Masculinity in translation: Jackie Chan's transcultural star text

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Author: Mark Gallagher
Date: Spring 1997
Publisher: University of Texas at Austin (University of Texas Press)
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 11,578 words

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Prologue: Genre and Masculinity

For nearly two decades, action film has been one of Hollywood's principal money-making genres. Largely geared toward a young male audience, action film places at its center the now-conventional "action hero." The hero, almost always male, displays a range of character traits associated with traditional Western definitions of masculinity. The cultural prescription for this hero includes physical size, strength, charisma, pronounced facial features, the ability to generate action, and facility with aggressive behavior. The presumed "naturalness" of this combination of traits disguises the construction of male gender identity, an identity normalized in virtually all Western cultural pursuits, institutions, and media.

The constructedness of the Western action hero's identity becomes apparent when one looks for evidence of the type in other genres. The male action hero does not travel well. Except in the complicit space of other "male" genres (e.g., the war film or the western), the rigid male identity swiftly assumes farcical proportions. Genre boundaries thus play a fundamental role in defining and constraining male identity. The construction of the action-hero persona depends upon complementary narrative conventions. The character type requires a formidable villain against which to test the hero's mettle; the plot must continually place the hero in danger to prove his courage and fortitude; perhaps most importantly, other characters must appear to take the hero seriously lest his fabricated, ritualized maleness be revealed. Despite its prominence, Hollywood's typology of the action hero does not reign worldwide. Jackie Chan, the Hong Kong star visible in U.S. theaters after the widespread distribution in 1996 of Rumble in the Bronx and Supercop, revamps the Western action-hero persona by combining exceptional acrobatic skills with earnestness and comic timing.

Meanwhile, Hollywood's action-hero conventions become more familiar each year. As Thomas Schatz observes in Hollywood Genres, some revision in the treatment of generic conventions necessarily occurs over time to maintain audience interest. Drawing on Christian Metz's model of generic evolution, Schatz describes the "classic-parody-contestation-critique" progression of genre forms. (1) Hollywood action films appear to have reached the parody stage at most. Films such as Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994) and Tony Scott's True Romance (1993, screenplay by Tarantino) introduce self-conscious characters and plot devices that show the problematic relationship between screen conventions and the genre's absurd relation to everyday life. (2) Other action films update their conventions by placing well-known comic personas in the lead roles. Bruce Willis graduated from the sardonic 1980s television comedy Moonlighting to the Die Hard films (1988, 1990, 1995), and Eddie Murphy made the leap to the action comedies 48 Hours (1982) and the Beverly Hills Cop series (1984, 1987, 1993) after establishing a comedic persona as a Saturday Night Live cast member. In these cases, star personas linked to a particular type help to shape the dynamics of genre.

Hollywood films that mix action and comedy usually subordinate conventions of one genre to the requirements of the other. As Steve Neale and Frank Krutnik observe in Popular Film and Television Comedy, the broad range of available comic situations permits comedy to work well as a hybrid genre. They argue that while other genres also combine into hybrid forms, comedy "seems especially suited for hybridization, in large part because the local forms responsible for the deliberate generation of laughter can be inserted at some point into most other generic contexts without disturbing their conventions." (3) Though audiences accustomed to action-film conventions may find humor amid scenes of spectacular violence and destruction, comedic elements tend to be decorative rather than fundamental to narrative pacing or viewer enjoyment. Hollywood genre films usually structure action/comedy blends through "fish out of water" themes, either by drawing on elements of a specific star persona or building such themes into a story. Eddie Murphy's streetwise, sarcastic persona clashes with conventional police procedures in Beverly Hills Cop and its sequels, and Dennis Hopper's manic persona lends humorous connotations to the villain roles he assumes in Speed (1994) and Waterworld (1995). Arnold Schwarzenegger's comic vehicles Twins (1988), Kindergarten Cop (1990), and Junior (1995) gain their primary comedic value from placing the action star in situations that deny his trademark physique the opportunity to fend off enemy hordes. Similarly, the comic plot of Running Scared (1986) relies upon the appearance of the slender, wise-cracking Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines as urban police officers who do not fit the mold of traditional masculinity that such roles require. In each of these examples, the foundations of the original genres remain intact. As comedies, none of the Schwarzenegger films noted above include scenes of torture or mass destruction, elements germane to action films. (4) Conversely, the Die Hard films never stray into slapstick, which might threaten the integrity and suspensefulness of the dominant action narrative.

Interplay between the two genres is limited, because comedy's encroachments into the action genre potentially place the male hero's gender identity in distress. To retain traditional masculine principles, comedic material must resonate outward from the protagonist; he must control the humor. If a narrative makes the protagonist a comedic foil, he becomes an inappropriate action hero according to Western conventions, and by association the type itself appears unviable as a model of identity. In contrast, when a wise-cracking hero lives through beatings, gunshot wounds, and explosions, he appears to represent a traditional male whose fortitude and self-assurance are so absolute that he can laugh in the face of danger. Rather than reconstructing male identity, decorative comic elements refine the reigning model to give it charm and the semblance of flexibility, thereby renewing its appeal.

The Hong Kong Paradigm

Hollywood's mode of generic specificity does not hold sway globally. Hong Kong, the dominant producer of films for the Asian market, makes genre films outside the schema of classical or contemporary U.S. cinema. Hong Kong films tend to offer viewers either sentimental romances or crime and action dramas. (5) Within each of these two generic frameworks, elements from other forms such as musicals, comedies, fantasy, and historical epics often combine in a single narrative. Hong Kong's, indeed all of Asia's, largest box-office draw for more than a decade has been Jackie Chan, actor, director, and screenwriter of manically entertaining and ingenious films that blend furiously paced action sequences and stunts with whimsical comedy. Chan's films construct a star persona at odds with virtually every type Hollywood has developed. Through a combination of acrobatics, hand-to-hand combat skills, self-deprecating wit, and psychological and physical vulnerability, Chan's persona exudes a low-key charisma that challenges Western (and perhaps global) definitions of masculinity.

By examining Jackie Chan's star persona as it has developed over the course of his prolific and ongoing film career, this essay studies how his persona operates in Western culture, most particularly how it relates to Hollywood's conception of the male action hero. (6) Chan's status within Hong Kong and throughout Asia also merits detailed study, but such analysis is beyond the scope of this essay. Physically, Chan incorporates into action-oriented narratives the burlesque body fundamental to comedy. His body's continuous, antic motion, feminized through its implied vulnerability, calls into question conceptions of the ideal male body. Chan appears simultaneously active and vulnerable, in contrast to the archetypal action hero, whose physical presence paradoxically relies upon a literal inactivity or passivity. Chan's films further avoid the erotic, and often homoerotic, treatments of the male body common in Western action films. By Western standards, Chan's costumes and bearing do not exude sex appeal, nor does his body attain object status through displays of flexed muscles or through the slow, deliberate movements that U.S. action films use to connote manly self-assurance and control. (7) Moreover: the comedy in Chan's films stems not merely from. the actor himself, but from the actions of other characters and from the convergence of narrative circumstances upon the hero. Comedy often places Chan in submissive, masochistic positions, destabilizing his characters' control over the films' humor, if not their action.

