Friday, August 27, 2010

THE RACISM OF THE EXPENDABLES


What? Are you kidding me? Hollywood strikes again.

Of course there are going to be some who may think I’m over reacting about the racist undertones of The Expendables. May be so, but I’ve worked in Hollywood for 10 years as a fight choreographer and have been doing entertainment reporting on Asian films and Asian American actors since 1992 and so I’ve seen and heard a lot of what goes on behind the Hollywood “cels” that often times imprisons the truth.

Investigative articles I’ve written for Reuters on Asian American stereotypes in the entertainment industry and the blatant unfair treatment that has been plaguing Asian American actors in Hollywood since the silent film era has ruffled many feathers in the biz.

For example, in 2005, after I interviewed director Sergey Bodrov as to why he cast Caucasian actor Channing Tatum to play Genghis Khan in Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007), the ensuing article I wrote caused enough stir that he eventually cast Tadanobu Asano to play Khan.

What makes me sad and somewhat disappointed is that Jet Li perhaps did not see beyond the money as he did not read between the lines of who is character is and all those jokes about being a half man is not as humorous as it is being racist.

So although with The Expendables lead actor/director Sylvester Stallone my be strutting around like a peacock, if you remove the feathers from the chicken, the resulting tar is yet another “cheep” shot at Asian cinematic stereotypes.

Surprising when you consider that Expendables is a movie born out of Rambo 2, where John Rambo essentially fell in love with a brave Asian woman, a woman he respected.

One of the famous lines from Rambo 2 is when actress Julia Nickson as Co Bao, Rambo’s love interest, puppy-eyed says, “Rambo, you are not expendable.” The line resonated with Stallone then and now we have the end product.

Similar to Rambo this wayward group of hardened mercenaries known as the Expendables also only know a life of war, where the only loyalty they know is to each other.

Roll call: Leader and mastermind Barney Ross, (Stallone); former SAS blade expert Lee Christmas (Statham); snipper Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren); demolition expert Toll Road (Randy Couture); long barrel weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Terry Crews); and hand-to-hand combat specialist combat specialist Yin Yang (Li).

The only problem is that because Yin Yang is a short Asian man, the Expendables is comprised not of six men, but five and a half men. No joke there on the virility of Asians…right?

It’s this sort of stereotype that the other Lee, Bruce Lee, tried to eliminate and keep away from and here we are in 2010 doing it again. So much for racist humor by Stallone and his co-writer, guess they thought that was funny. The Asians I saw in the audience were not amused with the “joke.”

The irony is that Stallone and Statham are not much taller than Li, yet we hear no jokes about Italians and Englishmen. But that would be improper…right?

Li looks out of place and his dialogue doesn’t do him much justice where the running joke on Li’s size gets old quickly. Li additionally brought in Corey Yuen and three members of his stunt team to choreograph his fight scenes, which also looks to be a waste of time and talent as Li’s fights are shot just as poorly as all the other fights in the film.

It’s the usual Hollywood style shot fight scenes that have been plaguing American films for the past five or so years, where it’s all close shots, snappy editing, can’t see anything and there is zero creativity.

Yet when it came to the fights, Stallone mentions that he was going for reality. But let’s face it, no fight on any TV program or film can be real unless it’s in a ring or octagon. There’s really nothing cool about any of the action sequence as the audience sat in total quite waiting for that “Ooooaaaa” moment that never came.

To further compound the dizzying look of the fights, Stallone used that jerky camera motion made famous in the first few seasons of NYPD Blue (1993). The expected MMA vs. WWF fight scene does occur, perhaps a symbol of one dying out the other going stronger. Oh, and we also learn totally useful information during Couture’s minute soliloquy, "Ode to a Cauliflower Ear." That’s character depth…not.

So just how good is this film?

For those who know martial arts films, this says it all. It’s as good as Li’s WAR meets Stallone’s Rambo 3 partially wrapped in Cradle 2 the Grave, but with a little positive hint of The Transporter.

Is that good or bad? Depends on who you are and what you expect from these living legends. Apparently my expectations were too high as within 15 minutes, the mood, most acting, the script, “humorous” one-liners, action and fight choreography, and directing were similar to Tiger Woods’ comeback to the golfing world. And apparently Tiger is still not out of the “Woods” yet.

And can somebody tell me how in god’s name can Li loose two fights against Lundgren?

5 comments:

  1. If Jet Li was replaced by a short white man, they would still make the "1/2 a man" joke. you want the film to be racist; if Li felt it was racist, he probably would not have agreed to going along with it. Oh, and Lundgren is a larger, stronger man, and the extent of his training or fighting prowess cannot be determined by the information given to us in this film.

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  2. 1 minute ago

    In reality Jet wons the fight. But since this is a american movie and Stallone's movie Stallone needed the spot light (Stallone's film), so Stallone had to save him. It called PIS = Plot induced stupidity. Jet could've easily counter when he was held up in the air (We've seen him do it so many times in his other movies) He'll he could have just grappled and snapped Doplh's hand (Like in fist of legend). This movies= lacks good hand to hand fight scenes.Downplayed their hand to hand specialist
    Why downplay their hand to hand specialist? So the other cast would be on the same level. Jet Li literally won 15 gold metals/ martial arts tournaments in real life. If he gave it his all it would be stealing the lime light. The other casts are great no question. Everyone have their unique talents in action, but Jet overwhelm them in the fighting coordination department. He had to tone it down.

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  3. Gunner is bigger & trained which gives him the advantage, not to mention his character was hopped up on drugs all the time.Get f'n over it & grow some thicker skin, god I hate people that are booty hurt so easily.

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  4. No Dr. Craig D. Reid, you are not overreacting. The Expendables is blatantly racist. This movie made Jet Li, an Asian-American man, not only small, but inferior as well. As an ethnic minority, Jet Li is a representative of Asian-American men, and painted this picture to American audiences that Asian-American men are small not just in size, but also in importance and influence. As an Asian-Canadian man, I am both angered and disgusted at the creators of the Expendables for reinforcing racial stereotypes. It is the 21st century. We should be moving toward diversity, justice, and equality.

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  5. I just ended watching The Expendables 3 and I guess that now with Wesley Snipes on the team, the "african-american" quota was already filled so the had to remove Terry Crews... It was too obvious! I'm glad they didn't unnecessary kill Hale Caesar though...

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