Why Van Damme is not a hero in China

We watched in silence for another thirty minutes before Little Tiger tugged on my sleeve.”When does he die?” he asked.Confused, I asked, “Who dies?”

“The laowai.” [laowai: literally, old outsider; foreigner]

“Which laowai?”

“The one with all the muscles.”

I was even more confused, “But he’s the hero.”

“Right, so when does he die?”

“He doesn’t. Heroes don’t die in American movies.”

“They do in Chinese movies.”

“I know, but not in American movies.”

“Then they aren’t heroes.”

“Why do you say that?”

Little Tiger paused to think. “I don’t know. They’re just not.”

Feeling like I was on to something important, I pressed. “But why do you think that?”

Little Tiger dropped his head and shrugged his shoulders.

Deqing, who had been following the exchange, said, “Because it doesn’t take much courage to fight when you still believe you can win. What takes real courage is to keep fighting when all hope in gone.”

From Mathew Polly‘s wonderful, must-read, American Shaolin (which, I picked up on the recommendation of Jenny Davidson, and am half-way through). You can read the first chapter of the book here.

Once you pick the book, it is really difficult to put it down. The book also has a strong anthropological flavour reminding me of some essays of Amitav Ghosh; and, most of the chapters  have a Sheila Dhar-ian twist in the end–humourous, moving, and sometimes, both.

An aside: It is interesting to see how Indian movies approach the problem: for example, while Kamal would be like the Chinese heroes willing to die, Rajnikant, would tackle the issue very cleverly–say, he has promised his mother; so he would not fight, but is willing to go to his death; but then, in the penultimate scene, when he is released from the promise, he kicks all the villains. I think Little Tiger would like Kamal; he might like Rajnikant more. In fact, my Taiwanese friend, having watched Shivaji, compared Rajnikant movies to Stephen Chow‘s movies: Shaolin Soccer and Kungfu Hustle.

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