THE GREAT DISASTER OF EAST MEETS WEST


Jackie Chan Rush Hour 2

-OR-

MAKING THE CASE FOR STAYING WHERE THEY ARE

 by Michael S Moore

Bruce Lee. Jackie Chan. Jet Li. Michelle Yeoh. Sammo Hung. Donnie Yen. Colin Chou. Ringo Lam. Tsui Hark. John Woo. All of them greats of martial arts films, almost all of them legendary in shaping martial arts cinema in one way or another. Many of them are entering the twilight of their respective careers due to age, and already a new crop of martial artists have come up, smashing their way into film: Tony Jaa, Jacky Wu Jing, Jeeja Yanin, Johnny Nguyen, and Iko Uwais, just to name a few. All of them incredibly talented with positive outlooks on the future for them all, entertaining us with fantastic acrobatics and amazing martial arts skills. Which is why it is so important that, despite what they may think and even what they might feel, they never come to these shores.

What all of the first group I mentioned have in common is that they all came to the USA to make films, and with but one exception, have failed here. First let’s understand why they came here. Bruce had already been in America before, doing the Green Hornet before forging his career in Hong Kong, and then returning to us to do Enter The Dragon, so that’s more or less understood. In the case of the others, Jackie Chan had come here once before but returned on his own terms with Rumble in the Bronx, which was a box office success. This opened the gates for everyone to try their hand, as that was shortly before China took control of Hong Kong, and no one knew what would happen to the freedoms they had enjoyed for so long, fearing the censorship that could occur under China’s control. I think the allure of Hollywood beckoned them, not necessarily because of the money, which was far more than they ever made here, but because they would enjoy less stressful productions, since they only needed to work on one film at a time (in Hong Kong many of them would be working on 2-3 films at the same time!), and due to their advanced ages, at least for the actors, less stress and strain on the body, since they would have some stunt doubles for some of the more crazier stunts. For the directors, it was a chance to work with bigger budgets and a different crop of movie stars. All of these wishes came true. They also resulted in failure and a complete waste of time.

To start with, one of the problems is that Hollywood wooed them here with promises of increased fame and fortune, and then proceeded to strip away all of the things that made them special to begin with.

One of the biggest issues are the fight scenes themselves. In the words of director Brett Ratner, on the first Rush Hour commentary, he stated that “Americans don’t like long fight scenes. A fight needs to be no more than 2 minutes long at most”. Let me go on record for citing  just how foolish and wrong that is, and that relegating Jackie Chan to 2 minutes is heresy. I would almost agree with his assessment-if you are talking about horrible fight scenes. These are people who have built careers on 5 to 10 to 30 minute fight scenes, and that’s what everyone wants to see, American or not. Unfortunately most USA directors agree with Ratner. Since this is so, they are having to not only shorten their fight scenes, but spend nearly zero time choreographing them, and they all wind up looking like shadows of their HK films. There’s not one fight in any of Jackie or Jet’s American films that resemble even their weakest HK efforts. Since they also can’t do any crazy falls or jumps or take hits due to the insurance companies, it further sanitized them.

Then we have the issue that, since they don’t speak much English, the need is felt to team them up with the likes of Chris Tucker, James Bond, Owen Wilson, Mark Walhberg, and DMX. Now we have someone who has equal, if not more screen time than they do either being overly dramatic or funny, which takes away from seeing one more fight scene, and the comedy has more misses than hits. The martial artist is pushed aside and relegated to being the sidekick who comes in and does a few moves before the up and coming actor takes over to be funny or dramatic. Then we come to the issue of CGI effects. You don’t need them if you have men and women who are their own greatest special effect. Seeing Jet defying gravity in Romeo Must Die or The One doesn’t come close to thrilling audiences as much as watching him fight Billy Chow at the end of Fist of Legend, or watching him and the Shaolin monks defend their temple at the end of Shaolin Temple.

Put simply, the Hollywood machine takes them all and makes them something we don’t want to see. It makes them tame. Less dangerous. Jackie Chan is a prime example of this. While in the USA he is forced to play buffoon after silly buffoon, and yes, in his HK films he is funny, but there was still danger there.You might laugh at or with him, but you still wouldn’t want to face him in a dark alley. The tigers have had their teeth pulled.

The good news is that most of them have gone back to Hong Kong, and have started making good films again. Donnie Yen may be the best Hong Kong martial artist working today, Sammo Hung has had a career renaissance with Killzone and Fatal Move, and the upcoming Ip Man 2, Michelle Yeoh is making waves in True Legend, Jet Li had the Warlords, but has mostly retired except for a few parts here and there, and Jackie Chan has been going back and forth between the USA and China, and has Shaolin and Chinese Zodiac in production, with Little Big Soldier and Shinjuku Incident recently released, while in the USA he had The Spy Next Door, which should tell you what Mr. Chan truly thinks of Hollywood, and his place in it.

I decided to write this after hearing calls on different blogsites and even among friends that they can’t wait “until Tony Jaa comes to the U.S.!” I would challenge that by asking “why would you want that?”

