Jet Li

Jet Li: Chinese Masculinity and Transnational Film Stardom

Sabrina Qiong Yu
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt3fgsrm
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  • Book Info
    Jet Li
    Book Description:

    This is the first study of Chinese stars and their transnational stardom, examining the career of Jet Li, probably the best martial arts actor alive.Jet Li's career has crossed numerous cultural and geographic boundaries, from mainland China to Hong Kong, from Hollywood to France. In Jet Li: Chinese Masculinity and Transnational Film Stardom, Sabrina Qiong Yu uses Li as an example to address some intriguing but under-examined issues surrounding transnational stardom in general and transnational kung fu stardom in particular.Presenting case studies of audiences' responses to Jet Li films and his star image, this book explores the way in which Li has evolved from a Chinese wuxia hero to a transnational kung fu star in relation to the discourses of genre, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and national identity. By rejecting a text-centred approach which prevails in star studies and instead emphasising the role of audiences in constructing star image, this book challenges some established perspectives in the study of Chinese male screen images and martial arts/action cinema.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4548-0
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Introduction: Jet Li and transnational kung fu stardom
    (pp. 1-30)

    The magic of cinema lies in its capacity for transmitting human experiences and emotions translocally and transnationally. While the contribution of stars to the universal appeal of film has been frequently investigated in scholarly writing over the past three decades, most of such work focuses on Hollywood stars. To a great extent, the field of star studies pioneered by Richard Dyer thirty years ago has been based on the discussion of Hollywood stars and stardom. Non-Hollywood stars are mostly discussed in the context of national cinemas (Vincendeau 2000; Sieglohr 2000; Babington 2001; Austin 2003; Perriam 2003; Hayward 2004; Stoila 2009;...

  6. Part I Jet Li as Chinese wuxia hero
    • 1 Jet Li and the new wuxia cinema in the 1990s
      (pp. 33-46)

      In the first part of this book, I examine Jet Li’s star image as it developed in his Hong Kong films in the early 1990s, and to do this I investigate how three importantwuxiafilms, which he made during this period –Once Upon a Time in China(1991),Swordsman II(1992) andFong Sai-yuk(1993) – have been received by three different audience groups from Hong Kong and mainland China respectively. The current chapter aims to define the newwuxiacinema as a film cycle in the early 1990s and thereby to sketch the background from which Jet Li emerged...

    • 2 Kung fu master: martial arts and acting in Once Upon a Time in China (1991)
      (pp. 47-64)

      Tony Williams (2000) suggests that theOnce Upon a Time in Chinaseries represents one of the major achievements of 1990s Hong Kong cinema; and Bey Logan (1995) notes thatOnce Upon a Time in China(herein-afterOUATIC)) was one of the firstwuxiafilms to receive serious critical attention. Indeed, in academic writingOUATIChas been discussed as an influential work in terms of its significance as: (1) a typical ‘97 Syndrome’ Hong Kong film; (2) a re-invigorating force for the kung fu subgenre in the 1990s; (3) a breakthrough Tsui Hark film. Surprisingly, however, it is hardly ever...

    • 3 Gay lover? Gender trouble and male identification in Swordsman II (1992)
      (pp. 65-82)

      After two successful Wong Fei-hung films, Li made his most adventurous film,Swordsman II,in 1992. Two paradoxes in this film are worth noting. First, it is viewed as one of the earliest Hong Kong films to touch on a homosexual theme, but it stars ‘the chastest, most sexually reticent, of all martial arts stars’ (Hunt 2003: 134): Jet Li. Second, despite its perceived transgressive subject, it became a hit at the Hong Kong box office. In fact, it has proved the highest-grossing Jet Li film in Hong Kong to date.¹ Before exploring these contradictory facts, I will first briefly...

    • 4 Mother’s boy: adolescent hero and male masquerade in Fong Sai-yuk (1993)
      (pp. 83-102)

      Jet Li’s most productive year appears to have been 1993; six films starring him were released and all of them performed well at the box office.¹ Of these films,Fong Sai-yukis undoubtedly the most important, not only because it was the first film produced by Li’s own company, Eastern Productions, with Li as the producer, but also because of its widespread popularity at the time and in later years. Based on the adventures of a real-life Southern hero,Fong Sai-yukand its sequel were Li’s most successful films in the early 1990s, alongside the Wong Fei-hung series andSwordsman...

  7. Part II Jet Li as transnational kung fu star
    • 5 Villain/killer/child: crossover images and Orientalist imagination
      (pp. 105-126)

      In the first part of this book, I examine Jet Li’s three classicwuxiahero images – scholarly master Wong Fei-hung, unbridled lover Ling Hucong, and adolescent hero Fong Sai-yuk – as constructed in the reception of different audience groups from Hong Kong and mainland China. In the early 1990s, Li also inspiringly reinterpreted otherwuxiaheroes, such as Tai Chi master Zhang Sanfeng who temporarily loses his mind due to the betrayal by his childhood friend but regains his identity with the help of Tai Chi; reflective and open-minded Chen Zhen, the disciple of renowned martial artist Huo Yuanjia (a role...

    • 6 Asexual Romeo? Male sexuality and cultural perspectives
      (pp. 127-145)

      In his research on the Asian-American Internet reception of Jet Li’s English-language roles, Julian Stringer observes that the ‘kiss on the big screen’ has taken up most discussion space on the websites which he visited and many Asian-American movie fans are baffled by the fact that Li has never kissed any of his interracial female screen partners. According to Stringer, even though ‘being in a unique position to possess and project healthy and good Asian sexuality’ (2003: 284), which represents both a reversal and a reinvention of one of the key continuing stereotypes of Asians in the US media – the...

    • 7 National hero/spectacular body: national and transnational identities
      (pp. 146-166)

      As many critics note, the construction of male images in Chinese-language films, especially in the male-dominatedwuxiagenre, has always been accompanied by a strong nationalist overtone. In his article discussing Chinese identity in Hong Kong cinema, David Desser explores the way in which the heroic, masculinised male body in martial arts films embodies, highlights and stabilises a Chinese nationalism and identity, thereby creating a global audience and solidifying kung fu stardom. Desser suggests that this muscular, nationalist masculinity, exemplified by Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li, is expressed in two noticeable ways. The first is by anti-Japanese/anti-imperialist sentiments,...

    • 8 Borderless icon: star construction and Internet fandom
      (pp. 167-184)

      In the last six chapters, I have examined Jet Li’s star image constructed in the reception of his on-screen personae among audiences from different cultural locations. Yet, as many academic writings elaborate (Dyer 1979; Allen and Gomery 1985; Geraghty 2000), it is the duality of the image that makes a star, a duality composed of on-screen performance and off-screen existence, publicised through gossip columns, celebrity interviews, fan magazines/sites/clubs, and so on. The discourses around stars therefore include not only how their films are promoted and consumed, but also how their life stories are distributed and received. The circulation of information...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 185-191)

    This book has discussed how Jet Li films and his star image are received and interpreted by audiences in culturally and historically specific contexts. By tracing Li’s changing meanings from a Chinesewuxiahero to a transnational kung fu star, it aims to reveal the ways in which star image is constructed and transformed within transcultural contexts in relation to the discourses of gender, sexuality, genre, race, nation and cultural identity. The present research is by no means an exhaustive examination of Jet Li’s films or his audiences. Instead it looks at representative Jet Li films – the newwuxiafilms...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 192-209)
  10. Index
    (pp. 210-216)