Chinese actors – Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan
After Bruce Lee’s death, a radical and huge boom embraced the film industry in the field of martial arts. Thus, there were many imitators of Lee’s talent. Many of them even chose similar names, for example, Bruce Lee Lai or Dragon. However, such recognition, none of them could achieve. Jackie Chan is one of the few Asian actors starring in the films of this genre, was able to achieve great success due to the fact that he, unlike others, had his unique style. These days, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan are rightfully recognized as the brightest and the most famous stars of kung-fu movies.
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These actors are considered truly a manifestation of masculinity. The purpose of the current paper is to compare and contrast two Chinese actors – Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan in terms of masculinity, as well as their works in the films Drunken Master, Rush Hour, and Fist of Fury.
Bruce Lee is a truly legendary and unforgettable person and character. He trod a path from Asia to America and radically changed American attitudes toward Asians in general. He became the first Asian star demonstrating Chinese martial arts in films. African American, Latino, and Asian actors owe their appearance in American cinematography to Bruce Lee. The author also became the first actor of blockbusters who refused from special effects and stuntmen. He was for the naturalness and truthfulness in the scene. Therefore, he worked on his body and skills every day to be able to impress the viewers. Bruce Lee was a genius not only in existing battles. He became the founder of his direction – Jeet Kune Do. All the films of Bruce Lee are recognized and belong to the classics of the genre. The actor myself does start to lose his popularity these days.
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Bruce Lee was born in Chinatown in San Francisco. His dad, Lee Chuen Hon, was a Chinese opera actor. His mother, Grace Lee, was half German. Being a Catholic, she baptized him giving him the name of Lee Jun Fan. One of the nurses at the hospital gave him an English name Bruce. Undoubtedly, show business was in his blood. His father was a famous star in Cantonese Opera. In fact, the only reason why Bruce was born in the United States was the fact that his father had a tour around America at that time. Soon, the family returned to Hong Kong. In his native town, little Lee followed his father’s steps He became interested in art, especially cinematography. Since his childhood, Lee started starring in movies. His first movie was The Beginning of a Boy when he was six years old. Since his childhood, he also became interested in kung fu. Bruce received certain popularity in the circles that esteemed martial arts. The followers of other schools began defying Lee. It became a reason that Lee was excluded from several schools. In the book Chasing Dragons, the author David West writes that “At his next school, St Francis Xavier, Bruce was part of a confrontation between students from the Wing Chung style and their rivals from a Choy Li Fut kung fu school” (121). One of the fights led to the fact that Lee’s parents decided that the boy had to leave Hong Kong. Thus, at the age of eighteen years old, he moved to the United States – a country where he was born and which, since that time, would become his home country.
In San Francisco, he entered the University and opened his first school of martial arts. During his lectures, Lee met Linda Emery, at that point in time, a 17-year-old student and his future wife. In several years, they went to Los Angeles. He began to give private lessons to several Hollywood actors. In addition to kung fu, Lee studied philosophy. It resulted that he invented the unique style of kung fu, which received the name Jeet Kune Do. In the book Beyond Bruce Lee, the author Paul Bowman states that “Jeet Kune Do is both a martial art and a set of principles that came into existence through Lee’s critique of existing martial arts styles (as he saw them in the US context) and a process of interdisciplinary research, experimentation, and innovation” (15). According to Bruce Lee, it was more than just a usual martial art type. It was a philosophy and self-expression.
Bruce Lee never forgot about cinematography. In the United States, his first role as an actor was in the TV series The Green Hotel. In addition, he developed other TV projects. Despite the fact that not all of them were popular, Bruce Lee began growing his auditory of fans and followers. Some directors did not take Lee on the first roles of the movies as to their opinion, American viewers did not use to Asians in the movies. The authors Sheldon Lu and Emilie Yen affirm that “in the United States, the major obstacle to Lee’s rise to stardom was Japanese karate, and he was determined to prove that Chinese martial arts were deadlier than the Japanese style” (287). It should be noted that during those times, in the United States, Japanese martial arts were extremely popular. In such a way, at first, Bruce Lee received only small episodes in the films. Nevertheless, he managed to show all his skills and masculinity and, thus, Chinese martial arts became highly popular thought the world and in the United States, in particular.
The first big movie of Bruce Lee was The Big Boss, which in the United States mistakenly received the name Fist of Fury. Despite the fact that the plot was not quite interesting and unique, the movie helped Bruce Lee develop all his talents of martial arts. Moreover, in the film, Lee demonstrated his unique unforgettable technique. The film was shot in Thailand with a small budget. However, it became rather popular and many people knew about Bruce Lee. The actor became well-known throughout the whole world.
Later, Fist of Fury was shot in Hong Kong. In contrast to its predecessor, this film had a bigger budget. In the Fist of Fury, Bruce Lee showed his unique features in an even clearer way. Moreover, the actor demonstrated a special weapon that he popularized in his kung fu style – nunchaku. Later, Bruce Lee started using this weapon in all his movies especially Enter the Dragon. In Fist of Fury, there was the opposition of Chinese with Japanese. In the movie, Lee wanted to prove that Chinese and Japanese styles of martial arts were completely different. Thus, he showed all his skills and sports preparation.
