Representations of China in the Movie the Forbidden Kingdom Essay

The Forbidden Kingdom (Rob Minkoff, 2008)[1] is an American martial arts adventure film co-starred by Jackie Chan and Jet Li. The film tells the story of a Boston boy Jason, who is a big kung fu fan, is given the mission, as a traveler, of returning the staff to the Monkey King so as to free him from the statue in which he has been trapped by the Jade Warlord. With the help of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, Jason not only fulfills his mission in the end by defeating the Jade Warlord, but also masters kung fu and develops to a brave and responsible man.

The movie was successful and popular, attracting large audience[2], due to the reason, as far as I see it, that it meets the Western audience’s expectation of China. The movie is full of stereotypes of China and Chinese, reflecting the orientalism’s attitudes from the West, especially from America (both written and directed by Americans) in this case.

Orientalism, as studied in Edward Said’s book Orientalism (1978), is an academic term used to “describe a pervasive Western tradition, both academic and artistic, of prejudiced outsider interpretations of the East, shaped by the attitudes of European imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries”[3], later adopted by America after the WWⅡ.In such a man-made theory, East is depicted as a less-civilized, exotic, brutal and inferior entity to the West, and “…the West is not only defined as the diametrical opposite of the East, but also as its protector and its carer” (Khatib, 2006: 64). What’s more, to the West that the “…Orient is something to be feared or controlled…” (Khatib, 2006: 65). All these ideas of Orientalism can be sensed or found in the movie The Forbidden Kingdom, which makes this movie a advocator of American Orientalism towards China.

The movie begins with a dim, disorganized pawn shop owned by a shaky, weak and old Chinese man Hop, who clings tightly to his money and sells kung fu DVDs to Jason, the boy who is treated and bullied like an alien by his peers because of his enthusiasm towards kung fu. Hop is later attacked by the bullies who forces Jason to lead them to steal money from him. This opening of the story sets the main attitude about China by showing the typical stereotype that white people hold towards Chinese: a totally different Other, whose living style (the messy shop) and traditions (kung fu) are far beyond the understandings of the West, also with the characteristics of being sickly weak and easy to attack or take advantage of, often become the target of violence.

When Jason is sent to the ancient China to fulfill his mission, what he experiences also applies to the theory of Orientalism: exotic Chinese water-mountain sceneries, extraordinary and dazzling kung fu skills, brutal killing by the army, vicious women (White-haired Witch), wicked Jade Warlord with darkened eye shadow, submissive women (concubines of Jade Warlord) etc. All of these images give audience an impression that China is an exotic yet less civilized territory, waiting to have her destiny changed by this American boy. As a result, the dominant power over the East (China) of America is subsequently delivered by the screenwriter, i.e. the chaos brought by the Jade Warlord is going to be ceased by the Traveler Jason, rather than someone from China herself, for example, the supreme power of the Heaven, the Emperor. Such plot indicates the attitude that the East (China) is unable to be independent; she needs the West (America) to dominate and have authority over her.

The fear of the East from the West can also be easily detected in this movie. The Heaven is temporarily given by the Emperor to the Jade Warlord to govern, which means the whole china is under his control. But his power grows so fast and powerful that, according the American screenwriter, someone from the West needs to suppress this evil rise, and this time, Jason again, the ultimate messenger in this movie to carry out the American’s will in Orientalism.

Being far away from China, western people get images of China mainly from what is available in the media. However, what is presented is only small or even misleading information about China. Although Orientalism is viewed as “false assumptions underlying Western attitudes toward the (Middle) East”[4], it is still applied in media and proved by Western governments nowadays in order to remain the power over the East in spheres of politics, economy and culture. We should hold an alert and critical attitude towards such information, trying to go beyond what is presented, so as to get to know the real image of the East.

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