Prior to the successful U.S. release of Rumble in the Bronx in 1996 (released in Hong Kong and elsewhere in 1995), Chan's films have relied principally on Asian audiences for their revenues. Like much Hong Kong cinema, however, they often consciously refer to the basic plot frameworks of Hollywood films for narrative inspiration. As Chan's films enjoy greater circulation among Western audiences, Chan's star persona operates more strikingly in contrast to U.S. films' archetypes of identity and masculinity. Challenging the notion that Western models of masculinity reflect a monolithic global ideal, Chan's character types and his films' narrative devices exhibit alternative modes of male heroism, modes scarcely evident in U.S. popular culture. (8) Though Jackie Chan will likely not reappear in a U.S.-made film himself, Hollywood will doubtless reinscribe his persona (but probably not his ethnicity) into its products when action films reach a phase of contestation. (9)

Jackie Chan was born in Hong Kong in 1954. (10) His Cantonese surname, Chan Kong-Sang (or Chen Gang-shen), means "born in Hong Kong"; later, he assumed the screen name Sing Lung (aka Chen Long or Cheng Long), which translates as "becoming a dragon." His multiple appellations suggest but one aspect of a polyvalent international image. Chan spent most of his adolescence at Hong Kong's Peking Opera School (also known as the China Drama Academy or the Chinese Opera Research Institute), studying martial arts, acrobatics, and performance. During this period he also embarked upon a career as a child actor, appearing in his first film in 1962 (at age seven) and acting in more than twenty films in the next decade. U.S. audiences first glimpsed Chan in the Bruce Lee showcase Enter the Dragon (1973), in which Chan appeared as a minor stunt fighter. He first appeared as a lead player in 1976, and following his appearances in a string of derivative kung-fu films, he achieved his first substantial box-office success in 1978's Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, in which he began to develop a self-parodying comic persona. Soon after, Chan debuted as a director with The Young Master (1980), for which he also played the lead role and received screenwriting credit. He has subsequently directed more than ten of his star vehicles as well as serving as screenwriter and/or stunt choreographer in most of them.

Chan's films consistently set box-office records in Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia, but until recently he has remained largely unknown to American audiences. Most of his Hong Kong films have received only limited release in the West, and his early English-language films fared poorly in the American market. He appeared as a comic supporting character in The Cannonball Run (1982) and its sequel and played the lead in The Big Brawl (1980) and The Protector (1985), both unremarkable B-grade action pictures noteworthy only for Chan's unusual stuntwork. In The Big Brawl, Chan's performance includes some comedy. In one mischievous fight sequence Chan, adhering to his screen father's dictate that he refrain from fighting, adopts a passive combat style, ducking or sidestepping his opponents' blows so that they collide with each other or with brick walls. Mostly, though, he appears in the film as a sincere and serious fighter in the Bruce Lee mold. In The Protector, Chan plays the one-dimensional Asian Other, and his character traits include, almost exclusively, honor and solemnity. To date, mainstream American cinema has offered no complex models of Asian male behavior. Hollywood's conventions of genre and character still fail to admit the possibility of differentiated conceptions of Asian masculinity.

The U.S. release of Rumble in the Bronx has raised Chan's profile considerably in the West. While most Hong Kong films appearing in the United States play only in art houses or in Chinese-American neighborhood theaters, Rumble in the Bronx received widespread American distribution, complete with a high-visibility print and television advertising campaign. Hong Kong films' budgets are minuscule by Hollywood standards, so Hong Kong films can hardly compete with Hollywood output in terms of production values or special effects. Nonetheless, unlike most Asian films exported to the West, Rumble in the Bronx was marketed as an action film, and its advertising, similar to that for Supercop's rerelease (the film originally appeared in Hong Kong in 1992 as Police Story 3 and played briefly in the United States in 1993), highlights the fact that Chan performs his own stunts (figure 1). To broaden the films' appeal to American audiences, they have also been dubbed into English and reedited to emphasize action sequences and comedy over character development, and American rock and rap soundtracks have been added. Though Rumble's success suggests that U.S. viewers can be drawn to films with non-Western heroes, it is important to remember that films like Rumble and Supercop are foreign films repackaged for Western audiences rather than films produced by the U.S. film industry. Showcases of Asian or Asian-American men remain virtually nonexistent in U.S.-produced cinema.

Images of Masculinity in Hollywood Action Films

Hollywood's simplistic conception of Asian men begs the larger question of the degree to which Western cinema provides images of polyvalent masculinity. Male genre films' prescriptions of masculinity orbit around various aspects of gender identity, suggesting that multiple screen conceptions of manhood do exist, even if individual star personas often reflect only one. Classical Hollywood types include the man's man (John Wayne and Clark Gable, for example), the troubled man (Montgomery Cliff and James Dean), the dangerous man (Robert Mitchum, Robert De Niro, and James Cagney in his gangster roles), the ladies' man (Cary Grant and Tony Curtis, and Shampoo-era [1975] Warren Beatty), the sensitive man (Alan Alda and perhaps Jimmy Stewart), and in comedy, the obnoxious clown (Jim Carrey and the early Steve Martin), the likable idiot (Peter Sellers, Robin Williams, and John Candy), and the neurotic (Woody Allen, Albert Brooks, and Spalding Gray). Lured by the baby-boom generation's disposable income, Hollywood has more recently introduced the mature new-age man (Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves [1990] and Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven [1992] and The Bridges of Madison County [1995]) and the superhusband (a role assumed by, among others,Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies [1994] and Bruce Willis in the first two Die Hard films).Though this list is by no means exhaustive, it shows that mainstream U.S. film admits a wide latitude of masculine images, albeit images contained within specific conventional formats. Similarly, while both genres and star personas are highly malleable, individual films often cannot tolerate varying elements of masculinity within a single character, unless, as already noted, one element predominates.

Hollywood's action-film genre tends to deny many of the above character types, despite invocations of marriage and fatherhood in films like True Lies and Undercover Blues (1993). Audience identification depends on the construction of a powerful and charismatic protagonist, in accord with traditional formulations of masculinity. As noted earlier, Western archetypes of the male action hero emphasize connotations of physical presence: prominent body musculature; Nordic or Greco-Roman features, meant to indicate an imposing nobility; and a bearing that suggests self-confidence. Rigid posture and a fixed gaze work in contrast to characteristics deemed unauthoritative, such as a relaxed carriage and a roving, curious, or furtive gaze. Western action films fetishize the male body, relating it to classical statuary's static images of power. Displays of flexing muscles or tense postures (similar to soldiers at attention or athletes awaiting a starting gun) suggest bodies ready for action, if not in action.

Paradoxically, the male protagonist, who functions traditionally as t]he active component of mainstream narrative, assert,; his control over narrative events through physical stasis. The suggestion of male invulnerability demands physical inertness. Physical and linguistic signifiers of hardness or density--the "chiseled" faces of Schwarzenegger, Charlton Heston, or Kirk Douglas, with their square jaws and accentuated cheekbones, the deep voices and measured delivery of John Wayne and Sylvester Stallone, even suggestive names like "Brick" or "Rocky"--connote indomitable power. The slow, deliberate movements of protagonists of westerns, notwithstanding the occasional quick draw or punch, suggest that motion itself is a travail: Wayne's unhurried actions in Red River (1948) and The Searchers (1956), Henry Fonda's self-control in Warlock (1959), and Charles Bronson's languid movements throughout Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) offer representative examples.

Arguably, the more Western heroes move, the more they become feminized or eroticized. In genres like the action film or spy film, character mannerisms frequently evoke similarities to prowling beasts of prey. Inevitably, such mannerisms intersect with androgynous images of motion. Schwarzenegger moves with "catlike" stalking motions in Commando (1985) and Predator (1987), among other films. Stallone displays the boxer's "floating like a butterfly" poise in fight sequences in the Rocky films. Often the male hero moves with an eroticized sleekness or fluidity that parallels the visual allure of female runway models; witness Jean-Claude Van Damme in Timecop (1994) or Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man (1993). In these instances, the male body in motion suggests an erotic display, which, by association with countless Western images of eroticized women, feminizes the male as well.

