This pathetic picture of defeat is never seen in a Bruce Lee flick.
Unlike Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan is often pushed to the limit in the choreography of his fights, being forced to utilize his surroundings far more, interacting with objects and spaces that he is fighting in in order to enhance his own strength. In Bronx, at 1:00:54, Keung is unable to defeat one of the Business Suit Henchmen. He punches the man only to have him reply with a mocking ‘uh uh’. In response, Danny tosses him a helmet, saying ‘here, catch!’ and he knocks the man using the hard helmet. The henchman still stands. Danny then throws him a wrench, and upon seeing the heavy weapon, the henchman raises his hands and whimpers in defeat. As seen, these external tools help to aid Jackie Chan’s characters when they are unable to defeat the opponent, showing how the protagonist is not all powerful, and using the surroundings to (help to increase his power, showing how him alone is not the maximum power.)
Stereotypes of being the Other
In Rush Hour he pretends to not speak English until he has been on screen for a substantial amount of time, only revealing his understanding of English when necessary, prompting a surprised “all of a sudden you speak English!” from Carter. He smirks at this quip and replies that Carter only assumed he did not speak English, hence parodying and playing off of a well known stereotype, first by being silent and then by making fun of Carter’s presumptions about Asians. They prove that ethnocentric assumptions about Asians are unfounded, and playfully critique racial biases about Asians as silent Others by showing self awareness and then resisting that profile. In doing so, he also manages to gain the upper hand in the power dynamic.
Morally Righteous, Humble and Peace loving
In Rush Hour, the first time we see Carter he is trying to engage in an illegal arms deal in front of a diner. However, he not only lies to the dealer about being ‘in the diner’ when he was late, when the dealer exposes him by saying that he was sitting in the diner waiting for Carter, Carter continues to lie, insisting he was in the ‘back of the diner’. However he then does a hundred eighty and reveals that he’s part of the LAPD, and he was just trying to nab a well known arms dealer.
His characters also often run in direct opposition to the white heterosexual masculinity of James Bond. Unlike Bond, who affirms himself through sexual conquest, Chan’s characters are often asexual (“unproblematized incorporation of western models of male sexuality previous applied generates the inadequate conclusion that Chinese men are less than ‘real men’),
His films make use of one of the most fundamental traits of comedy by flouting what the viewers expect to see, and instead presents them with an often unexpected alternative. This incongruity or displacement of hegemonic notions of identity underlies much of his style of humour, playing to his own personal transnational status as a Hong Kong national creating films in Hollywood.
Vulnerability????? Chinese stereotypes…makes chinese people being portrayed seem more human. Complex characters.
He never appears as invincible or powerful as Bruce Lee. His characters fall down, get clearly hurt and then fights back, which allows for a back and forth parry that allows for a comic sensibility.1
In Rumble, the first conflict that occurs is when a street gang decides to go motorcycle racing in the dead of the night. Keung (Jackie Chan) being the only one awake to witness this, is forced to leap in to stop the racers from destroying the limousine his Uncle Bill rented out for his wedding. He leaps down from his window in his skin tight underwear to use his body to stop the racer from crashing into the car. Our hero is then trapped outside as his uncle is still asleep, reduced to shouting in the middle of the street at a building. This semi naked helplessness in juxtaposition to the roaring power of the motorcycle and the hardware laden racer places Keung in a uniquely vulnerable, yet heroic position.
By showing that he has to improvise and use his surroundings they show both his skill but also his vulnerability and potential to get injured. He scales the fence in Rumble to get away from the men who are hunting him. Jackie Chan constantly utilizes the resources and tools he has around him rather than showing that he can defeat the bad guys using nothing but his own body (as Bruce Lee does) He shows a more sly intelligence in the way he defeats his enemies rather than the straightforward, I am definitively stronger route that Bruce Lee uses. In Rumble, when he is on the run away from gangsters driving in the cars, we see him trying to escape the dead end alleyway by trying to find a door or hidden opening, and when pushed to the absolute corner, with nothing else to do and nowhere else to turn, he then just is defeated. Ok this is a bad example.
In project A he uses a ladder to defeat his opponents and only