Hey QT Dont Fuck with Bruce Lee 5

Tonight is Oscar Night! The Academy of Motion Picture Arts will be handing out their coveted awards amongst their ever expanding fraternity … expanding in the sense of both local and global diversity! But has this community really moved on from the gratuitous whiteness of D W Griffith’s seminal Birth of a Nation?

This year Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is up for 10 awards including, Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Achievement in Directing and Best Original Screenplay. Unlike the rest which one could say are more self-contained or technical, these awards go to the heart or ethos of the film, of its author and of its financiers. Tarantino broke new ground in the cinematic arts with his brand of relentless pastiche, irreverent parody and fanboy reference. His films have always seemed to be racially offensive, misogynist and even misanthropic … and yet he has managed to negotiate a place for himself in the pantheon of American movie directors. I suggest that he has done this because he has convinced his audience, myself included, that his was a meta-cinema, a cinema about cinema itself. When he has had his magnificently African American lead Samuel L Jackson say his N words with panache, and his leading ladies doing his sado-masochistic bidding with apparent ease, I have given him licence as I have believed that Quentin’s art, if not his heart, was in the right place.

Yes, I believed that Quentin was true to his cinema, which is afterall, the art of making an ‘afterimage’ of cinema itself. As I have said before, I have forgiven Tarantino many a pretentious flic on the basis of my faith in his art and in his humanity. With his gratuitously degrading portrayal of Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,however, I have lost my faith. Instead of giving us a reference to the old hollywood stereotype of the ‘Chinaman’, he seems to have produced an unnecessary one all by himself. The deep irony of this scenario is that Tarantino’s earlier homage to martial arts films, the Kill Bill diptych, has David Carradine indexing his own role in the iconic TV series Kung Fu. Carradine got the role, in an era in which a Chinese actor could not play the lead on American screens. A further irony is that there is a suggestion that Kung Fu was plagiarized from a scenario that Bruce Lee had developed and presented to studios as a vehicle for himself. In any event, it was Bruce Lee who, very soon after the launch of Kung Fu, smashed the ‘Chinaman’ type with his blockbuster Hollywood production, Enter the Dragon.

The ‘quality’ of the directing and screenwriting of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and the ethos of the work are exemplified in its ‘gratuitous’ Bruce Lee segment. I, for one, can not see it as art. I can not give this film either the grace of irony or the respect of commentary, and must now review all racial slurs, misogyny and violence in Tarantino’s oeuvre in this new light. An Academy Award in any one of these three categories – Best Picture, Best Director or Best Original Screenplay, would, for me at least, index an institutional ethos that aggrandizes the gratuitous self expression of its auteurs, regardless of their ethics or of their art. The Golden Globes have already fallen in my esteem (oddly the film won in the category of Best Musical or Comedy – NOT FUNNY!), let’s hope the Academy survives!

Image https://mynorthwest.com/gallery/nominees-face-off-to-become-the-nights-oscar-winners/




Hey QT Dont Fuck with Bruce Lee 4

In response to an earlier post in this series which referred to Bruce Lee’s ‘Lost Interview’, my friend, veteran Malaysian journalist and art writer Ooi Kok Chuen commented, “Bruce Lee is much misunderstood after all these years where he is seen as a supreme martial arts fighter. … his cult brand of Chinese martial art is more than stunning physical manoeuvres. It’s a philosophy, a discipline of the highest order, and on top of it all, a way of life.” Indeed, this philosophy/discipline was embodied in what I would call a post-traditional fighting system that Bruce called Jeet Kune Do. The Jeet Kune Do system seems to acknowledge the plurality of traditional forms while unifying then in a praxis.

In the interview Bruce Lee explains this praxis in terms of the relationships between martial arts, acting and life, “… all types of knowledge mean self-knowledge … [my students] want to learn to express themselves through some movement, be it anger, be it determination or whatsoever … to show … in combative form, the art of expressing the human body … it might sound too philosophical, but its unacting acting, or acting unacting. I mean, here is the natural instinct, and here is control. You are to combine the two in harmony … The ideal is unnatural naturalness or natural unnaturalness … ultimately, martial art means honestly expressing yourself … You have to keep your reflexes, so that when you want it, it’s there! When you want to move, you are moving. And when you move, you are determined to move …”

Another friend Hugo Moss, co-founder of Michael Chekhov Brasil responded to the same post by noting that Bruce lee’s praxis echoes that of Michael Chekhov (1891-1955), a Russian actor, director and teacher whose approach to actor training, rehearsal and performance continues to inspire artists around the world. Hugo notes that Chekhov posits the same “polarity of being in controlling and releasing yourself 100% free in the moment. It’s the creative process of meaningfully living ‘the tangible/material world’, ‘the cosmos/possible’ and ‘oneself’ in equal measure/harmony. yes there’s a polarity … In the creative act there is part of it which is a “doing” in the traditional sense, but then there is a “getting out of the way” and allowing the creative moment to flow … [and] that flow [is] this threefold consciousness – ‘Material World’ + ‘Cosmos & Imagination & the possible’ + ‘Self’, [with] our gesture unifying the first two.”