Numerous feminist theorists have called attention to the traditional organization of narrative around the male protagonist, suggesting an opposition between man as the determinant of action and woman as the facilitator or place-marker of male activity. Laura Mulvey argues that "the male protagonist is free to command the stage, a stage of spatial illusion in which he articulates the look and creates the action." (11) In an extension of Mulvey's project, Teresa de Lauretis observes that in the male-controlled space of narrative, "the female character may be all along, throughout the film, representing and literally marking out the place [to] which the hero will cross." (12) Narrative, then, presumably features active, mobile men and passive, inert women. The male action hero, however, demonstrates power primarily through a lack of motion, for once in motion, he appears vulnerable, acted-upon rather than active.

The male body on the run typically signifies escape or retreat. Films often use such behavior to comic effect, as in Running Scared and Midnight Run (1988), and certainly in Keaton's and Chaplin's films. Only when the protagonist "stands his ground" does he embody an uncompromised conception of male dominance. (13) Film theory has not adequately addressed the paradox of male immobility. The spectacle of the posturing male, fundamental to bodybuilding competitions and to other popular images like movie posters and rock album covers, calls attention not only to the exhibition of male power but also to the "to-be-looked-at-ness" of the male body itself. In an essay on masculinity, Pat Kirkham and Janet Thumim note "the contradiction between the vulnerable passivity arguably implicit in the state of being-looked-at, and the dominance and control which patriarchal order expects its male subjects to exhibit." (14) However, they do not address the obverse principle, the connotations of femininity that the mobile male body produces. Such connotations occur in sports as well as films: running backs in football are usually chased, despite being positioned on "offense" and boxers move around the ring to dodge blows. In each of these cases another powerful male does the chasing or punching. Nevertheless, a successful escape or feint appears consistent with notions of masculine mastery over events, but only to a point. A satisfactory display of Western male power demands that the male eventually cease flight and stand and attack.

Film audiences regard escapes and dodges in relation to their specific generic contexts. In virtually all of his films, Chan uses flight as a survival strategy. The tactic appears incongruous with the "stand and fight" style of Hollywood action films, a style that depends upon a fundamental paradox: the inactive body of the action hero. Only in the limited context of what might be called the "escape film"--films like The Defiant Ones (1958), The Warriors (1979), The Running Man (1987), The Fugitive (1993), No Escape (1994), and Fled (1996), in which a hero or group of heroes rushes from one perilous situation to another, pursued by policemen or villainous gangs--does flight adhere to masculine ideology. These films, which build their stories around the teleology of men's escapes, risk feminizing their protagonists with such a narrative device. Even in situations in which flight appears admirable or heroic, heroes are motivated by a feminine logic of survival rather than a masculine logic of power and conquest. In The Fugitive, Harrison Ford's protagonist is feminized through his vulnerability--he does not: carry a weapon or display bulging muscles, and he cries several times--while the pursuing policeman, played by Tommy Lee Jones, assumes the "pure" masculine role. One source of Ford's credibility and appeal in the film is precisely this feminization, which makes him an object of empathy rather than idolization. In most escape films, the protagonist's flight is made to appear sensible because his pursuers are more numerous or better armed, and often the hero's masculinity is proven at the climactic point at which he single-handedly overcomes his foes, as evident in The Running .Man and First Blood (1982). (15) Within the action genre, then, the pursued only retain their masculine identity by triumphing over overwhelming odds or superhuman representations of masculinity.

Comedy in Notion

Chan's films rely on comic treatments of escape and flight, feminizing his characters while reinscribing his antagonists as caricatures of "serious" masculinity. While Chan's stunts resemble those of Keaton and Lloyd, their generic context differs markedly. Keaton, for example, is hardly a paradigm for the Hollywood action hero, yet Chan's similar agility, grace, and underdog persona translate effectively to the action genre. Chan's films import the pratfalls and feminizing situations of comedy, adding a more genial source of appeal to the masculine identification promoted by his combat prowess. Comedy shifts his films' emphasis away from the action film's masculine schema of mastery and control. One crucial distinction, then, between Chan's films and the conventional Hollywood action genre is the latter's consistent refusal to place its protagonists in comic, feminizing situations. Chan's films foreground the star's reluctant-hero persona, making his defeats more poignant and his victories more inspiring.

Chan's persona relies heavily on uninterrupted movement as a signifier of limitless maneuverability. His films usually include multiple martial-arts combat sequences, applying a trademark style that fight choreographer Craig Reid identifies as the "Perpetual Motion Technique." Its premise, Reid observes, "is the maintenance of continuous body motion throughout the entire fight sequence to give the impression of nonstop action" (16) (figure 2). In Drunken Master 2 (1994), for example, Chan battles scores of axwielding assassins for nearly five minutes of screen time, remaining out of his attackers' reach by leaping, punching, and kicking his way around a spacious teahouse. Fight sequences in his films typically occur amid elaborate sets, and combat covers a great deal of space, the result of Chan's traversal of horizontal and vertical distances. In Hollywood action films, by comparison, the protagonist dominates the spectacle no matter how disproportionately large the backdrop of action might be. In a scene in Rambo: First Blood Part II, for instance, Sylvester Stallone appears in medium shot while a massive fireball erupts behind him. Camera perspective allows Rambo and the fireball to appear roughly the same size, making the hero appear larger than life to the viewing eye. Rambo runs, bare-chested and sweating, toward the camera in slow motion, making his body a spectacle for erotic contemplation.

Jackie Chan's characters rarely, if ever, receive erotic or epic-hero treatment in his films. Though he engages in hand-to-hand combat throughout his films, he rarely appears shirtless or in the conventional action garb of a torn T-shirt or other revealing or formfitting clothing. Camera angles do not denote his character as an object: close-ups, conspicuously absent in his early starring roles, later highlight his comic facial expressions, eschewing "tough-guy" reaction shots and fragmentary shots of isolated limbs or muscles. When in motion, he appears most often in medium or long shots, so his body does not dominate scenographic space, and the camera does not devote attention to his body's proportions. The camera frames him primarily to capture him in action, to show his performance of acrobatic feats.

Chan's films typically include stunts and sets that dwarf his character. In Project A, Part 2 (1987), the lengthy final fight sequence occurs in an open-air warehouse environment and concludes atop a multilevel bamboo tower, which Chan apparently covers from top to bottom (and vice versa). Throughout the sequence, Chan acts on the defensive, evading attackers and throwing obstacles in his pursuers' paths. He delivers his blows in transit and moves toward new ground from which to attack or ward off foes. The instinct for self-preservation takes precedence over dramatic, static, "ready for action" poses.

Chan's perpetual-motion style showcases not only the actor's combat skills. Continuous body movement also serves as a primary component of his comic persona. His acrobatic feats parallel those of a circus performer and align him with silent-film comedians like Keaton, Chaplin, and Lloyd. As Gerald Mast observes of early screen comedies, "The essential comic object was the human body, and its most interesting movements were running, jumping, riding, colliding, falling, staggering, leaping, twirling, and flying." (17) As Jackie Chan has gained popularity and assumed directorial control of his films, the films' action has gradually shifted from an emphasis on kung fu to a preoccupation with stuntwork and nonviolent acrobatic feats. Nearly every article about Chan written for an American publication cites Chan's interpretations of famous scenes from Keaton's and Lloyd's films. In Project A, Part 2, Chan choreographs the spectacular fall of a huge decorative wall, updating Buster Keaton's falling-house stunt from Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1924). In the first Project A (1983), Chan revisits the image from Safety Last (1923) of Lloyd dangling from a clock-tower arm, placing himself atop a clock tower in a similarly perilous position. Differentiating his version from Lloyd's, and in accord with the sometimes masochistic appeal of his films, Chan, handcuffed, plummets to the ground.

