Stereotypes in the ‘Rush Hour’ Movies
Stereotypes are in general regrettable and avoidable. They sometimes act as a prism through which the society views any actions of a particular community. The extended security checks, people of Middle Eastern origin are subjected to, in Airport securities around the world, shows how some people are naturally put into a particular category because of their origins. President Obama’s speech of how if a black guy walks past, people instinctively lock their car doors is another example of these regrettable stereotypical notions. But then African Americans has been victimized in this nation and stereotyped as uncivilized people for ages now. Things are changing and many of these stereotypes are becoming obsolete.
Asian Americans, in particular the Chinese, too have been victim of stereotypes. From the day they landed on these shores, they were viewed as people who would steal jobs. Particularly when they first reached America many people, both Europeans and Africans, resented them as many jobs were allocated to the Chinese in the railroad projects. In fact there was an act against Chinese immigrants entering the country as laborers called the ‘Chinese Exclusion Act’, signed by President Arthur in the year 1882. The act which was passed as a temporary act was made permanent by 1902 and was reversed only by the year 1943. This was because of the stereotypes that the Chinese worked ‘cheap’ and thus brought down the wages of all the workers. Many such stereotypes still exist in the present day society, and this essay aims at analyzing the movie ‘Rush Hour’ (1,2 and 3) and scrutinize how stereotypes sometimes might not be offensive and in fact make the character more appealing.
The Rush hour Franchise consists of 3 movies and each movie deals with the adventures of a Chinese cop (Inspector Lee) who combat, unlawful forces with the help of his African American friend (James Carter) who is a LAPD cop. The Inspector Lee role is played by Jackie Chan, and Chris Tucker plays the role of James Carter. It is an action- comedy flick, and many racist jokes are made at the expense of not just Chinese Americans but also on American Americans and sometimes even on White People.
In general the Asian immigrants to Americans have epitomized the concept of ‘American dream’. They have put in the hard work, have led a disciplined life and have in the process achieved success in most of the fields they pursued. To achieve this success they tend to stick to certain patterns. They are soft spoken, dedicated to their work/study and they retain their cultural roots. Thus, the common stereotypes surrounding the Chinese Americans are that, they do not mingle with other ethnic groups, they are shy and have a culture and accent which is more Chinese than American.
These stereotypes are reflected in the Rush hour franchise explicitly. During a crucial action scene in Rush hour 2 Lee gives instructions to Carter which he does not seem to understand, so Lee says to him, “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?”, for which Carter answers “Man, nobody understands the words that come out of your mouth”. It is a direct dig on the way the Chinese speak English. But when a person watches the movie he would understand that it is part of a series of racist jokes that they encounter in the movie, and not a standalone slur aimed at the Chinese Americans. And these jokes though highlight certain stereotypes are in no way demeaning the character of Lee.
Yes, Chan talks with a heavy accent and the movie makers have used it for comical ends. But Mandarin is an altogether different language from English and the Chinese have done well to learn it so well. But as the French retain their accent and as the Italian retain theirs, the Chinese do have a heavy accent while talking English. Chan do not seem to be regretting it and he exhibits pride in his Chinese origins in every frame of the movie. He seems to cherish every aspect of the Chinese life, like respecting the elders (in the Kung fu class in Rush hour 3) while carter yells at them and admonishing Carter when he jokes at the collection of Chinese antiques (Rush hour 1). He values his culture and is proud of its heritage, and this he make no bones in accepting. When he is laughed at by his friend for such things, he takes it in his strides and at times finds something to say about his friend which will negate the joke made on him.
The jokes made by carter are good natured and in fact they serve to highlight the good qualities of his partner. Carter not just makes joke on Asians, but he has something funny to say about every race including his own. So his jokes far from being offensive, actually serve to bring the best out of his partner. The character Lee played by Chan, seems to have all the answers for any racial attack, though made in good humor, his partner might dish out on him. He emphatically says in his initial scenes of ‘Rush hour 1’, that “I did not say I do not speak English, you assumed I didn’t”. This is probably the answer of all Asian Americans to others, saying that they do speak English with authority and they have clear and strong thoughts. It is just that they do not feel the necessity to overtly exhibit their traits. They can be eloquent and vociferous when the need arises, if not, they do not see the need to showcase their abilities to others.
Yes, Rush hour has many jokes which confirm to the stereotypes surrounding the Chinese Americans like, their height, their speech, their obedience, their food habits and their martial arts, but these jokes are not meant to be offensive. They are made in a good humored way and if anything they help to make the character of Inspector Lee all the more appealing. All the three movies were a runaway success in the box office and the credit solely goes to the Lee-Carter duo with all their racial jokes and action packed comradeship.
Inspector Lee, in particular with his heavy Chinese accent and his martial art skills typifies an average Chinese man, who are not loud spoken like say Carter, yet are respected for their talents. The respect he shows to the old martial arts teacher, the honor he so vehemently adheres in bringing the bad guys to justice, the family ties revered by him in bringing the kidnapped young girl back to her father and avenging his father’s death, the effort he puts in preserving the national heritage of his country, and his general affable nature, all of this acts as reasons to like the character more and are in no way demeaning. Yes, Inspector Lee is a typical Chinese American and an embodiment of all the stereotypes the society associates with the Chinese people, and the audience loved him for that.
- US News. Chinese Exclusion Act (1882). ND. Web. November 18, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/usnews/documents/docpages/document_page47.htm