Kung Fu movies have always portrayed the virtuous Chinese male lead as rule following, passive and a step behind his rivals, quiet or polite, a defender and always bothered by emotional and relationship factors stopping him from doing what he needs to do. I will name a few examples:
- Ip Man (all versions)
- Jet Li's Huo Yuan Jia
- All Jackie Chan movies
There are too many films where the brash, brave, fearless, unreserved and aggressive male character gets defeated or met a miserable end. It's as though there is a conspiracy theory behind how Chinese Kung Fu movies should in general discourage being standing out, loud and being offensive.
Next will be Aaron Kwok in Storm Riders. It's not entirely a Kung Fu movie, but his depiction of a cold blooded fighter who kills without batting an eyelid is priceless. He faces overwhelming opponents without fear of death. The key is to not hold back, no mercy for the enemy.
Another timeless example will be Jet Li in Unleashed. This time Jet Li acts as a fighting machine instead of a gentlemanly defender with a thick book of ethics and rules of engagement.
These characters were fortunate enough to be casted as the main characters, but other than Bruce Lee, the other two were not assertive in their relationships with other characters and didn't get many lines, or punch lines, to show how bad ass and domineering they are.
Many movie characters, casted by good actors, were not as fortunate to make it as main characters in the script. Three examples: 1) Jin Shan Zhao in Ip Man 2) Colin Chou in The Four 3) Andy On in True Legend.
If say I am a movie actor director scriptwriter aiming to produce a blockbuster film showing masculine Chinese 'Men of War', I will get these actors to be in my cast of elite commandos: 1) Myself 2) Fan Siu Wong 3) Colin Chou 4) Andy On 5) Philip Ng 6) Xing Yu 7) Eddie Peng 8) Max Zhang 9) Donnie's giant fight team member 10) Wang Baoqiang.
I feel that the scriptwriters and movie producer investors did not do them justice. They are worthy of a far greater career as action stars, than just playing the bad guys and side characters. I do not think they lack the charisma compared to the lead actors in their respective movies, in fact Chinese 'manly fiery aggression' have been muzzled by favoring the milder, more level headed and gentlemanly faces, instead of these fighting machines. Especially Fan Siu Wong, his performance in Ip Man blew me away. He has the upright face, and yet the script had him do sneak attack on the ultimate defender Ip Man? He is not the cool guy, but he is the fiery guy with strong emotions. The movie he was the main character in had him act as a taoist priest apprentice with one secret lover and he kept getting dominated by his enemies. No no no, this is no way to write scripts for such actors. He should be a warlord who is muscular, carrying heavy weapons like Guan Dao, Axe and halberd, chopping down enemies like hot knife through butter while enjoy meat and wine with his harem of concubines.
Why not just Donnie Yen? No doubt Donnie Yen has undoubtedly the best skill and choreography around, but Donnie Yen has a 'defender's face' instead of an 'annihilator's face'. His fighter vibes is like, 'don't mess with me I will kick your butt', rather than 'just too bad you're on the wrong side, you just gonna get your ass handed over to me'. Why not Jackie Chan? Well, he is also another case of a defender, he is also too old for that. What we need are ruthless, relentless commandos who will accomplish the mission and steamroll lesser souls.
Philip Ng was really confident in his Bruce Lee movie. He is not skinny and he's skilled in Southern Kung Fu. Let him slam down opponents with heavy arms instead of flip flap like an acrobat, spin ten times to kick down one guy. Poor Xing Yu has been made the underdog so many times. Since Kung Fu Hustle he deserved his own kick ass story, nope not just King of Vajra as the Shaolin boy who waits for his destiny but the destroyer Ashura who decides the fates of others with his fists and blades. As for Andy On and Colin Chou, they're serious fighters with the balanced athletic physique.
Max Zhang and Wang Baoqiang are not the heavyweights, they are surely effective fighters with flair and grace. Max Zhang's fighting style in SPL 2 was fantastic, and in Ip Man 3, his vigorous fighting action made Ip Man look old and invalid. Wang Baoqiang is fit and skilled in the Northern arts, and furthermore he is a versatile actor. He can be a clown in one show and a renegade assassin the next. I have many teenage girls telling me Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are ugly. This is why you don't need a lady killer heartthrob pretty face to be the bad boy in the movie. Movie producers just like to pair male actors with female actors, even in movies where it is about Kung Fu, guns and explosions.
These movies are so inappropriate for romance. Looks at Ong Bak, and Tom Yum Goong. Classic action masterpieces, but did Tony Jaa care about dating chicks or childhood lovers? He couldn't care for stuff other than Buddha Head and Elephant.
Imagine the actors I've mentioned in the Chinese answer to 300 Spartans. Plus they have to be topless after going through a whole year of muscle hypertrophy regime. People will surely change their impression about Chinese; that the Chinese body cannot grow muscle; that Chinese bodies have the horsepower of neighborhood food delivery scooters while Western bodies are like Harley Davidson chopper motorbikes.
There's been a mainland China movie called Zhan Lang by Wu Jing. Wu Jing is another defender face. He is skilled in Northern arts, he also worked with Lau Kar Leung in Drunken Monkey. Definitely has the calibre of A grade movie star, but I find that the icon of Chinese commandos should have sharp facial features, thick chest thick arms thick shoulders and a murderer glare. Look at Sylvester Stallone in Rambo, his supple and robust physique and his M60 machine gun. I think there are plenty of six foot plus heavyweight muscleman with handsome looks among today's worldwide Chinese population, can someone start to talent scout and groom them?
Chinese movie makers have to consider that their movies are being directly compared with Western equivalents, like Zhan Lang with Rambo. Are the movie producers alpha male enough? Do they want to surpass the West or they just want to produce temporary market equivalents and earn some renminbi? I think Mekong River Operation's Eddie Peng can get into action again, let him kick more butt, like he is first a professional soldier before a city man with a girlfriend.
To make it worse, I saw Chinese pretty boy kpop faces in Zhan Lang and the trailer of Operation Red Sea. It's as though boys in a war zone have time to use skin whiteners and pluck out face hair; they're better off doing push ups to get enough strength for carrying heavy equipment in combat. The film producers probably thought they can capture female millennials' money by casting the pretty boys. It is more likely to make people not treat China's military seriously with this kind of movie marketing. Does your pretty boys even lift? If they do, then they qualify.
If the mainland Chinese capitalists are going to call the shots for Chinese movie industry, they should bear in mind that from 2018 onwards, the Chinese people are no longer content with being forever number two, their central leadership aspire to make them number one. Number two can be the five foot tall featherweight sidekick of the heavyweight muscleman hero of the number one.