Neither Lloyd's nor Chan's comic scenario fits the Hollywood paradigm of male action. Both men's stunts, like Keaton's, subordinate the heroic individual--represented visually by the spectacular image of Rambo noted above--to the discernible proportions of character and massive objects. In an essay on the history of film comedy, Tom Gunning notes Keaton's temporary helplessness amid machinery. The comedian becomes "a projectile in thrall to the laws of mechanics." (18) Devices in Keaton's films, like those in Chan's, work as comic props, affording characters the opportunity to engage in humorous struggles. With few exceptions, the Hollywood action film uses encounters with objects or machinery for dramatic spectacle, not for slapstick. Though Hollywood action films put individual characters at the center of large-scale action, such a focus magnifies the protagonist to mythic proportions. In comparison, Chan's films, like those of the silent comedians, depict large events in relation to human dimensions. Again, the generic context provides the crucial difference: Hollywood models its action heroes after King Kong, while Chan adopts slapstick techniques and works more closely to Fay Wray's scale.

Carnivalesque Space and the Grotesque or Distorted Body

The action style and narrative settings of Chan's films incorporate substantial elements of the carnivalesque and the grotesque. Through their use of the distinctively low cultural form of kung fu and through the modest class status of the films' sympathetic characters, Chan's films depict a form of carnivalesque ritual. Mikhail Bakhtin's theorization of the carnival world corresponds closely to the narrative terrain of Chan's films. In Rabelais and His World, Bakhtin defines the carnivalesque realm as a liminal and ambivalent space, a festive terrain that breaks down boundaries between performers and audience, celebrates transgression, and simultaneously mocks and affirms. Action in Chan's films also parallels Bakhtin's theorization of the grotesque body. The kicks and leaps germane to kung fu correspond with the grotesque's focus on the lower body stratum, and Chan's feminization further inverts the masculine action-hero persona. Bakhtin also argues that "if we consider the grotesque body in its extreme aspects, it never presents an individual body." (19) The grotesque body, he contends, is porous and connected to other bodies. Such fluidity is apparent in the numerous scenes in Chan's films in which he battles multiple opponents simultaneously. Both Chan and his foes move as a single choreographed unit, making repeated contact with one another and manifesting "the typical grotesque image of sweating" (20) (figure 3). The overall exaggeration and excess of the action sequences in Chan's films also contributes to their grotesque imagery.

The grotesque style is a substantial source of appeal and accessibility for Chan's films. Through exaggeration and excess, the films transport the well-meaning underdog into a realm that degrades elite institutions and rituals, affirming folk values and ingenuity. Chan's characters are typically working class (police officers, young peasants, or wandering adventurers), and while they often contend with authority or bureaucracy, their fighting prowess removes them to a differently ordered world where bodily displays determine status. Stuart Kaminsky's generic definition of the kung-fu film protagonist applies to most of Chan's characters:"The Kung Fu hero ... is invariably a lower-class working figure ... Bruce Lee, and others, by their size and nationality, are metaphors for the downtrodden. The Hong Kong Chinese laborer is certainly a disdained member of society from Japan to Europe and has never been considered hero material before." (21) The dexterity and fighting skills that Chan's working-class characters display show the range of situations in which a comic, acrobatic persona may operate to achieve respect or renown. Chan thus becomes an international ambassador for a revaluation of Asian masculinity.

The issue of body size is central to an understanding of Chan's star persona, particularly in reference to Western archetypes of masculinity. His body does not ascribe to the traditional iconography of classical, idealized maleness. Viewed by Asian audiences, Chan's height and body proportions appear average and less than ideal. In absolute terms, his small stature becomes evident in many of his films when he squares off against a much larger opponent. Chan's unexceptional size functions as a component of his star image. His films present his body in its natural scale, without embellishments of camera position or complementary casting that would reconstruct him as a proportionally dominant male. Chan's treatment bears comparison to Hollywood's longstanding tradition of using cinematic illusions to make its male heroes, from Alan Ladd to Sylvester Stallone, appear taller than they really are.

Many of Chan's stunts literally distort the traditional masculine form for comic effect. In Armor of God (1986), Chan curls his body up behind a round shield and rolls away from a band of spear-wielding foes, then uses the shield as a sled to ride down a grassy mountainside. (In this scene, his pursuers become objects of comic spectacle as well when they follow Chan en masse, riding their own shields.) In Police Story, Chan uses an umbrella to hook himself to the lower rear, then to an upper side window, of a double-decker bus that escaping criminals have commandeered. Clinging to the vehicle like a tenacious insect, Chan twists his exposed body to avoid collisions with passing cars and to evade his assailants' attempts to knock him off the bus. In Twin Dragons (1992), Chan leaps feet-first into the back seat of a parked car during a chase, wriggling his body through the narrow aperture of the open window. In each of these scenes, Chan's visually amusing contortions of the body are at odds with images of idealized males. The erect or fully extended body represents the normalized view of the male body, as a glance at any survey of Western figure art indicates.

Through demonstrations of the modestly proportioned body's access to confined spaces and the contortions necessary to dodge larger physical barriers, Chan implicitly critiques the hardness and rigidity characteristic of the Western action hero. Chan's malleable physical form also emblematizes the social and geographic body's potential for mobility. Such a metaphor resonates strongly in Hong Kong, where, as Esther Yau argues in an essay on the colony's cinema, "the public's preoccupations are survival and upward mobility." (22) Hong Kong's culture combines the ideological heritage of mainland, Communist China with capitalism's economic preoccupation. Chan's domestic popularity stems in part from his evocation of multiple facets of Hong Kong society and culture. Audiences can read his characters as loyal tools of the state or anticorruption reformers, persecuted underdogs or charismatic heroes, dashing adventurers or humble Everymen.

The narratives of Chan's films offer multiple or contradictory readings, sometimes earnest and prosocial, sometimes jesting and anti-authoritarian. As Neale and Krutnik argue, the comedian's "disruptiveness tends to be contained, and therefore motivated by a (culturally conventional) opposition between eccentricity and social conformity." (23) Chan's own ambivalent persona negotiates this volatile terrain. In Armor of God, he portrays an avaricious treasure hunter, ostensibly unconcerned with the plight of his companions. In the film's final sequence, though, concern for his friends' safety takes precedence over his own well-being. Moreover, the film concludes with the destruction of the antagonists' lair and treasure horde, a catastrophe Chan inadvertently sets in motion. To reinscibe his character as a happy-go-lucky adventurer, Chan finally shows no apparent remorse at his loss of fortune. Chan's character offers a simultaneously whimsical and searing critique of authority in Project A, Part 2, in which he plays a naval officer assigned to root out police corruption. Over the course of his investigation, he discovers both comic and sinister malfeasance among law enforcement and government officials and finds his most trustworthy allies among a group of revolutionaries. By the film's end, the members of the navy, the "good" police officers, the revolutionaries, and even a band of motley pirates all rally around Chan. Class conflict drives the narrative of Twin Dragons, where Chan portrays both a working-class auto mechanic and his twin, a refined concert pianist. The film's comic situations and double entendres rely on class disparities, but in the end, a double wedding equalizes Chan's characters and their respective mates. (24) In these cases, and throughout his films, Chan serves as the locus for a negotiation of Hong Kong's class dynamics.

Masculine Instability

Chan's kung-fu fights also exaggerate conventional trials of masculinity. In one of his earlier kung-fu comedies, Fantasy Mission Force (1979), Chan first appears as a contestant in a rural "fighting champion" tournament. Before combat, he engages in a game of psychological one-upmanship that revolves around oral fixations: his opponent smokes a cigarette, so Chan smokes a thicker cigarette. His opponent counters by smoking a cigar, and Chan responds with a larger cigar. Finally his opponent lights a pipe, and Chan follows by puffing on an oversized pipe, filling the screen space with smoke. Overtones of sexual insecurity and male competition inform the scene's visual comedy. In the ensuing fighting match, Chan's blows do no apparent damage to his far larger opponent, exposing the preceding phallic showdown as a poor litmus test for male power.

