Tuesday, April 22, 2008

When East Goes West

I've recently watched 2 movies.

forbidden kingdom, jet li, jackie chan
Forbidden Kingdom

One features the 2 kung fu legend action heroes - Jackie Chan and Jet Li. It also stars Michael Angarano in this more Chinese cast who speak English throughout. This movie was filmed mostly in China with scenic views of the jungle and mountains.

Escape From Huang Shi/ Children Of Huang Shi

The other one stars another 2 of the most popular Chinese movie stars who has made it in Hollywood, Hong Kong's gentleman, Chow Yun Fat and Malaysia' very own, and one of the most popular Bond girls, Michelle Yeoh. Though not the main leads, they together with Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Radha Mitchell are the 4 main characters in this again, China filmed movie. And again, it's an all English script - only snippets of Mandarin between the Chinese characters.

Watching these two movies have been awesome... and I've just had some thoughts and feel good feeling, mainly for a few good reasons:

1. The Asian stars (or rather Chinese stars) are playing amongst the leads in the movies. Last time, if you remember, Asians are only heroes in their own movies - where they are the good guys, while the Westerners are the baddies. This happen a lot in Jackie Chan's old kung fu movies.

However, Jackie Chan acting in Rush Hour was one of the first to change that. He playing the lead role together with funny guy Chris Tucker is one success story Asian-to-West story.

2. But apart from Rush Hour, most Asians are still baddies in Hollywood films.

If ever they are the main roles playing the good guys, most of their movies do not attract the crowd - we've seen Chow Yun Fat's foray into Hollywood (remember Anna & The King or Replacement Killers?), and even Jet Li's. It could be partly international audience are new to them. Also, the script & budget may have played a factor.

So again, watching these 2 movies and seeing that Asians and Westerners stand on same good ground is a good thing. There's no 'with me or against me', but rather in these 2 movies, they all serve a common goal for a good cause (especially on Escape From Huang Shi).

3. One of the other turning point to the acceptence of Asian actors/ actresses for the global audience is at the award winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which also made an international name for Chinese swordplay and kung fu action. It was there that one of most recognisable Asian woman, Zhang Ziyi made her mark.

So, once again, to feature credible Asian actors/ actresses in these Hollywood films show an acceptance to them. In fact, it is even better that they are now cast alongside the Hollywood actors/ actress giving them equal attention and better scripts and movie roles.

4. Another highlight that though they Asian stars have Asian coloured skin, but they speak anything else from Cantonese/ Mandarin but a 'foreingn language'. It is admirable for them to learn a new language.

Yes, it may sound a lil weird or monotonous English, but the Chinese have learnt the language quite alright. (Of course, it comes naturally for Michelle Yeoh who of all speaks perfect English - not Manglish/ Singlish or even the American-wannabe slang, but standard English with great diction).

And now, even the once don't-care-about-Hollywood actor, Jet Li is marching into Hollywood with English.

5. All these East into West clearly shows the power of Asia (with help of the awaken dragon China). It could be a marketing tactic to one extend to reach to an even wider audience. Smaller countries are already doing crossovers (eg. HK-Thai, Singapore-HK, etc) and obviously Hollywood's in the game as well.

Yes, this will help Hollywood (not that they need much more as Asia is actually very receptive of their movies).

But the ones to gain most are actually the Asians. The stars are one, but also the production crew and now even the tourism dollars! Watching the above movies make more wanting to just visit the various places in China. Just like what happend to New Zealand with the filming of Lord Of The Rings.

6. And furthermore, now that these actors/ actresses can play in proper roles, they can showcase their Asian culture in themselves. The Asian values which many times have been misinterpreted by the media in the West can be ironed out through the movies (even with Jackie Chan playing the funny cop, it shows that Asians are not dumb and unable to speak proper lol).

Of course if the movies are like the above, where they are a lil more ancient China, it will show more on the Asian values. Small things like drinking tea in tea cups (ok, I know it seems normal for us in Chinese retaurants lol) or the grace of the ladies and their respect for elders will all be showcased. Asian values are going West!

With all these feel good (and are really good reasons), it's no wonder why smaller countries are taking the movie industry seriously. Singapore has started it with a more serious government backing. The principles how movies make East Goes West can be applied to how Singapore Goes Global or for that matter, even Malaysia.

But these are for a next post.


Related: Oscar Goes Global

Movies Review:
Forbidden Kingdom
Escape From Huang Shi


  1. Caught Escape from Huang Shi when I was back home. Well, the tickets are actually free so...

    Anyway, found the last part where the Chinese thank foreigners 'as a whole' abit out of context.

    But 'Escape' is nevertheless a in-the-process show and one will be sorely disappointed if he is looking for a dramatic ending.

    As for 'Immortal', Wife and I decided to give it a miss as it looks like the 'Bulletproof monk'. It's essentially an English show with some Chinese culture incorporated in it.

    However, I understand that 'Immortal' is given quite a good review. Perhaps will give it a go on dvd.

  2. I just watched the Forbidden Kingdom last nite....hmm, the story line is simple. the 2 girls in theh movie are so cool...love it.

  3. ck,
    my take is huang shi is much better than the a lil overhype forbidden kingdom. maybe if they made jet li and jackie chan enemies, that might have been better as then there will be more fighting scenes amongst the 2 :)

    ya, they have sharp features and very elegant asian looks heh. new talents found! :)


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