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During the shooting in the film Fist of Fury, Bruce Lee met Jackie Chan, who worked as a stunt man there. When Jackie Chan saw Lee in the shooting area, he immediately became his fan. Chan was fascinated by Lee’s technique and a unique style of fighting. Interestingly, according to critics, the first films of Jackie Chan where he played the main roles were the imitation of Bruce Lee’s style. Fists of Fury became extremely popular around the world. With the help of this movie, Bruce Lee became even more popular. Many people wanted to be like their cult figure and, thus, Chinese martial art became highly popular worldwide. A lot of minds were fascinated by Bruce Lee’s masculinity, which he showed in the movie. His athletic body, perfect sports explanation, and practice and technique opened new opportunities to Chinese cinematography. In the book Chinese-Language Film, it is stated that “it was Bruce Lee who truly internationalized Hong Kong cinema, and it was Bruce Lee’s second film, Jingwu Men (Fist of Fury or The Chinese Connection) that set the tone to the cultural nationalism of the Hong Kong Kung film” (Lu and Yeh 287). As it was already mentioned, Bruce Lee became the first one who opened the Asian actors for American cinematography.
Bruce Lee became an idol for thousands of people around the world. However, Jackie Chan was able to achieve even greater success. Jackie Chan became the legend of Asian cinema in the late 70s after the cult kung fu masterpieces such as Drunken Master and Rush Hour. In the book Transnational Chinese Cinemas, the authors Sheldon Lu and Hsiao-peng Lu claim that “Jackie Chan since the late 1970s has been the most phenomenally popular and successful movie actor – and producer, and director, and stunt coordinator – in Hong Kong” (242). The actor proved to be not only a terrific fighter and a stunt man, but also a talented actor, a wonderful comedian, a prudent screenwriter, who knew perfectly his audience, a fantastically inventive stage manager of fights and stunts, and even a professional director. Jackie Chan also became a real example of true masculinity. In his films, the actor demonstrated the perfectly-shaped body and good sports preparation.
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Someone can claim that Chan simply imitated Lee’s style of martial arts. However, it is not true. Jackie Chan obviously adopted certain of Lee’s techniques. Nevertheless, he also added new forms in Lee’s style thus creating a new art peculiar only to Jackie Chan. In the book Chinese-Language Film, it is affirmed that “Jackie Chan carried on the nationalistic, masculinist legacy of Bruce Lee through on-screen mastery of kung fu put to service in the anti-Japanese cause” (Lu and Yeh 288). Besides, Jackie Chan became even a brighter person in the Chinese cinematography that received a big army of fans. It is associated with the fact that Jackie Chan’s films are different from other films with martial arts. His films are a mixture of fights and comedy.
Before becoming a successful and popular actor, Jackie Chan starred in small roles. Chan dreamed to conquer Hollywood. However, at first, the United States was not ready for Jackie Chan, action-comedy, Asian philosophy, and kung fu as such. In the book Kung Fu Cult Masters, it is stated that “Prior to the success of Rush Hour, Chan made four English-language films – The Battlecreek Brawl (1980), The Cannonball Run (1981), The Cannonball Run II (1983), and The Protector (1985)” (Hunt 170). He also worked as a stuntman for other well-known Chinese actors. The film Rush Hour brought the actor truly a success and worldwide recognition. It was a time of triumph for Jackie Chan. The time period marked the beginning of his new career and almost became the end of his old career. Rush Hour won the love of the audience all over the world. Moreover, most importantly, it led to a complete delight the American public and finally brought Jackie Chan in Hollywood.
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In the film, there is nothing unusual. It is based on the traditional pattern popular in the United States –“a buddy film”, where two dissimilar mates save the world. Although, this film became popular only because of Jackie Chan. He became the new face in Hollywood. Jackie Chan was not similar to the other popular American actors of that time. A figure of the 44-year-old actor, who performs all the tricks by himself, could not but cause real admiration. Rush Hour became a typical American movie. Nevertheless, Jackie Chan remained a real Chinese man. His Asian charm became one of the keys to the success of the film.
Another film where Jackie Chan demonstrated his kung fu skills was Drunken Master. Harmony can be a defining word for Drunken Master. In the movie, everything is extremely weighted, balanced, and well-distributed. The yin of dizzying scenes of fights skillfully and smoothly flows into the yang of comic inserts. All this eventually makes for a film that not only earned a great sum of money for Asian and gave birth to a myriad of clones but also finally cemented two things particularly in the cinema and in the general cultural pedestals – comedy martial arts and Jackie Chan. The movie was one of the first who brought humor in the Chinese action movie. In the movie, there is a kung fu as something distinctive and self-sufficient, as each fight shown in the film goes beyond the banal setting. There is nothing theatrical and unnatural. Every battle in the movie is an art and philosophy of life, which manifests itself through the beauty and precision of movement. It is worth noting that all the flavors of the classic film about martial arts, where each character shows a unique style. Drunken Master is a film that deservedly became a classic of the genre.
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Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan are considered the founders of the Chinese martial arts in cinematography. They both transformed a simple fight into something bigger. For them, martial arts became a philosophy. They helped the actors to develop their masculinity in the movies. Bruce Lee became the first Chinese actor popular all over the world. His roles in the movies were real examples of perfect acting and demonstration of kung fu. Jackie Chan also changed the face of Hollywood. His films combine kung fu and humor and differ from other movies with martial arts directed before.