The Meaning of Chow Yun-Fat (It's In His Mouth)
I can't deny that I love Hong Kong movies, and I most certainly love Chow Yun- Fat. Yet that love is related to my experiences with the bird-person: I am, as We called ourselves in that earlier issue, a 'Bad Tourist,' stopping by, taking What I want, leaving the rest, ultimately un-illuminated as to the essence of Hong Kong culture, but nevertheless enriched by the experience. I don't want to Belittle that enrichment. The beginning of this
essay is testament to how much I Love my relationship to Chow Yun-Fat. But I began writing because I couldn't get Beyond my attraction to Chow's coolness, and the longer I write, the more I come To believe that I will never understand Chow as well as I understand myself. Because the point of my consumption of Chow Yun-Fat, the point of the Dilettante's love of the exotic, is not really to understand what I consume. The Point is to understand me. This is often how people of one culture appreciate the cultures of others; as Anthropology it most likely sucks, but for enrichment, it can't be beat. It goes Both ways, of course; no one should assume that only Americans are dilettantes. Jackie Chan has seen Buster Keaton. The resulting movies are 'pure' Jackie Chan, But the Keaton influence is apparent, which doesn't necessarily mean that Jackie Chan understands the Meaning of Keaton any more than I understand the Meaning of Chow. Jackie Chan loves Buster Keaton, he makes Buster Keaton his own, and then He produces Jackie Chan movies. When an American watches a Jackie Chan movie, One of the pleasurable aspects is making the connection to Buster Keaton. Jackie Chan helps us understand Keaton better than we would if we didn't have Chan to Help illuminate Keaton. We use Jackie Chan to understand our own culture.
There are aspects of Jackie Chan, of course, that cross cultural barriers. His Exuberant acrobatics dazzle an audience whether or not we know the Chinese Cultural context for his stunts. But the Meaning of Jackie Chan escapes me, at Least, if not all American viewers. And now we are back to Chow Yun-Fat, who is Cool. His coolness crosses barriers. When he performs a romantic dance from a Wheelchair in Once a Thief, the combination of elegance and comedic grace is Lovely beyond words. When, in Hard Boiled, he demolishes a zillion bad guys with One hand and carries a tiny baby in the other, cooing and shooting, he is the Ultimate big brother. This coolness crosses barriers. But beyond that, we are Victims of our subjective experience; we don't understand the Hong Kong culture That produces these movies, and so we fall back on cool. It all comes down to His mouth.
The clearest example of this is the homo-erotic charge that permeates HK action Movies. In one sense, this is no different from similar relationships in American action movies... Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon Series come to mind, along with countless other buddy films. But what is beneath The surface in American movies is out front in HK films. It doesn't take much Digging to find the homo-erotic undercurrents in Lethal Weapon, but it does Require digging. HK films, with their endless discussions between men about love And honor and friendship, seem to bring those undercurrents to the surface, However, in a manner that is not exactly innocent but is accepting of the bonds Between men and willing to allow men to
discuss those bonds. Chow Yun-Fat is not The strong silent type. When the inmates of Prison on Fire are happy, they Celebrate with a dance party unlike, say, the scene in Jailhouse Rock where Elvis is fetishized as the focus of homo-eroticism (and we are 'the cutest Little jailbirds he ever did see'). In Prison on Fire, the inmates are happy, And so they dance, and their partners are their fellow inmates with whom they Share their happiness. It's not only sexual, though sex is part of it. It's About friendship, and loyalty, and love, and bonding.
At least, I think so. Again I am confronted with the barriers between my Experiences and Asian culture. For an American to watch a Chow Yun-Fat movie is To partake in an ultimate experiment in audience-response theory. We don't Understand the culture that produced a Chow Yun-Fat, so we are left to the Subjective experience we bring to the movie theatre. We watch, we react, but When we later try to analyze, all we know for certain is that it all comes down To his mouth. And so I am no closer to the Meaning of Chow than I was at the Beginning of this essay. I've enjoyed Chow, I've used Chow, I've done what I Could with Chow, but I fear I haven't explained him. I've only explained myself As a 'Bad Tourist.' Go watch a Chow Yun-Fat movie for yourself, and if you Figure out What Chow Means, let me know. In any event, I'll bet you think he's Cool.
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