A Tale of Two Dragons
Politics of the Comedic Kung Fu Body in Chinese Cinema
This article argues that the effacement of the carnivalesque qualities in contemporary kung fu comedy films due to censorship and propaganda presents a dilemma for China’s culturally conservative soft power agenda. Alluding to Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea of carnival, the highly adaptive yet grotesque kung fu comedic body in late 1970s Hong Kong poses a challenge to the austere image of traditional kung fu masters established after 1949. With China’s attempt to nationalise kung fu cinema as a propaganda platform after the 1997 handover, the carnivalesque body in kung fu comedy has come to be seen by censorship bodies as regressive and dangerous, undermining not only the nation’s geopolitical ambitions but also the film industry’s continuing efforts to resist the cultural influence of global Hollywood. With the political correctness of the kung fu imaginary emphasising the traditional, the assiduous, and the virtuous, the comedic kung fu body, characteristic of the subversive, the indolent, and the vulgar, can no longer serve as an outlet for the expression of resentments and frustrations. Not only does this change limit the genre’s diversity and development, but it also undermines China’s political imperative of reaffirming the status quo through kung fu comedy. I will illustrate this dilemma through readings of Tanigaki Kenji’s Enter the Fat Dragon (2020) and Dayo Wong’s The Grand Grandmaster (2020).
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