Chinas Problems

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Under “Western Eyes”: The Personal Odyssey of
Huang Fei-Hong in Once upon a Time in China by Tony Williams

Rather than being read in exclusively postmodernist terms, Tsui Hark’s series Once upon a Time in China may be understood as a new version of a Hong Kong cinematic discourse involving historical “interflow.” It deals with dispersion, China’s relationship to the outside world, and strategic forms of reintegration designed to strengthen national identity.
In Sammo Hung’s Wong Fei Hung Ji Saam (West Territory Mighty Lion/Once upon a Time in China and America, 1997), Master Huang Fei-hong (Jet Li Linjie) travels to the Wild West to visit an American branch of the Po Chi Lam Clinic set up by his student Sol. During the journey, he bangs his head against a rock in a turbulent stream and loses his memory. He is rescued by a friendly tribe of Indians. Moments before we see Huang again, an Indian emerges from a tepee proudly announcing the birth of a child. When Huang recovers, he stumbles around in the
Indian camp wearing an Indian costume, and his loose unbraided hair is flowing like an Indian’s. After using his martial arts prowess to defeat a hostile Indian, who ironically mouths racist American platitudes against the outsider—”His clothing is different, his skin color is different, his speech is different”—Huang is adopted into the tribe and given the name “Yellow.” Before this, he attempts to remember events of the recent past. But his vague recollections reveal images reproducing culturally blurred boundaries paralleling his sense of ethnic and geographic displacement. During the recent past of his stagecoach journey through America,
Aunt Yee/Thirteenth Aunt/Shishanyi (Rosamund Kwan Chi-lam) had taught him
English while Seven/Club Foot (Xong Xin-xin) watched Huang. Club Foot then expresses his yearning for a traditional bowl of Chinese rice…...

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