Chan adopts the mannerisms and static posture of the invincible male only to expose such characteristics as ridiculous and laughably artificial. At the conclusion of the bus chase in Police Story, Chan assumes a stance that suggests the mythical qualities of the Western action hero. Standing alone on an open highway as the bus bears down on him, he patiently loads bullets into his revolver, then aims it at the onrushing vehicle. The driver, in a panic, brakes quickly, sending the passengers flying through the front windows as the bus grinds to a halt directly in front of Chan's unflinching body. A shot of Chan standing rigid, gun pointed at an enormous bus, the scene's editing tempo, and sound effects like the villains' stupefied cries code the event as comedy. The absurdity of the moment, which with minor variations in editing and music would appear convincing in a Hollywood action narrative, demonstrates Chan's ability to parody consciously the conventions of Western male heroism.

When Jackie Chan steps briefly into the boastful male-hero role, a villain or a female foil quickly deflates his attempt to assume a position of dominant masculinity. Police Story features numerous comedy sequences in which Chan churns out self-indicting double entendres to which he appears entirely oblivious. During one, Chan tries to impress a female friend with anecdotes about his controlling status in a relationship, unaware that his girlfriend can hear every inflated word. He wears only a towel during this scene, further connoting a male vulnerability that contradicts his braggadocio. His sweetheart reveals her presence by mashing a birthday cake into his face. The incorporation of this vaudeville trope suggests the artificiality of his adopted "ladies' man" demeanor. Later in the film, a female criminal informer whom Chan guards tape-records a conversation in which his words imply a clumsy sexual coupling. Chan, who plays a police detective, utters phrases like "Watch what you're doing," "You'll break it," and "It's the only one I've got," while the informer, Selina Fong (Bridget Lin), makes comments like "You really hurt me," "It's so small and ugly," and "Now I'm all wet."The dialogue actually refers to a potted cactus plant, but Selina manages to have the tape replayed during a courtroom scene, making Chan the object of derisive laughter in a situation in which the success of his investigative work requires the presumption of male authority. Her strategy disrupts both Chan's masculine self-assurance and the patriarchal institution of law itself.

Chan's interactions with women typically emphasize comedy, or even women's fighting skills, rather than romance. In this respect, Chan's films share something with U.S. action films, which generally imply the incompatibility of combat and heterosexual romance, particularly when nonwhite characters are involved. When a Hollywood action narrative supplies the hero with a love interest, she usually disappears during fight sequences or watches helplessly from the sidelines. Women's exscription from combat scenarios clears space for homosocial dominance or bonding rituals. In this regard, the need to disavow parallels to the patently obvious eroticism of men grappling with men likely motivates Hollywood's avoidance of male-female combat. Conventionally, the action hero represents an asexual type. The formulation of masculinity as a "natural" identity suggests that male sexuality need not be foregrounded in most situations; it merely "exists," awaiting a woman to conjure it forth. In Hollywood's terms, Asian male sexuality does not exist at all, since major studios do not yet view Asian couples as commercially viable, and Western cultural taboos still forbid a white woman's attraction to an Asian man. As Dick Stromgren observes, the films of Bruce Lee, the only Asian leading man to appeal to U.S. audiences thus far, "provided an unending series of violent (albeit frequently humorous) black belt confrontations featuring Lee in a physically attractive and generally positive image, even though the films were without any romantic involvement." (25) Chan's U.S. films also depict him as a sexless loner, and even in his Hong Kong productions, tender relations between the sexes receive drastically less emphasis than stunts and fight sequences. (26)

Women participate in action sequences in many of Chan's films. His fights alongside and against women both feminize his characters and validate displays of female power. In his battles against women, he tends to perform sheepishly, attempting to distance himself from "inappropriate" male-female interactions. When he displays such overtly chivalrous behavior in Fantasy Mission Force and Armor of God, his female opponents take the opportunity to inflict unreciprocated pain on him. Because traditional masculinity shows deference to women in situations involving physical force, the gallant male hero appears ill-equipped to cope with manifestations of female strength. Chan's skirmishes with women proceed mostly in a comic vein, but they also suggest that his version of masculinity provides an accessible subtext of female power. In numerous Chan films, as in dozens of Hong Kong films from the 1980s and 1990s, women appear in primary combat roles. In Supercop, Chan's co-star, Michelle Khan, not only plays a central role in numerous fight sequences, she also performs some of the film's most breathtaking stunts, including a motorcycle jump onto a moving train (figure 4). Such sequences challenge the rigid gender polarity evident in U.S. action films.

Comic Violence and Narrative Development

Chan's films often reveal their comic dimension in the midst of violent or otherwise hazardous action sequences. In a 1991 interview, Chan suggested that audience tastes motivate his films' movement toward spectacles of unusual action and away from more conventional fight sequences: "Kung fu belongs to the past. In Hong Kong, we don't talk about `kung fu' movies anymore but about `action' movies. Films are getting faster and we don't care too much about fights anymore. What people want are stunts.... I'm always trying to imagine funny and dangerous stunts." (27)

Despite their escalating reliance on spectacular stunts rather than fight sequences, Chan's films always include many hand-to-hand combat scenes. The deliberately comic violence of Chan's films displays an alternative to Hollywood films' graphic violence, which often provokes laughter through its flagrancy or outrageousness even though it does not necessarily appear in a comedic context. While Hollywood films provoke desensitization through spectacle, Chan's films break down taboos about violence by showing it as a natural extension of physical comedy. The young Buster Keaton's vaudeville moniker, "the human punching bag," suggests the comic valence of physical violence, as do the routines of vaudeville-style performers like Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges. Peter Kramer, in an essay on Keaton, notes the performative skills necessary to conceive humor from violence: "To transform acts of willful maliciousness and intense pain into comedy, performers had to signal clearly that their actions were make-believe, and constituted highly accomplished athletic routines. The actions' excess, their fantastic exaggeration, as well as performers' self-conscious address of the audience, were the most obvious indicators of their professional and ritualistic nature." (28) Chan's comic excesses lend the stunts and fight sequences in his films an appeal different from the purely sensational and spectacular displays of violence typical of contemporary U.S. action films.

To a great extent, the structure of Chan's films transforms the narratives' overarching social concerns--political instability and imperial oppression in Drunken Master 2, corruption and revolutionary activity in Project A, Part 2--into farcical components or a comic storyline. Like the slapstick films Donald Crafton studies in "Pie and Chase," Chan's films suggest that "the seeming hegemony of narrative in the classical cinema is being assaulted by the militant forces of spectacle." (29) As Gunning makes clear in his response to Crafton's essay, slapstick gags work both as spectacle and as elements of narrative. Many of Chan's exploits emphasize comic spectacle over narrative cohesion. During fights or chases, for example, he often moves from one place to another in a roundabout fashion, highlighting the visual excitement of his motions rather than their utility In a memorable scene from Rumble in the Bronx, Chan tracks a street gang to its lair, where conflict soon erupts. After attacking gang members with pool cues and furniture items, he moves the fight to a room filled with refrigerators and pinball machines. He uses the games and appliances as weapons and shields, and the viewer, rather than pondering the fight's outcome or its relevance to the story, simply attends to the novelty of the display. Following the battle, Chan makes a brief speech, saying to the gang, "You are the scum of the earth. Why lower yourselves?" and his foes shortly become his allies. Though the scene emphasizes comic spectacle, it also further establishes Chan's abilities and advances the film's action.