In the light of the profundity of Bruce Lee’s contribution, Tarantino’s project seems frivolous at best and at worst, a folie.

image: https://www.goalcast.com/2017/07/20/top-20-inspiring-bruce-lee-quotes/






Hey QT Dont Fuck with Bruce Lee 3

Another film from 2019 (other than Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) that makes reference to Bruce Lee  is the Tamil-language action film titled Petta directed by Karthik Subbaraj and starring the septuagenarian (well, he will be in December) SUPERSTAR of Indian cinema, Rajinikanth. In one flashback scene Rajinikanth, is seen sporting an old-school Indian moustache, wearing a traditional veshti and striding along a row tables with seated guests enjoying a banana-leaf meal. It is a wedding scene and the people are feasting in some kind of community hall on the rear wall of which is painted, rather incongruously, a mural of Bruce Lee!

It is interesting to note that Rajinikanth movies are just as referential as Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre, albeit with less pretension. If Tarantino’s referential play indexes the worlds of Hollywood and Spaghetti Westerns, Rajinikanth films refer even more reflexively to the realm of Rajinikanth movies (over 160 released to date), generating SUPERSTAR tropes that transcend specific films. Further, Indian cinema is, as a whole, filled with instances of pastiche, parody, piracy and praise – ranging from reverential remakes across the many indigenous language cinemas, to shameless ripoffs of Hollywood.

One reviewer of Petta explains just such a scene from the film, “In one moment Rajini actually takes out a nunchuck and starts doing fancy moves with it. I imagine a 10-year-old Karthik Subbaraj [who is so much younger than his leading man] watching Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon and thinking, ‘imagine how cool it would be if my Thalaivar did that?!’ and then writing it down on a piece of paper with a crayon. It’s kinda ridiculous, but that about sums up the fun, bizarre and complete Rajini mania world that is Petta.” This tribute to the Martial Arts master and first crossover Asian superstar in the global movie industry reflects the place he holds in the esteem and imagination of the populations of many Asian nations.

It is in the light of this place of honour that I suggest that Tarantino’s degrading portrayal is an egregious maligning not only of a man but also that of an icon which is esteemed by a wide global community. Bruce Lee is much more to us than just a great martial arts master and the first Asian cross-over movie superstar and … you know, although I loved Pulp Fiction, somehow, I could never get into the martial arts oriented Kill Bill set … now I understand why … Once Upon a Time in Hollywood seems to have revealed much more about Tarantino than it has about Bruce Lee.

Image: https://www.cinemaexpress.com/videos/trailers/2018/dec/12/petta-teaser-breakdown-a-tribute-to-rajini-9192.html



Hey QT Dont Fuck with Bruce Lee 1

I have loved Quentin Tarantino for his Reservoir Dogs and for Pulp Fiction and I have forgiven him for many a tedious and pretentious flic on the podium of these two groundbreaking works. More significantly, I have given him, and his celluloid surrogate Samuel L Jackson, licence to skate thin ice with regard to the ‘N word’. I gave this M_ _ _ _ _ R F _ _ _ _ _ R license on the basis that his oeuvre was A _ T; because rigid political correctness is tedious and damaging to culture, and even to the justice it purports to prompte; because I believed that Quentin’s ‘heart’ was in the right place on the questions of race in America; and most of all because ‘perhaps I did not get it yet’ but that ‘maybe I would on the next viewing’! Now, after viewing the jaded and reactionary Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (just once is all I could possibly bear!), I have clarity, and a correction to make – I was wrong! Quentin was wrong, QUENTIN IS WRONG! … Hey Academy of Motion Picture Arts … Dont give the C _ _ _ _ _ R an Oscar! It will only confirm your ensconcement in that quintessential, or should I say Quentinessential Americana of racism! … Kabali Da!

Image: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/tamil/movies/news/Rajinikanth-Kabali-meets-Bruce-Lee/articleshow/53961587.cms