Kunf Fu films: Impact Home and Abroad Essay

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Franz Gatzke
Fall 2011
Deneroff/CINE 275

Kung Fu Films: Impact at Home and Abroad

When considering the vast differences among the cultures and governments across the globe, we oddly tend to reduce the collage, simply dividing it into two categories; east and west. One cannot deny the seemingly black and white contrast between societies in these opposing sides, but much variation and individuality exists within the divisions themselves. In the United States, we tend to think of western societies as democratic, progressive, and governmentally secular. The east, to many of us, is composed of “lesser” governments and cultures, like theocracies and communist republics. However, judging other societies from afar often provides a narrow, misguided or biased view. The truth is, there are many more contributing factors that define a society beyond its government structure. Analyzing sociocultural elements of a foreign group provides a more natural and accurate picture than a political survey.
Additionally, introducing oneself to unfamiliar or contrasting ways of life and thinking, can often inspire self evaluation. One eastern culture that has undeniably grasped the attention, and interest of many westerners, is the Chinese. The view toward the Chinese hasn’t always been positive in the United States, something that can be said about most all races. Yet the worldwide appeal of Chinese culture experienced a boom, much credited to the kung fu film industry.

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It is important to note that generalizing and lumping a nation of people into a single identity, especially a people as numerous as the Chinese, is not only unfair, but potentially dangerous. It carries with it an increased ability to stereotype and make unjust assumptions. Individuality exists, whether desired or not, alongside any nationalist identity. Many Chinese however, actually embrace such group identities for themselves and others as something to associate with.1 Their desire for such unity is easily understandable. China has endured a long history of oppression, colonization, and humiliation, coming from a variety of directions. In the decades following World War
II, Japanese, British, and domestic pressures left many Chinese in a life of anxiety and turmoil. Hong Kong was colonized by Britain, and while it thrived economically, a much larger Chinese mainland was suffering in their recovery from the Cultural Revolution.2
Anti-colonial sentiments were at a high amongst these mainlanders, who felt oppressed, and disassociated from any sort of collective identity. Meanwhile, across the globe in the
United States, racial equality movements were growing. The black population was at the forefront of this issue, but a simultaneous Asian American activism also grew in resistance to institutional racism. These “Third-World-Student-Strikers” and the
“Orientals” in China both felt emasculated, and stripped of their true identity.3 Arguably

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Chris Berry, “A Nation T(w/o)o, Chinese Cinema(s) and Nationhood(s),” in Colonialism and
Nationalism in Asian Cinema (Indiana University Press, 1994), 42-61.
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Yuan Shu, “From Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan.,” Journal of Popular Film & Television 31, no. 2
(Summer2003): 50-59. EBSCOhost. 6 Nov. 2011. http://0-web.ebscohost.com.library.scad.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=f45ce138-87e845b1-bef3-dde44dc4471b%40sessionmgr111&vid=5&hid=125 3
Yuan Shu, “From Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan.,” Journal of Popular Film & Television 31, no. 2
(Summer2003): 50-59. EBSCOhost. 6 Nov. 2011. http://0-web.ebscohost.com.library.scad.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=f45ce138-87e845b1-bef3-dde44dc4471b%40sessionmgr111&vid=5&hid=125 3

the most important figure in kung fu film history, Bruce Lee sought to dispel the stereotypes of Chinese men as soft, weak people. He redefined what westerners and even easterners perceived, displaying his physical superiority, in both appearance and
ability.…