Slapstick plots transform displays of violence and suffering into elements of physical comedy. In Supercop, for example, Chan is persuaded to spar with an army drill instructor. The scene helps to establish Chan's character but otherwise serves no crucial function in the story. Like many fights in Chan's films, the match occurs solely to test the participants' combat skills, suggesting sportive and carnivalesque dimensions of the action that diminish the viewer's sense of narrative drama while leaving sensation intact. Gunning suggests that such an emphasis on gags--or, in Chan's case, on extravagant comic stunts--subverts the logic of narrative by transforming gags or stunts into narrative. Gags or stunts, "through their integration with narrative, their adoption of narrative's form of logical anticipation," mix narrative progress and absurdist excess. (30) To borrow Crafton's terminology, the chases in Chan's films are also pies.

Except in decorative uses of comic material, recent U.S. film rarely allows the interaction of antic humor and spectacular action. (31) Contemporary balances of action and humor appear most often in cartoonish or comic-book treatments like Roger Moore's James Bond films of the 1970s and 1980s, John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981) and Big Trouble in Little China (1986), the Batman series (1989, 1992, 1995), and the films of Sam Raimi, such as Army of Darkness (1992) and The Quick and the Dead (1995). Such films rely on camp costuming, exaggerated characters, and special effects to deliver comic thrills to mostly young audiences. Their depictions of masculinity inherently assume a camp valence through straight-faced character construction and overstated portrayals of traditional male heroism.

Jackie Chan's Male and Female Masquerade

The serious or sentimental interludes within Chan's films compete with the ironic demeanor he adopts when he becomes enmeshed in incredible action scenarios. The occasionally sentimental elements of Chan's films generally produce camp interpretations among Western audiences. U.S. audiences found unintended humor in Rumble in the Bronx's relationship between Chan and a boy in a wheelchair. While Chan brings a measure of earnestness to his roles, his characters simultaneously acknowledge the absurdity of their surroundings with self-reflexive deflations of convention. His films incorporate a considerable amount of masquerade. Chan assumes the roles of male action heroes to debunk stereotypes about such roles' efficacy as models of conduct. The international adventurer he portrays in Armor of God and its sequel draws directly from Hollywood's Indiana Jones character. In Chan's variation on the role, he not only displays the comic fear and vulnerability of the original, but he also pauses during chaotic chases and fights to toss pieces of candy into his mouth. (32) Though he consistently eschews the sardonic repartee that Hollywood action heroes practice, his quizzical facial expressions signify a refusal to accept the film world's fantasy trappings as entirely serious, even when his life is apparently--or, in many stunt sequences, literally--at stake.

In Drunken Master 2, Chan masquerades as the brash young fighter he played in the original film, made fifteen years earlier. At age forty, merely assuming the role of an adolescent constitutes masquerade or a sort. Moreover, the character provides a notable departure from the more contemporary characters that appear in his films of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Drunken Master 2 gives Chan his first historical role since 1987's Project A, Part 2 and allows him to revisit the kung-fu genre that he had suggested holds no further allure for audiences. He uses the role to display a new range of comic facial expressions and body movements, as his character favors the "drunken boxing" style of combat, which relies upon lumbering and apparently disoriented motion, a posture that combines rigidity and slackness and blows that appear flailing or clumsily delivered. Drunken boxing takes its name not only from the drunken appearance of those who exercise it but also from the story's conceit that consuming alcohol aids the fighter, making him more limber and anesthetizing him from pain. The conceit adds a key comic element to Chan's performance, allowing him to employ a range of dopey, stupefied, and bemused facial expressions and contorted postures. In the narrative, Chan's drunken boxing allows him to overcome many practitioners of conventional kung fu, which appears a considerably more masculine combat style by comparison. In this film, Chan's masquerade as a young kung-fu hero represents the stage of opacity that Schatz formulates as the terminal point of generic evolution.

Chan's films present many contestatory images of masculinity, particularly when viewed in the context of the action-film genre. In Drunken Master (1979), Chan's final victory over a macho opponent depends upon his mastery of the exaggeratedly feminine "Miss Ho" style of combat. Chan gains the upper hand with a series of unmasculine moves and at one point knocks down his foe by swinging his buttocks at him. In Once a Cop (1993, also known as Project S) Chan appears briefly to perform a comic stunt sequence in full drag, complete with heels. Drunken Master 2 also offers unusual male images in its fight sequences. During one sequence, Chan, wearing a loose white robe (his costume for much of the film) and carrying a paper fan, squares off against a frenetic opponent clad in a leather vest and cap who fights with a heavy iron chain. The juxtaposition of the two suggests an exaggerated performance of both gender roles, with Chan's character appearing here as the graceful, feminine fighter while his foe engages in same-sex masquerade. In another scene, the teahouse melee noted earlier, Chan strips to the waist at the urging of his mentor, who then sprays him with tea. Thus Chan, bare-chested and glistening, satirically reinscribes Bruce Lee's bodily codes as a preface to a farfetched spectacle of tumbling male bodies. Finally, the film's last battle pits Chan against a suit-wearing kick-boxer who does most of his fighting while standing firmly on one leg and using the other to kick with mechanical precision. Despite the athletic prowess his style displays, the kickboxer's one-legged fighting appears at odds with a masculine ideal that includes groundedness and stability.

Comedy, Masochism, and Subversion

Chan's actions throughout Drunken Master 2 blend apparently incompatible body configurations, complicating the masculine codes of action film by adopting the narrative strategies and gender dynamics of comedy. In subjecting his body to masochistic treatment, Chan transforms the serious province of male suffering into an arena for comedy and thus for renegotiation of the terms of masculine violence. He moves the violence of action films toward the hyperbole of comedy and transforms the traditional hero's ready-for-action body into a humorous or burlesque body. Paul Smith proposes a model for the burlesque body in his study of Clint Eastwood: "This comic body is a bundle of symptoms that is cast into the obverse diegetical situation to that of the `erotogenic' masochism of the action movies--cast, that is, into a frame where the pleasure of contortion, complication, self-changing, and even burlesque is possible." (33) In Chan's films, the comic body manifests both his characters' power and limitations: the gift of nearly superhuman athletic prowess and the hindrances of body size and social position. Early in Drunken Master 2, Chan receives a savage and undefended beating from his kick-boxing adversary, the son of a prominent Chinese general and the film's avatar of unscrupulous authority. Chan's character successfully transforms his body, through the mode of drunken boxing, into a comic body to subdue the aristocratic villain at the film's conclusion.

The beating Chan endures represents a rite of suffering characteristic of action films. As Smith suggests, "action movie narratives ... tend to represent for the viewer a kind of masochistic trial of masculinity and its body." (34) Proof of masculine power lies in the male body's ability to withstand pain. The active body, then, becomes the body not only capable of .action but of withstanding the rigors of physical action as well. Kaja Silverman, in"Masochism and Male Subjectivity," regards male masochism as a challenge to patriarchal order: "The male masochist magnifies the losses and divisions upon which culture is based, refusing to be sutured or recompensed. In short, he radiates a negativity inimical to the social order." (35) As Smith points out, though, the social order reinscribes the masochistic tendency into its own narratives: "popular culture narratives in effect enclose and contain male masochism." (36) Masochism becomes an emblem of masculine identity rather than its opposition. Chan's films successfully retrieve masochistic suffering as a pretext for comedy, permitting laughter at the conventions that demand suffering rather than presenting those conventions as evidence of male power. The burlesque body makes it possible for masochism to regain subversive autonomy.

