Where the racialized/ethnicized villains of Chinese martial arts films in the past have often been Japanese or Western imperialist bullies, the racialized villain in CTHD is a barbaric Asian other within China's borders.
The previously-mentioned accolades for this film's glorification of China and the Chinese people, when combined with an awareness of its racial dynamic, mark the point, I believe, where CTHD augurs a new development in the "production of difference for exoticist consumption," a development that is both within and beyond critiques of the globalization of (Chinese) culture such as Shih Shu-mei's powerful expose of "managed multiculturalism."
No longer satisfied with nor limited to the occasional art-house or international film festival success, many Chinese spectators and film industry personnel see the financial and critical successes of CTHD as a bellwether of Chinese cinema's emergent cultural-economic power in transnational commercial cinema, its reception as a mark of their ascendancy and visibility as global subjects, and its content as a thoroughly edifying and appropriate representation of Chinese people and culture.
CTHD achieves this by creating transnationally-circulating images of China's own internal subaltern and exotic others against which Han China's innately superior race and culture can be favorably portrayed.
To reiterate, the Chinese subject projected and imagined in the production and reception of CTHD yokes a (renewed) vigorous ethnic and national identity (79) to an emergent image of a powerful, "centered," and assertive global subject, the latter being part of "a larger desire by wealthier Asian nations to take their cultural place in the New World Order." (80) The film's content also implies that there is nothing overtly threatening about this "strong and centered" subject, for it incarnates a model national/global citizen and protector of the status quo whose superiority is established at the expense of domestic subalternized others.
Furthermore, many educated domestic and diasporic Chinese, well-versed in the discourses and dynamics of Orientalism and globalization, share a strong desire to see a new cinematic image of ethnic China being consumed in the global marketplace, for they understand that "circulating signs of ethnicity is one of the main ways cinema helps to construct national identity." (82) CTHD demonstrates that one method for the construction, maintenance, and updating of Chinese national identity in the era of globalization is through the production of cinematic images of its own internalized subaltern and exotic others.
The process I've described marks a departure from the representational dynamics encapsulated in Shih Shu-mei's description of the "new rainbowlike globe [...] [where] Culturalization now substitutes for racialization" and "[r]ace becomes culturalized to such an extent that it all but disappears, even though it continues to structure hierarchies of power." (85) In CTHD's creation of a new Chinese image and identity for global consumption, race, I am arguing, does not disappear but reappears in a different guise, being manipulated to new ends by a formerly subalternized Third World other against a newly-reconstituted vision of its own internalized and subalternized racial others.
This essay takes up that challenge, attempting to dissect the mechanisms by which CTHD reconfigures the representation of "Chinese culture" for a global audience, especially in the way the film "re-imagines and transforms what counts as 'Chineseness' in a world film culture today." (90) Probing the underlying structure of this "Chineseness" reveals a binary racial logic, a narrative fantasy in which race, ethnicity, and culture are successfully deployed to serve both global and local cultural nationalist identities and aspirations at once.
While acknowledging Ang Lee's Taiwanese roots and New York residency of several decades, this essay will treat CTHD as both a transnational production and a Chinese-language film.
Among many scholarly treatments cited throughout, I am responding to Hsiao-hung Chang's compelling argument that CTHD's "transnational reception itself poses new challenging questions to the current discourse on globalization and asks for a radically new theorization of body imagination and power deployment." See Chang Hsiao-hung, "The Unbearable Lightness of Globalization: On the Transnational Flight of Wuxia Film," in ed.
Indeed, the global audience for Chinese films now includes significant numbers of both Western and Chinese viewers, as evidenced in films such as CTHD, Ying Xiong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Hero] (dir.
Ang Lee himself was concerned that he might be doing a disservice to the Chinese martial arts genre if "lao wei" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (foreigners) were to perceive CTHD as a "B Movie." See Hsieh Tsai-miao, Xunzhao qingmingjian: cong "Wohu canglong" tan huayu diangying guojihua [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] : [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Searching for the Green Destiny: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the Internationalization of Chinese-language Cinema] (Taipei: Yatai Tushu, 2004).