(Photo: Halloween Standoff – The Joker vs. Sagat, that’s me as Sagat)
Martial arts training is a form of therapy. Periods of arduous training have been good for me. Sincerity in action. During those times, my body is tired to the bone. Strange aches and bruises appear throughout the week. This all helps the mind commit to a path, a –do (judo, bushido, aikido, hapkido) a Tao, and not just a collection of leverage and striking techniques.
Training hard was something I associated positively with being Chinese. An amazing cultural feature built into the heritage… used to defend the heritage. Besides, what boy didn’t want to learn the fighting arts? There were cool weapons involved!
My mother had practiced tai chi for several years by then, learned Chinese broadsword forms, and even joined us in fencing foil and épée. My father was a black belt grappler and a dead-eye archer. I grew up on kung fu flicks, living for the fight scenes – whether well choreographed or not. I remember discovering this scene which startled me. It was Bruce Lee getting bullied by racists. I was fixed to the screen.
I understood all of it.
I sat closer to the television. What I saw next was very important to see. What would Little Dragon do, how would my martial arts hero do it? Would he? Would crawl like a dog to get into their world. No, he would fight. Little Dragon would fight.
The 1993 Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, with Jason Scott Lee playing Bruce, is still a favorite. For ages it remained one of the few mainstream American films around with an overall positive portrayal of an American of Asian descent. There’s an interracial love story with an Asian male lead, and it was actually complicated and not demeaning.
Here’s an action clip from Dragon with Bruce proclaiming, “Chinks can jump real high, huh?” emulating Little Dragon’s controlled taunt. It makes me think of Bruce jumping and kicking the shit out of that sign.
Jason Scott Lee was perfect for the role. Ripped, quirky, and dripping in Asian swagger. I think he had everyone goin, “who is he?” after the opening sequence.
Maybe most importantly, there was this scene in Dragon where the young AMWF couple encounters blatant racism. It was the first mainstream criticism of Asian male stereotypes I had seen. And it gave me hope that I might one day meet a girl who wouldn’t laugh at a joke but would walk out of the movie with me like she did.
Without regard to the sex politics, my favorite flick for pure Kung fu action is predictable, but still… It’s such a great Hong Kong piece, and honoring of Bruce’s work. Fist of Legend with Jet Li.