The burlesque body lies at the intersection of comedy and masochism. The body acted upon signifies masochism, as does the noncomedic treatment of the beaten or suffering body. As Kirkham and Thumim observe, "the `perfect' body also implies its obverse, the mutilated or decayed body." (37) Similarly, Paul Willemen describes the American western's presentation of the male body as consisting of scenes of the male "existing" in narrative space and scenes that display "the male mutilated ... and restored through violent brutality." (38) The retributive notion of regeneration through violence operates only intermittently in Chan's films, as vengeance works both to contradict comic motifs and to signify an all-encompassing male power that Chan's characters do not possess. He often suffers punishment at the hands of characters who subsequently recede from the course of narrative events. One scene in Rumble in the Bronx, which appears between comic fight sequences, shows the street gang pelting Chan, in slow motion, with shards of broken bottles. Later, Chan does not exact revenge in kind but subdues the gang in the comic episode at their hideout. Similarly, when Chan's characters injure themselves through falls or collisions--which occur in Project A and Supercop, among other films--they must accept their suffering without complaint. Chan's mishaps render the masculine desire for revenge obsolete.

The burlesque body provides both visual amusement and an equivocal social critique. In Drunken Master 2's narrative logic, drunken boxing both refers to a historical tradition of combat and represents a scorned form of physical expression. As in many of Chan's films, his character both validates traditional forms of authority and challenges corruptive strains of bureaucracy or capitalism. Here again, Smith's comments inform Chan's films: "The burlesque functions within such double expressions of class ressentiment and solidarity as an element of ironic self-deprecation that is modulated into self-celebration, and as such can be seen as a crucial element in the carnivalesque." (39) The narrative of Drunken Master 2 celebrates Chan's participation in the carnivalesque kung-fu subculture even as it depicts the consequences, both painful and humiliating, of unsuccessful negotiation of the dominant culture's terms. Between spectacular victories in combat, Chan suffers beatings at the hands of his father, the kick-boxing aristocrat, and a gang of British consular police. The institutions of paternity, capitalism, and law all disavow kung fu as a means of expression or assertion of physical autonomy.

The formulation of the burlesque body, which Smith revisits following Jean Louis Schefer's conception of the burlesque in reference to Laurel and Hardy, prescribes physical reaction rather than action. Schefer contends that the burlesque body"neither carries nor guides the action: it absorbs it, and is the catastrophic and unbound place to which action returns." (40) The burlesque body, then, also challenges the conception of the inert male hero. Chan's perpetual-movement fighting strategy suggests a dynamic model of masculine ability that effectively parries the threats posed by more conventional male characters. As noted previously, viewers accustomed to Western action-film conventions may infer that Hollywood's male heroes stand motionless because of their imperviousness to harm. However, Chan's comic body language gives the lie to such conventions, thereby denoting the efficacy and pragmatism of movement as a survival strategy. At one point in Drunken Master 2's climactic fight, Chan plants his feet firmly on the ground while his opponent strikes at him repeatedly. His blows fail to connect, because Chan's upper body becomes rubbery, seeming to move independently of his stationary legs. Chan's serpentine movements produce a humorous effect, compounded by the other fighter's abundance of wasted effort. The scene displays the comic body's potential for control through defensive, evasive maneuvers.

Male Hysteria and Madness

The burlesque body can also be displaced onto the bodies of others. In Chan's interactions with other characters, the burlesque body frequently resituates itself in another character, apparently as a manifestation of the other's hysteria. In Drunken Master 2's showdown with the Ax Gang, a shot of Chan's mentor trying to remove an ax from his back undercuts the tension that the simultaneous depiction of Chan in serious combat creates. In many of his films, Chan temporarily plays the serious-fighter role while his opponents receive comic treatment through displays of hysterical cowardice or exaggerated masculinity. In Twin Dragons, for example, Chan's easy victory over a burly biker causes his foe later to prostrate himself before Chan and proclaim him his master. Occasionally, a partner becomes the comic foil to Chan's relative straight man. The narrative of Twin Dragons pairs Chan's working-class character with a reckless, outspoken dwarf who is repeatedly captured, threatened, or otherwise victimized. The tensions surrounding Chan's character are displaced onto the dwarf, who exhibits hysterical symptoms throughout the film: he is boastful and abrasive, he is a failure at romance, and others scoff at his furtive attempts to manifest male power. As Smith argues,"the hysterical body casts a light on the powerlessness that the heroic body lives with [and] on the powerlessness that such a body lives within." (41) Though the dwarf displays no physical power, his brash statements, such as the hollow threats he makes to a gang of criminals, motivate Chan's performance of the dangerous activities he would not otherwise choose to undertake. Here, displaced hysteria returns to its original source.

Relative to the stoic or conventionally portrayed action hero, Chan's whimsical comedy humanizes his screen characters to promote audience identification with them. Comedy often distances viewers from situations, such as scenes of domesticity or interpersonal relations, that traditionally call for empathetic responses. However, Western action-film conventions--which construct heroes as products of hypermasculine fantasies--already presume an emotional gap between performer and viewer. Chan's use of comedy encourages empathetic responses to action-film scenarios that do not typically engender such responses. Comedy also makes his pain more bearable for the viewer through its emphasis on the overriding farcical nature of action sequences or of entire narratives. Episodes showing Chan being beaten or humiliated are always countered by his ensuing comic triumphs. A more substantive "don't try this at home" disclaimer closes most of his films released since the mid-1980s: collected outtakes show Chan and his fellow performers filming stunts and fight sequences gone awry, giving viewers a sometimes disquieting reinterpretation of scenes that may appear cartoonish or fantastic in the regular flow of narrative.

The characteristic outtakes that appear alongside the closing credits in Chan's films contribute significantly to his star persona. The extranarrative material supplies visual proof to Chan's proud assertions of risk-taking in the service of realism: "I never use special effects or editing and camera effects in my movies. When you see me doing something on the screen, I really do it. It's my trademark, my own style. I love American movies, but I wouldn't like to work in the American way." (42) Scenes of other cast members grimacing in real pain or toweling off blood corroborate Chan's self-mocking statement about stunt players' wariness of his direction: "Everybody knows Jackie Chan is crazy." (43)

Chan's offhand comment hints at the larger social context in which his films appear. Though his images of androgynous physical mastery call into question conventional formulations of masculine identity, the attribution of madness contains his subversion, situating his conduct well beyond the norms of masculine behavior. Chan displays an excess of activity, and through his inevitable accidents during stunt performance, his behavior shows an unwillingness to police the "reasonable" boundaries of human aspiration. The evidence of Chan's hysteria inscribes itself across his scarred and maimed body. (44) Patriarchal order may thus reinscribe his abilities as a madman's folly. As Smith observes, one form of "hysterical residue" apparent in some action films "is an unresolved or uncontained representation of the body of the male as it exceeds the narrative process." (45) Chan's ability to overreach the screen, to perform beyond the requirements of a conventional narrative, has become his trademark. This activity occurs outside traditional social order, particularly the order that Hollywood action films impose. Chan's persona does not ascribe to dominant cinematic models of male identity--especially the models prevalent in the action-film genre--thus marking him as an aberration. His mass appeal, however, reaffirms the resonance of his persona. Jackie Chan proclaims the disruptive victory of madness.


(1.) Schatz 37.

(2.) Pulp Fiction, for example, includes a scene in which one of the lead characters is murdered while sitting on the toilet, and in True Romance, a marijuana-smoking slacker tries to give street directions to a humorless gang of killers.

(3.) Neale and Krutnik 18.

(4.) Both Twins and Kindergarten Cop, though, allow Schwarzenegger to demonstrate his physical prowess intermittently, proving that even with a comic veneer, the actor is recognized principally as an action hero.

