Without exception, every Asian male under the age of 25 has at one point idolized Jet Li, and if they are old enough (or watch older movies), Bruce Lee. In dojos and college campus martial arts groups across the country, thousands of young Asian men train regularly in order to become the next great martial artist. But aside from being martial arts practitioners, these two actors/martial artists have captured the hearts of Asians everywhere.
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Jet Li, and to a lesser extent due to age, Bruce Lee movies are extremely popular among Asians. As soon as a new Jet Li martial arts flick comes out (especially if it is directed by a Chinese director and produced in China, think Hero or Fearless), even elderly Asian parents will consider it an acceptable form of entertainment in social situations. Of course the film will be watched on a disc of questionable origin that was purchased in Asia somewhere and brought back by the last relative that traveled there (who goes out to theaters?). But great care must be taken when discussing Jet Li with true martial arts enthusiasts. Being a fan of Jet Li’s more recent Chinese produced films is okay, but it is considered amateurish at the best to hold in high regard any of Jet Li’s American films such as Kiss of the Dragon or The One. True martial arts snobs will insist that only his older Chinese films such as Once Upon a Time in China or, I should say, Wong Fei Hung have any merit.
So why are Bruce Lee and Jet Li revered especially among Asian males? Because they represent the hope that any Asian male can become one of the baddest mofo’s in history had they simply dedicated their childhood to training rather than studying. Yao Ming (see basketball) also to a lesser extent represents this hope. But not everyone can be born seven feet tall with a soft hook shot. Quick note: why doesn’t Jackie Chan also fit this role? After all, isn’t he a popular martial artist/actor? Although it is true that Jackie Chan is a certifiable badass, his movies, while enjoyable, contain too much comedic element to intimidate sufficiently. Accordingly, Jet Li and Bruce Lee alone represent the everyman, the great hope that even though “I might have a bowl haircut, wire-frame glasses, and letter in debate and math team instead of football, I could have been one of the most feared men in the world.”
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