If Tony Jaa is what you want, you’ll never see that person here. If you believe he can make a film like The Protector here, with its jaw dropping 10 minute continous fight scene, you are kidding yourself. He would be a shadow of what you want him to be. Tony and the rest should stay at home and make their films there, under their own watchful eye and sensibilities, and the let them take flight in a way they never will be able to here.

I implore them, as a true fan of martial arts films, to stay in the comforts of home. Let fans in the United States love them from here, with our imports and subtitled films. Let our love reach across the ocean, and if Hollywood invites you here, please thank them for the offer, and then politely refuse. We won’t take it personally.

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12 Responses to “THE GREAT DISASTER OF EAST MEETS WEST”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    damn strait man!!!

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  2. I Totally agree. Not sure which is going to happen first. Hollywood will figure out an audience can, will, and want to see a longer fight/ action sequence. Or Brett Ratner will direct a good movie.

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  3. funny… I was thinking of this very thing this morning…
    I AGREE WITH EVERY WORD YOU SAY IN THIS BLOG and I think you put it beautifully.

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  4. Thanks all. I really appreciate the words. I hope the newest stars heed them, if not from me then someone else.

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  5. I totally agree with you, and I think the international retail markets for Asian action/martial arts movies are much more expansive than they were ten years ago, that these stars and directors are reaching a wider audience, without the need to visit Hollywood.

    One of the big differences is that American filmakers don’t want to choreograph a fight scene, they want to edit one together from a myriad of shots.

    For me, my personal bugbear is with The Mummy 3. Director Rob Cohen made such a big deal over the fact that he had Jet Li fighting Michelle Yeoh, and ended up with a horrible cgi/wire-fu mess. Meanwhile, Jackie Wu was jobbing in the opening credits as an anonymous assassin. Talk about missed opportunities…

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  6. Hiya! I came here to read from the FB thread. 🙂

    You make some really, really excellent points here. One thing that drives me CRAZY about Hollywood is that they make assertions (i.e. Americans don’t want to see long fight scenes) and then amazing blockbuster movies come and blow them out of the water (How many extended fight scenes were in “The Matrix” series? Or the huge success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?) yet for some reason these same patently false assumptions continue!!!

    On the flip side, though, I spent the weekend watching a few subbed Jackie Chan movies and there was definitely some ridiculous stuff (Like the one where he plays twins that were separated at birth, and one twin is a classical pianist and doesn’t know how to fight, and the other twin has a midget for a best friend…yeah, it gets worse from there). The ONLY good thing about those movies are the fight scenes.

    It seems to me that maybe neither side has it 100% right.

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  7. To a small extent-but are you really going to see a story first? That’s like going to see a musical-sure you want it all to be good-but ultimately why are you there? The fights are really what bring you there. When it all comes together you have an absolute classic. Ong Bak 2 doesn’t really have a good story, but holy shit was the action good. I think Jackie Chan and other international stars get it right 90% more than Hollywood would.

    Also, the film you are referring to was not really a true Jackie Chan film. The film was quickly cobbled together to raise money for a Director’s organization (I think) and was directed and written by a smorgasborg of directors, including John Woo, Ringo Lam, Yuen Woo Ping and I think Tsui Hark and more that went uncredited. Every other scene in the film was directed by someone different, and thus the plot, atmosphere, cinematography and comedy were all over the place. A true too many cooks in the kitchen, but it was done for a cause, and everyone involved didn’t really take any of it seriously past that.

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  8. Everybody who commented here had something good to say I think. Justin – liked your crack about Bret Rattner. Mikeoutwest – I agree that American directors would rather edit and fight scene than choreograph – nicely said. Mummy 3 also irritates me greatly – the scene between Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh is almost unwatchable due to the way it’s been edited. Such a waste of talent. And lastly, I agree with Mike when he asks “are you going to see a story first?” I recently read a critic who was writing about Kung Fu movies and he said that the the script is never the primary text. In other words the choreography is more important than the scripted dialogue. When you watch these movies you have to shift gears – it’s more like watching physical theatre and dance than watching a classic Hollywood film.

    Thanks for the blog, Mike. Judging from the length of this comment I seem to have a lot to get off my chest on this subject!

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  9. I am in agreement with you Kiai kick…Long past are the days of Kung-Fu theater & Nights of the fight! It seems the only way (these days) to get the fill
    that comes with watching true KungFu movies come when one returns to those movies of old. At lest (for myself) as of now there are none.I look forward to seeing the next..Tony Ja and the like make way in the U.S doing what it is that they do!, Martial arts..with out the lackluster imprint of hollywoods lessening point of veiw. Thankfully many of us ‘fans of the fist’ understand that for KungFu GoldenHarvest and the like is our Hollywood,
    Hollywood is an atherthought. Peek in every 4or5 months to if ANYthing is going good with them..every week though,every Friday it’s HK that we turn to and a great thing that is! Thanks for the post M.S MOORE

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  10. tatjanaathena Says:

    Excellent !

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  11. i have a question is jackie chan better then jetli but now wujing cuz wujing is next jetli

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