(5.) Leo Ou-fan Lee categorizes the principal varieties of Hong Kong film as "the `hardcore' gong fu, or martial arts, movie in a pseudohistorical setting or its contemporary counterpart, the gangster film whose obvious mass appeal is violence, and the `softcore' sexual or romantic comedy featuring a beautiful actress/songstress singing the obligatory number of songs" (202). From a Western perspective, Chan's films fall most clearly into the action or kung-fu genres. For more information on Chinese and Hong Kong film history and genre, see Paul Foronoff, "Orientation" Film Comment May-June 1988: 52-55; Chris Berry, ed., Perspectives on Chinese Cinema (London: BFI, 1991); Linda C. Ehrlich and David Desser, eds., Cinematic Landcapes: Observations on the Visual Arts and Cinema of China and Japan (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994); and Jay Leyda, Dianying: An Account of Films and the Film Audience in China (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1972).

(6.) Chan has appeared in more than fifty films, many of them unavailable to Western audiences. Nevertheless, this essay assumes some familiarity with Chan's films. I have chosen most textual examples from Chan's late 1980s and 1990s films, which are widely available on videocassette and appear intermittently in theaters.

(7.) Rumble in the Bronx features a brief comic interlude of Chan flexing his muscles in front of a store mirror. The scene pokes fun at the display of male vanity. Contrastingly, U.S. action films usually present vain self-assurance as an emblem of male seriousness and fortitude.

(8.) Independent American directors have only lately appropriated elements of Hong Kong cinema in their own works. Quentin Tarantino transformed Ringo Lam's 1987 film City on Fire into Reservoir Dogs (1993), and Mexican-American director Robert Rodriguez incorporated elements of John Woo's The Killers (1989) and Hard Boiled (1992) into his Hollywood debut, Desperado (1995).

(9.) In Hong Kong, Jackie Chan's films have already been parodied in High Risk (1995), featuring another comic action star, Jet Li, as a stuntman for a Chan-like performer who has been made vain and cowardly by his stardom.

(10.) Biographical information has been compiled from Kehr 38-41; Dannen 30-38; and Gina Marchetti's entry on Jackie Chan in the International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers 3: Actors and Actresses, vol. 2 (St. James Press, 1992). The latter served on the World Wide Web as part of Dave Warner's "Jackie Chan File." Other biographical and filmographic sources appear in the references at the conclusion of this essay.

(11.) Mulvey 34.

(12.) De Lauretis 139.

(13.) Chinese-trained film-fight choreographer Craig Reid describes a familiar situation in action films: "Say you have a man fighting seven attackers inside a large house. An American stunt coordinator ... will have the hero stand in one room and let himself get surrounded. Each opponent will attack ... one at a time ... Many of the attackers will let themselves get hit four or five times in a row without trying to move away, while the other attackers watch their buddy get pummeled. This is typical of Chuck Norris's films" (31).

(14.) Kirkham and Thumim 12.

(15.) Interestingly, following the climactic battle in First Blood, the hero (Stallone) breaks into tears, an image that does not appear as part of the Rainbo iconography that appeared throughout the 1980s.

(16.) Reid 34-35.

(17.) Mast 24.

(18.) Gunning, "Crazy Machines" 99.

(19.) Bakhtin 318.

(20.) Bakhtin 330.

(21.) Kaminsky 75, 77.

(22.) Yau 181.

(23.) Neale and Krutnik 106.

(24.) A temporary setback occurs when the mechanic fails to appear at the altar, but the two couples reunite in the last scene, and the narrative suggests that the marriages will take place.

(25.) Stromgren 72.

(26.) Twin Dragons, which divides its time nearly equally between its action narrative and comic misunderstanding between Chan's characters and their romantic partners, is a notable exception.

(27.) Interview by Caroline Vie, from MAMA 23 (fall 1991), a French fanzine (article served on the World Wide Web through "Project A: The Unofficial Jackie Chan Web Site").

(28.) Kramer 200.

(29.) Crafton 117.

(30.) Gunning, "Response" 121. For further analysis of the relationship between comedy and narrative, see Jerry Palmer, The Logic of the Absurd (London: BFI, 1987), chapter 7.

(31.) Blends of action and comedy were commonplace in early cinema. For more information, see Gunning,"Crazy Machines"; Crafton; chapter 6 of Neale and Krutnik; and Doug Riblet, "The Keystone film Company and the History of Early Slapstick," also in Karnick and Jenkins. The silent comedies of Keaton and Lloyd advance the action/comedy tradition and eventually expand it for feature-length narratives. In the early sound era, such performers and filmmakers as Errol Flynn and Preston Sturges also effectively balance action plots and comic flourishes. The plots of Keaton's and Sturges's films problematize the controlling male role, while Flynn's portrayals of dashing, acrobatic rogues in such films as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and The Sea Hawk (1940) feminize the male hero, offering substantial material for camp interpretations of the type.

(32.) Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones character is of course a parody of 1930s serial-film conventions, as the actor proves through his overtly jaded facial expressions and body language. Chan's character, through his clowning (which is unjustified by the narrative), offers a more slapstick sendup of the type.

(33.) Smith 173-74.

(34.) Smith 173.

(35.) Silverman 53.

(36.) Smith 165.

(37.) Kirkham and Thumim 14.

(38.) Willemen 16.

(39.) Smith 180.

(40.) Jean Louis Schefer, L'homme ordinaire du cinema (Paris: Cahiers du Cinema, 1980) 73; quoted in Smith 174.

(41.) Smith 178.

(42.) Vie (served on Web, so no page number available).

(43.) Dannen 33-34.

(44.) Stories of Chan's mishaps are legion. They include a scene in Rumble in the Bronx in which Chan breaks his ankle while leaping from a pier onto a hovercraft, a fall during the filming of Armor o/God that left the actor with a small hole in his skull, and an incident in which Chart, for a scene in Police Story, slid down a pole strung with live electrical cables, burning his hands.

(45.) Smith 167.


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Crafton, Donald. "Pie and Chase: Gag, Spectacle and Narrative in Slapstick Comedy." Classical Hollywood Comedy, ed. Kristine Brunovska Karnick and Henry Jenkins. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Dannen, Fredric. "Hong Kong Babylon." New Yorker 7 August 1995: 30-38.

De Lauretis, Teresa. Alice Doesn't: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984.

Gunning, Tom. "Crazy Machines in the Garden of Forking Paths: Mischief Gags and the Origins of American Film Comedy." Classical Hollywood Comedy, ed. Kristine Brunovska Karnick and Henry Jenkins. New York: Routledge, 1995.

--. "Response to `Pie and Chase.'" Classical Hollywood Comedy, ed. Kristine Brunovska Karnick and Henry Jenkins. New York: Routledge, 1995.

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Karnick, Kristine Brunovska, and Henry Jenkins, eds. Classical Hollywood Comedy. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Kehr, Dave."Chan Can Do." Film Comment May-June 1988: 38-41.

Kirkham, Pat, and Janet Thumim, eds. You Tarzan: Movies, Masculinity and Men. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Kramer, Peter."The Making of a Comic Star: Buster Keaton and The Saphead." Classical Hollywood Comedy, ed. Kristine Brunovska Karnick and Henry Jenkins. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Lee, Leo Ou-fan. "Two Films from Hong Kong: Parody and Allegory." New Chinese Cinemas: Forms, Identities, Politics, ed. Nick Browne, Paul Pickowicz, Vivian Sobchack, and Esther Yau. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Mast, Gerald. The Comic Mind: Comedy and the Movies, 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.

Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Issues in Feminist Film Criticism, ed. Patricia Erens. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

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World Wide Web/Internet sites:

"The Jackie Chan File" (compiled by Dave Warner,

"Project A: The Unofficial Jackie Chan Web Site" (http://

"Temple of Jackie Chan" ( jackie.html)


Please note: Some tables or figures were omitted from this article.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A90190442